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United Airlines service to Denver from GF starts in October

United Airlines plans to start offering two daily flights between Grand Forks and Denver on Oct. 3, the carrier announced Tuesday.

The airline will serve Grand Forks International Airport though two departures to Denver International Airport each day. United Express, through its carrier SkyWest, will operate 50-seat Canadair jets.

"Nonstop service to Denver has been the No. 1 goal of the Airport Authority for the past 20 years," said Patrick Dame, Grand Forks airport executive director, at a press conference Tuesday afternoon. Dame said United flights to Denver would depart Grand Forks at 6 a.m. and 4 p.m. Departures from Denver will be at 12:40 p.m. and 7:45 p.m.

United confirmed its plans to expand to Grand Forks on May 23.

Local support

United will be the second airline offering daily service to Grand Forks. Delta offers daily service to Minneapolis and Allegiant flies to Las Vegas, Phoenix and Orlando, Fla., on different days of the week.

United formerly made flights between Grand Forks and Denver and Grand Forks and Winnipeg, but ended the service in 1989. At the time, United blamed low boardings in Winnipeg and losses of $10,000 a day to operate the route.

Since that loss, local officials have worked to add more daily service to the market.

Hal Gershman, chairman of the Grand Forks Regional Airport Authority's recruitment committee and president of the Grand Forks City Council, said the time it took to restore daily service showed the difficulty of securing a commitment for new service.

He credited local lobbying efforts for bringing the airline back.

"I've never seen a more collaborative atmosphere than we have right now," he said.

Dame said local travelers using the airport were important in showing growing demand for service.

"New service is a direct result of that support," he said.

The airport authority also has a grant from the federal Department of Transportation that provides money for the recruitment of new service to the market. A requirement of the grant is the city must make available $200,000 to offset losses once a new airline starts.

Dame said United officials were aware of the incentives in the grant, but have not said if they intend to use them.

Statewide expansion

The new service in Grand Forks reflects expansion at airports in North Dakota's other three largest cities, which have seen service grow in recent years.

United started flights between Minot and Denver in 2010. Frontier Airlines began service between Denver and Bismarck earlier this month. American Eagle restored its service to Fargo in 2010, though that move coincided with Frontier's decision to end service there.

"The state is doing well, and it appears the economy has garnered the attention of a number of carriers," said Shawn Dobberstein, executive director of Hector International Airport in Fargo.

He called United's expansion to Grand Forks "long overdue," and did not think it would affect Fargo's volume.

"Time will tell, but I don't believe it will," he said.

Dame said he hoped that once United's service starts, it will show enough demand by passengers to warrant expanded service through more flights or more seats.

"We hope in the future, United will want to grow their service here," he said.

Reach Bjorke at (701) 780-1117; (800) 477-6572, ext. 117; or send e-mail to

Christopher Bjorke

Christopher Bjorke is the content editor for the Grand Forks Herald. He first worked for the Herald in 1997 and most recently since 2011. His jobs at the Herald have included covering local government, state politics, business and economics, and the health care industry. 

(701) 780-1117