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Grand Forks Airport sets passenger record as hockey fans head to Nashville

The airport set a record for the daily number of passengers to come through its doors, and by far and large most of them were heading to Nashville, Tennessee. On Saturday night, UND is set to take on Penn State at Bridgestone Arena.

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Kristi Slominski (left), Landon Oster, Kirsten Slominski and Heather Tandeski take a selfie with airport Executive Director Ryan Riesinger (center, wearing a UND jersey) before boarding a flight to Nashville, for the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame Game. Adam Kurtz / Grand forks Herald

Hockey is big business in the Grand Forks region, and nowhere on Thursday, Oct. 28, was that more apparent than at Grand Forks International Airport.

The airport set a record for the daily number of passengers to come through its doors, and by far and large most of them were heading to Nashville, Tennessee. On Saturday night, UND is set to take on Penn State at Bridgestone Arena.

“There's not a day that has occurred where we would have had as many seats available, and essentially they're all full,” said Ryan Riesinger, executive director of the airport. “It's the busiest day in (airport) history, and really over these few days it's got to be the busiest three-day period that we've had, as well.”

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Hockey fans, many decked out in UND jerseys or other university swag, waited in line to check their bags before heading upstairs to go through security. Once inside the waiting area, there was a party-like atmosphere with people taking photos at a UND-themed selfie spot, and some drinking green beer bought from a temporary bar set up there.

The festive atmosphere extended to the airport's lobby as well, with UND colored balloon installations, green lights and hockey jerseys hanging from the windows of the administrative offices. Parked in the northeast corner of the lobby was a motorcycle, done up in a UND motif.

Riesinger said more than 1,500 people are set to take off on Thursday. Recently the airport has been averaging between 5,000-6,000 passengers per month. In pre-COVID times the monthly passenger average would have been about 10,000 per month.

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Passengers at Grand Forks Airport, many UND hockey fans, wait for their flights in the boarding area on Thursday, Oct. 29. Adam Kurtz / Grand Forks Herald

And there are a lot of extra flights to accommodate those travelers. According to Riesinger, in addition to the three daily Delta flights to Minneapolis, six of the nine direct flights to Nashville take off on Thursday. Allegiant Air has five direct flights, two of which are charters. Four other private charter flights are also scheduled.

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Denise Geritz, from Frazee, Minnesota, is one of the passengers on those flights, along with her sister Jane and husband Dale. They’ve flown to see UND games before, but are looking forward to the Hall of Fame Game.

“I've been waiting two years,” Geritz said. “We missed the game in (Las Vegas) because my nephew got married that weekend, but he got married in Vegas. We got to do the parking lot party, after the game part of it.”

And the group said they are sure UND will win.

“Does Penn State have a hockey team?” joked Dale Geritz.

Landon Oster, Kristi Slominski, Heather Tandeski and Kirsten Slominski won tickets to the game, after participating in a trivia contest sponsored by the airport in conjunction with UND athletics. The group took photos at the selfie spot, along with Riesinger, who handed the tickets to them.

“(I’m) ready to take a trip and get out of here and go have some fun,” Tandeski said.

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