A second Dubuque-to-Chicago flight will return five days per week in April, providing an encouraging sign that the aviation industry is inching closer to normalcy.
Beginning April 2, the new flight will arrive at Dubuque Regional Airport at 10:13 a.m and depart at 10:47 a.m. on Monday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
“Any time we can add service it is a plus,” said Airport Director Todd Dalsing. “That means more seats out of Dubuque and more possibilities for connections. It gives people more options.”
Molly Grover, president and CEO of Dubuque Area Chamber of Commerce, believes the return of a second flight is an indication that the economy as a whole is gaining momentum.
“It is encouraging news, and it provides hope that we might be getting closer to a post-pandemic economy,” she said.
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, American Airlines offered three daily flights that traveled from Dubuque to Chicago and vice versa.
Since the pandemic hit the U.S., major airlines have been propped up largely by federal stimulus dollars. In turn, airlines were prevented from making job cuts and required to maintain service.
After the first major relief bill expired, however, Dubuque commercial flights to Chicago were suspended for about three months beginning in early October.
A new relief package prompted the resumption of those flights at Dubuque Regional Airport on Jan. 6. The airport since has had one daily flight departing from Dubuque to Chicago each morning and returning to Dubuque each night.
Dalsing said the addition of a second flight was not prompted by a specific stimulus bill or related requirements. Rather, it was a market-driven indication that the aviation industry is rebounding.
“We have had some of our flights sold out and booked with no more seats available,” he said. “I think the decision (by American Airlines) is about seeing an increase in passenger demand and wanting to fill up airplanes.”
At the beginning of the pandemic, flights were down more than 90% nationally compared to the prior year. Dalsing said flights nationally still are down about 60%, but all signs are pointing in a positive direction.
The number of passengers screened by the Transportation Security Administration each day – a reliable metric for how many people are flying in the U.S. – is now exceeding 1 million.
To date, the return of flight demand largely has been driven by leisure travel. Dalsing believes that business travel will take longer to rebound.
Even so, Grover said the addition of a second flight is big news for the business community.
“Air travel is imperative to our businesses, their growth, their ability to connect to markets and their continued success,” she said.
Dalsing said the second flight will continue to operate through April. As is typically the case with flight schedules, the flight plans of American Airlines are not set in stone beyond that month.
“They are always reviewing flight schedules, and they’ll continue to evaluate that on a month-to-month basis,” he said.