Mayo tries to prop up its airport

The Mayo Clinic is requiring its employees to fly out of the Rochester airport when flying on business, the Rochester Post Bulletin reports. The Mayo Clinic runs the airport.

“Mayo Clinic has recognized the importance of local air service to our patients since the Mayo brothers established Rochester’s first airport with commercial air service in 1928,” Mayo Clinic spokeswoman Kelly Reller said in a statement. “To the extent the airport flourishes so will our community, and travelers will be rewarded through competitive pricing, schedules, and reliability at RST.”

Rochester has tried to sustain airline service by convincing people to fly out of the airport, rather than driving to MSP.

United, joining American Airlines, is beginning service to Chicago in June. Delta has two flights to Minneapolis daily and one to Atlanta.

That’s not a lot of flexibility, but it can be cheaper. A flight to New York on Delta costs $385 from Rochester and $443 from Minneapolis. There are no non-stops, however.

Under the new policy, 30,000 employees would have to fly out of Rochester although doctors and scientists would be exempt, the Post Bulletin says.

Mayo Clinic estimates that previously only one in five of its employees flying have chosen to leave from Rochester, with the other four traveling out of the Twin Cities. This new rule looks like it could reverse that ratio. Mayo declined to say how many employees fly for work each year.

Passengers choosing the the Minneapolis–St. Paul airport often cite lower-cost flights than Rochester offers. Does Mayo Clinic anticipate this new policy will cost it more for employee travel?

“The viability of RST in delivering commercial air service is critical to making it convenient for national and international patients to come to their appointments at Mayo Clinic. Moreover, it is also critical for the growth projections related to DMC,” according to an email response from Mayo Clinic. “We have studied travel patterns and cost variances, including ground transportation costs, and believe the new policy will be largely budget neutral relative to the overall Mayo Clinic travel budget.”

Separately, the Rochester airport is among those under fire for the treatment of non-commercial aviation. It was identified in late March as one of the nation’s airports that gouges general aviation pilots attempting to use it.

“Used to do volunteer medical flights for patients in need,” one pilot to the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association as part of its survey of fees and prices at airports. “After the second price gouging they wouldn’t discount fuel for volunteer flights, even though they had dispatch from mission coordinator.”