By Joey Gerardi
Delta Follows Other Major Airlines Adding “Tag Routes”
Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines has made it through the pandemic without starting a single tag route. Other airlines such as United, American, Alaska, and others combined destinations into a single flight to save costs during the pandemic due to severely light passenger loads. SkyWest under the United Express banner combined many smaller EAS communities into a single flight routing this past spring when the airline began to struggle with the pilot shortage. A tag flight is when an aircraft makes a stop in the first city and continues to the next.
For example; United added a tag routing that started in Chicago O’Hare and went to Clarksburg, W.V. then Johnstown, Penn. and finally going onto Washington Dulles. This would use a single plane and crew from start to finish instead of using two different crews and aircraft going to Johnstown and Clarksburg separately. Up until this point, these tag flights with SkyWest have been entirely on the United Express side and Delta Connection has managed to avoid using them, but that will change come September.
The new Delta tag flights will occur in the Midwest from either the carriers Detroit Metro or Minneapolis/St. Paul hub. Cities that will be affected include Pellston (PLN), Alpena (APN), Sault Ste. Marie (CIU), Iron Mountain (IMT), and Escanaba (ESC) all of which are in Michigan; Brainerd (BRD) and Bemidji (BJI) located in Minnesota, and Rhinelander (RHI) in Wisconsin. All of the non-hub destinations that are being affected also happen to be Essential Air Service cities.
An interesting fact is that due to these all being EAS communities, the carrier that holds the contract and operates these flights, SkyWest, is supposed to file a proposal to alter air service with the Department of Transportation and then they have to approve it. This proposal has yet to be seen on regulations.gov which is the public website to which all of the EAS documents are posted, despite these new tag flights being scheduled to begin in just over a month.
Until the change occurs in September, these are the current service offerings for the communities that will eventually be affected:
Alpena and Pellston both receive two daily nonstop flights to Detroit Metro on most days of the week.
Sault Ste. Marie receives one daily nonstop from Detroit which arrives around 11 P.M. and departs in the early morning, as well as one daily nonstop to Minneapolis/St. Paul that occurs in the late afternoon around 4 P.M.
Escanaba receives one daily nonstop from each Detroit and Minneapolis. Detroit departure is early morning and the Minneapolis departure is around 4 P.M. you can connect through this community going west from Detroit to Minneapolis on the same aircraft
Iron Mountain also receives one daily flight from both Detroit and Minneapolis. The Detroit departure is around 5:30 P.M. and the Minneapolis departure is around 11 A.M. due to the timing of the flight, you can connect in this community in either direction between Detroit and Minneapolis. This community you may recognize as I did connect here last fall, the trip report of which can be found HERE.
Rhinelander, Wis. Brainerd, Minn., and Bemidji, Minn. all receive two daily nonstop flights to Minneapolis.
Each of the eight EAS communities listed will either be losing or gaining something as far as service goes, whether it’s a frequency or destination. All of the following changes will occur starting September 12, 2022, have no end date specified, and are operated onboard SkyWest CRJ-200s.
Brainerd and Bemidji, Minnesota
Brainerd will be the only city that has no obvious effect from these changes, they will still receive two daily nonstop flights to Minneapolis on most days of the week. The only change is the first flight of the day will now depart just over an hour later, leaving at 7:15 A.M. instead of 6:10 A.M.
Bemidji will be losing one of their nonstop flights going down to just a single nonstop in the evenings. They will have a second flight in the early morning, but it will depart two hours earlier than it currently occurs at, and will occur at 6 A.M., and will have an intermediate stop in Brainerd on the way to Minneapolis, this also means the late night arrival into Bemidji will stop at Brainerd first. If someone wishes to they can book a flight solely between Bemidji and Brainerd in the mornings, but the late flight between the two small communities isn’t bookable.
Rhinelander, Wisconsin and Iron Mountain, Michigan
This is where it gets interesting, Rhinelander will still have one daily nonstop from Minneapolis but they will also be gaining one-stop same plane service to the Detroit hub with an intermediate stop in Iron Mountain. The does come at the disadvantage of Iron Mountain as they will be loosing their one daily nonstop flight to Minneapolis, which will now make an intermediate stop in Rhinelander first.
Here is the flight schedule for the two communities.
Another interesting point to note is that the flight between Rhinelander and Iron Mountain will become the shortest flight in Delta’s entire network, coming in a 67-miles. This will overtake the current record holder Lansing to Detroit, which sits at 74-miles. Unlike the two communities in Minnesota, you can book a flight in either direction between the two communities if you want to fly on the airlines shortest flight.
Alpena and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan
Another case of one wins and one looses, Alpena will loose one of its daily nonstop flights to Detroit but they will gain one-stop same plane service to Minneapolis with an intermediate stop through Sault Ste. Marie which is located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Meanwhile Sault Ste. Marie already has one nonstop a day to each Detroit and Minneapolis, but the Detroit flight will now be converted into a one-stop flight through Alpena.
Just like the previous two, you can book the short hop between the two EAS communities in either direction
Escanaba and Pellston, Michigan
The final two cities have a very similar flight schedule and path as Alpena/Sault Ste. Marie with planes for both tag routes in the air at the same time. As was the same case with the previous two, one of these communities is located in Michigan’s lower peninsula and one is in the Upper Peninsula. Pellston will be loosing one of its nonstop flights to Detroit, but in exchange they will be gaining one-stop same plane service to Minneapolis with a stop in Escanaba. Escanaba however will be loosing its nonstop link to Detroit and the plane will now be making a stop in Pellston, but will retain its one nonstop flight to Minneapolis.
And just like all of the other tags with the exception of Brainerd/Bemidji, you can book the flight just between Pellston and Escanaba on the carriers website.
As mentioned earlier. all flights will be flown on CRJ-200’s that are operated by SkyWest. All schedules and flights mentioned in this article are subject to change especially since the carrier has yet to file a proposal to have alternate service offerings with all of the communities mentioned being in the EAS program. These eight cities are the only ones appearing to have tag flights so far on the airlines schedule, but this article will be updated if more to pop up for the Sept. 12 start date with Delta Connection.
While flights between the communities is definitely a fun trip, another AvGeek aspect of this could be the desire to fly between the two Delta hubs connecting in two communities along the way.