Northwest plans to test fares to drum up more business

BISMARCK, N.D. (AP) — Northwest Airlines agreed Tuesday to work with North Dakota cities to test lower air fares and more passenger capacity on some flights, Sen. Byron Dorgan said.
“They agreed to do a pilot project, kind of selecting some destinations, reducing some fares and adding some capacity, to see if that would increase the number of passengers. We think it will,” Dorgan said after a meeting with Northwest president John Dasberg and airport officials from Bismarck, Fargo, Grand Forks and Minot.
Dorgan, D-N.D., said the test is likely to start in September.
Northwest spokesman Jon Austin said Monday’s meeting in Minneapolis was cordial.
“We’re going to do a test of different kinds of pricing strategies on some select markets and see if will accomplish our common goals — which are to boost traffic and increase revenues for us,” Austin said. “For the folks who were there today, their interest is in boosting traffic out of their airports. If we can satisfy both goals, that would be great.”
Fargo is among those seeking more airline passengers. Airport director Shawn Dobberstein said the city has seen a growth in population and business while the number of people boarding planes in Fargo has gone down.
Some people drive to Minneapolis or Sioux Falls, S.D., for lower fares, he said.
“We look at our relationship with Northwest as an economic partnership,” Dobberstein said. “At least here in Fargo, we believe we’ve done our part. Everything here is on an increasing trend — employment and business base — but our passenger boardings keep declining.”
Dobberstein said the Northwest plan is to select specific destinations — possibly from Fargo to New York’s LaGuardia airport, for example — and develop a fare aimed at luring passengers.
The concept is similar to a Minnesota program started by Northwest called “Fly Local,” in which fares were reduced between Minneapolis and Bemidji, Brainerd, Hibbing, Grand Rapids and St. Cloud. Northwest officials said that in Bemidji, Brainerd and St. Cloud, passenger traffic increased an average of 81 percent from the same periods the previous year.
Austin said the North Dakota program will be designed differently.
“For the North Dakota delegation, they were more interested in business fares and leisure fares generally,” he said.
Dorgan expects Northwest to be a major transportation force in North Dakota, but he said the state wants competitive rates.
“We’ve had Northwest service in North Dakota for nearly 65 years,” he said. “I expect that will be a big part of our transportation for years to come. But we want competitive fares.”
Dorgan said Northwest also agreed to work with cities on future convention plans, to add seat capacity where needed.