A potential strike by Mesaba Airlines pilots will force Brainerd Lakes Regional Airport passengers to drive -- at least to Duluth or Minneapolis.
There was a wait-and-see attitude at the Brainerd airport today as the strike deadline approaches for late Friday.
Steve Sievek, Brainerd airport manager, said for the last four years the average number of people flying commercially out of Brainerd in January has averaged 1,100 to 1,400.
"It's going to affect some people, there is no doubt, 40 (people) a day or so," Sievek said today.
The airport, which also has general aviation with private pilots, would cut back on hours but Sievek said there are no plans for layoffs at this point. The 4 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. work hours to cover commercial flights would change to a 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. schedule. Sievek said workers would be able to focus on projects there has not been time for in the case of a pilots' strike.
Sievek said he does not have an inkling regarding a settlement or strike.
"But it doesn't sound good," Sievek said. "I'm not overly optimistic, but I'm still hopeful."
Terri Knox, owner of Northwoods Cruise and Travel, Brainerd, said because of price and convenience many customers choose to go directly to the Twin Cities anyway.
"It hasn't really affected me yet, but I'm sure it will," Knox said.
Knox said news from the airlines was sketchy so far. But Knox had just a couple of calls from customers about the issue last week. She said usually the airlines are willing to be accommodating in these circumstances.
Clare Williams, owner/manager of Traveler's Fare, Brainerd, said with the uncertainty of air service they have been making alternative plans for clients who may lose the convenience of a Brainerd departure.
"We have a handful of people who are affected this week," she said.
Alternative plans include setting up Twin Cities departures, overnight hotel stays and planning to pay to park. Williams said Brainerd and St. Cloud departures have customers weighing cost and convenience, particularly for parking and security checkpoints.
"It's an unfortunate situation because it's not good for anybody," Williams said of a potential strike and its effects on Mesaba Airlines airport staff. "It's too bad it comes to the final hour when it's been quite a bit of time (pilots have) been operating without a contract."
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