Review of Great Lakes Airlines flight Minneapolis Thief River Falls, MN in Economy

Flight ZK147
Class Economy
Seat --
Aircraft Beechcraft 1900D
Flight time 01:15
Take-off 12 Oct 13, 14:55
Arrival at 12 Oct 13, 16:10
ZK 1 reviews
Menzenski
By 830
Published on 19th July 2016
Background:
For my second trip report here, I figured I'd make it a unique one. I could be wrong, but from what I can tell, this will be the first report on the site with Great Lakes Airlines, the first on the Beechcraft 1900D (in English at least), and the first to Thief River Falls (TVF) in northern Minnesota.

This was just a piece of a BUF-DTW-MSP-TVF-MSP-LGA-BUF routing, however I don't have enough pictures to make covering the other individual flights worth it. I will however, cover the other two flights that day in the beginning as well as some of my time in Northern Minnesota.

Story:
My Fall break from school was coming up, and I wanted to somewhere to get away from a stressful semester. At the time, my brother was living in a tiny town (300 people) in Northern Minnesota, so I figured that was a good target. However, getting there from central New York is a huge pain. The closest 'major' airports to my brother were Grand Forks, North Dakota (GFK) and Winnipeg, Manitoba (YWG). My definition of major in that sentence refers to an airport with service from a network carrier. Winnipeg was eliminated due to my, at the time, expired passport, and Grand Forks was far from ideal, as my brother would need to spend 8 hours driving there and back to get me and drop me off. I then discovered that I could book a Delta code share flight on Great Lakes Airlines to Thief River Falls, which is only about an hour from my brother. Combine the closer driving distance with a significantly lower price than Grand Forks and I went ahead and booked my ticket.

My travel that day was made a bit more stressful by the fact that it was a Saturday. Service to TVF is subsidized through the Essential Air Service (EAS), and the contract signed by Great Lakes provided 12 weekly flights between the cities and TVF. This meant that the flight on which I was booked was the only flight that day to TVF, so any delay in my earlier two flights would cause quite a headache later on.

Because of my late booking, Buffalo was the only reasonable option price-wise for me as a departure point. However, it's about a three-hour drive from where I live (150miles, 240km), so my 10:00 am flight meant a 5:00 departure from my house.

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I parked in an open lot and was inside of the very nice terminal at around 8:15, reaching the gate at 8:50 or so.

Boarding began on time at 9:30am, and I found my seat near the back of the MD-88. This being my first time on a mad dog, I was very pleased with my window view.

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10:00 rolled around and we still hadn't pushed back. The captain came on and explained that there was flow control going into Detroit, so we would need to wait at the gate until we were released. I was worried as my connection in Detroit was only about 45 minutes and any delay could be a huge pain. During the time at the gate, a flight attendant came around with a list of passengers with connections. She arrived at my row and asked where I was going. "Minneapolis," I replied. "Oh! Your departure gate is A23, and you'll be on this aircraft again!" I definitely would not miss my connection to MSP, but I would have to deplane due to a crew change. We ended up pushing back at 10:45, and took off from runway 5.

Niagara Falls after takeoff with Lake Ontario in the background.

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Arriving in MSP at gate G19.

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Great Lakes operated out of gate E15 at the time. Concourse E at MSP is the only concourse in Terminal 1 not used by Delta. Delta uses the entirety of the remainder of the terminal, except for two gates (I believe) on Concourse C where US Airways kept RONs. Due to my earlier delay, I only had about 90 minutes to get from the end of Concourse G to the end of Concourse E (2/3 of a mile, 1km) and grab some lunch. So, I kept lunch simple and got Burger King on concourse E.

The view from near the Burger King.

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After finishing my lunch, I walked down to the end of Concourse E and sat down at the single Great Lakes gate. Before any boarding announcements were made, the gate agent announced a reminder about the aircraft's lack of a lavatory, so passengers should keep that in mind. With about 40 minutes until scheduled departure, I noticed there were only about 10 people in the area, and Great Lakes had three (or four) flights departing close together. I started to get excited when I realized I had a real shot of being the only passenger on the flight that afternoon. However, when the gate agent called boarding for Thief River Falls, one other gentleman stood up. Oh well. I handed my boarding pass to the agent who immediately ripped it, keeping half. I then proceeded down the stairs followed closely by the other passenger and the gate agent, who would also marshal our plane out of its parking spot. I handed my larger carry on bag to the ground handler, then boarded the 1900D.

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The young copilot met us at the door, asking us to ignore the seat listed on our boarding passes and take seats behind the wing for weight and balance purposes.

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My first impression of the 1900D was good. It was surprisingly roomy for how small it was, and I could almost stand up straight in the aisle - something that I cannot even get close to saying about a CRJ. My dad always used to complain about the US Air 1900D flights he took down to Pittsburgh back in the day, but his flights almost certainly had a higher load factor than the 11% I enjoyed that day.

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After the other gentleman and I had taken our seats, the copilot closed the cabin door then came down the aisle to give us our safety briefing - no flight attendants on Great Lakes flights. The safety briefing was very interesting, he pointed out the locations of the exits, then asked if we had any questions. Very different from what I've experienced before or since on any airline.

After the briefing, the copilot returned to the cockpit. We began our taxi to runway 30R with the cockpit door remaining open, only being closed as we approached the end of the runway.

We took off into the clouds above MSP right on time. I then realized that the 1900D has slightly-tinted windows, making my pictures slightly off color.

We seemed to cruise right through the top of the cloud layer, making for a pretty turbulent ride. Despite that, the other passenger promptly fell asleep.



Cabin during flight. The cockpit door doesn't quite reach the top of the cabin.

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Thief River Falls! I guess the visitors bureau took an ad in the in-flight magazine. Thief River Falls is the headquarters for two large companies, Arctic Cat, makers of off-road vehicles and snowmobiles, and Digi-Key, a major distributor of electronic components. The Thief River Falls flights are primarily used by people traveling for business relating to these companies.

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Interesting ads in the Great Lakes in-flight magazine.

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After about an hour in flight, we arrived on runway 31 at TVF. I was immediately greeted by a FedEx 727, which had been donated after retirement to the Northland Community and Technical College. Parked on the other side of the field is an old American 727, donated to the same school. Also, Delta donated a DC-9-50 to the school in 2014 after retirement.

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Pulling up to the terminal building.

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A cabin shot while deplaning. Reading lights are mounted in the cabin wall.

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Walking towards the terminal with an interesting reflection.

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Inside the terminal. Pictured here, behind the glass wall, is the entire secure area. While waiting for my flight back to MSP a few days later I discovered there were exactly 19 seats beyond the checkpoint - perfect for a fully booked 1900D.

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Pictured here is the majority of the terminal, including the Great Lakes check in desk which doubles as baggage claim. We had actually arrived a few minutes early, and my brother would be a few minutes late picking me up, so I sat down in one of the very comfortable chairs positioned just inside the terminal.

While waiting, the pilots finished up their duties and headed for the parking lot. Noticing that I was still at the airport, the captain asked me if I needed a ride anywhere. I declined, stating that my brother would be there soon. That was definitely a unique experience though, having the captain of my flight offer to give me a ride.

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Before moving to photos of the area, I figured I show my boarding pass for the return flight a few days later. Printed on a receipt printer. The agents were also unable to give me any of my other boarding passes for the day, so the first thing I did in MSP was visit a help desk. I showed her this boarding pass I had and she was shocked, saying that she had never seen anything like that before.

I will also add that it was interesting to be on a flight departing from an extremely small airport. Knowing that security would not be a huge time consumer, my brother dropped me at the airport at 5:30 for my 6:00 flight. When I entered the terminal, there was an agent with a clipboard who saw me, then turned and asked the other agent, "Is this the last one?" "Yep, that's it." As soon as I got there, the agents had us all go through security. Four passengers total this time.

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My brother arrived about 10 minutes later, and proceeded to show me around Thief River Falls before we headed north.



Heading north. It's very flat in northern Minnesota.

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If you look closely, you can see an ex-Northwest Airlines DC-9-10 in the small town of Holt, Minnesota. I believe it is being transformed into a hunting cabin.

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The Canadian border is about 10 miles north of here.

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Off-road vehicle trails following the highway and huge sandpits used for riding.

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My brother borrowed a Polaris RZR from a friend, which we prompty got stuck in the sand and had to dig out.



Minnesota is the state of hockey. However, Boa Hockey in Roseau has since closed.

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Polaris Industries, a manufacturer of off-road vehicles and snowmobiles (that's a trend up) was founded in Roseau and has a major manufacturing plant which employs most of the people in Roseau. They have a museum of sorts next to the plant including a loop used for snowmobiles during their 50th anniversary celebration in 2004.

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See more

Verdict

Great Lakes Airlines

5.5/10
Cabin8.0
Cabin crew5.0
Entertainment/wifi4.0
Meal/catering5.0

Minneapolis - MSP

8.1/10
Efficiency8.5
Access8.0
Services8.5
Cleanliness7.5

Thief River Falls, MN - TVF

7.9/10
Efficiency10.0
Access10.0
Services3.5
Cleanliness8.0

Conclusion

To summarize, Great Lakes got me to my destination on time - I didn't realize how uncommon this was until much later - and safely. It was a very unique experience to fly on an EAS-subsidized flight, as it usually makes for very light passenger loads. The aircraft, however, lacked any and all passenger amenities, including a lav, flight attendant, service of any kind or entertainment beyond the magazine. However, I knew this going in, so I was perfectly content reading through the magazine and looking out the window. Thief River Falls airport is perfect for what it needs to be - an airport serving a remote town of 8,500 people.

Related

13 Comments

  • Comment 358379 by
    SMilano 1270 Comments

    Thanks for this unique report :)
    I really enjoyed flying the B1900D when I flew with in New Zealand !
    It's really exciting to flight with small plane like that ;)

    And small airport like TVF are always nice to flight to and from

    See ya

  • Comment 358554 by
    marathon GOLD 9405 Comments

    I love these flights in very small aircraft and tiny airports; it is even more exciting when there are so few passengers on board.
    There has been several reports posted on the B1900D in French (interestingly on four different airlines for French domestic flights alone, plus others for the other countries), but this is indeed the first one in English.
    Thanks for sharing !

  • Comment 358674 by
    KévinDC TEAM GOLD 4845 Comments

    Thanks for sharing this unique report! Like Marathon said, there are some reports on the Beechcraft in French already, but you are definitely the first to do a report on ZK and to/from TVF. It's interesting to see reports on these subsidized EAS routes--and unsurprisingly, the load factor is low. I feel like these kinds of routes are basically the only thing keeping ZK afloat lately.

    Thanks for sharing and the cool Bonus pics! I used to live in MN, so it's always nice to see MN in reports :-)

    • Comment 358728 by
      Menzenski AUTHOR 25 Comments

      I'm honestly surprised that Great Lakes is still around today. They took out 10 of the seats in the majority of their 1900s, leaving nine, so that they could fly under Part 135, and hire pilots with fewer than 1500 hours of experience. That speaks to the average load factors of the routes they fly too, I suppose.

      I actually spent the summer of 2014 living in northern MN and I grew to really like it, even if there's not much around. Although I'm not too sure I could handle weeks of -20 degrees (F) in the winter.

  • Comment 358720 by
    757Fan 523 Comments

    Great report on your flight to Thief River Falls! I live not far from MSP, and whenever I see the sign at the airport for "Great Lakes Airlines" I've wondered about them.

    This flight in the B1900D reminded me of a flight my wife and I took a few years ago from MKE to Muskegon, MI. Very fun and unique flight!

    Thanks for sharing!

  • Comment 359051 by
    Shisdu SILVER 670 Comments

    I love reports about routes/destinations that are off the beaten path, and this one fits precisely this category!

    I had never heard about EAS. It sounds like a great arrangement to keep isolated towns linked to the rest of the world, but after reading a little about it, I think that a lot of money is being wasted by subsidizing airports that are less than an hour from a major airport!

    Great pics!

    Thanks for sharing, Menzenski!

    • Comment 359055 by
      Menzenski AUTHOR 25 Comments

      Thanks for the comment, Nechus. I tend to agree about EAS in general. In this specific case, Thief River Falls is about an hour drive away from Grand Forks, ND (GFK) when the weather is decent, but I imagine it could be much longer than that in the winter. I will add that less money is wasted, on this service at least, since the route was switched to Boutique Air rather than Great Lakes.

  • Comment 375527 by
    King 9 Comments

    Thanks for sharing!

    Love to read reports about airlines I haven't head about. To be able to fly in such a small plane is an experience in it self.

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