By Joey Gerardi
Unique Connection Series Trip Report: Iron Mountain, Michigan
If you have read my articles in the past, then you know I love out-of-the-way airports, airlines and aircraft and would do almost anything to adventure to a new city or fly on a unique, rare aircraft type. So in continuation of this series, which I call my “Unique Connection Series”, I will go over a unique flight between two cities using a small, unusual airport as a stopover. The uniqueness of the connection might be referring to the small size of an airport, a unique aircraft type or both.
For this unique connection, I will be starting at Detroit’s Metropolitan Wayne County Airport and flying to Minneapolis’ St. Paul Airport — using the small Essential Air Service (EAS) community of Iron Mountain, Mich. as my connection point. I will be flying on Delta Air Lines operated by SkyWest on a 50-seat regional Bombardier CRJ-200, neither of which are rare or unique in the United States, but the fact this trip will bring me through an EAS community definitely qualifies it as “unique”.
SkyWest operates flights to many EAS airports under the Delta Connection banner, none of which were announced to be terminated in SkyWest’s massive 31 destination cessation last week —which consisted of only United Express branded destinations. At the time of writing this trip report, this particular unique connection along with the other Delta Connection branded EAS destinations are safe for the time being.
Although Delta and SkyWest do operate in many EAS cities, only two are timed correctly for connections between the airline’s hubs in a single day; Escanaba and Iron Mountain, both of which are in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and are actually 50-miles apart from each other. Another EAS city in the Upper Peninsula does connect to both of Delta’s Midwest hubs, Sault Ste. Marie, but at the time of writing this, the timing of the flights requires you to stay overnight for it to work.
In Escanaba, you can only connect there in the evenings going westbound from Detroit to Minneapolis. For Iron Mountain, you can connect here in either direction between the hubs, westbound in the mornings, and eastbound in the afternoon and evenings. In this article, I will be going westbound from Detroit to Minneapolis, using Iron Mountain as my connection point as explained above.
Day of the Flight
On the morning of the flight, I arrived in Detroit on another Delta flight, so there was no need to re-clear security and my connection was just about two hours. I relaxed and had a good breakfast in the terminal before heading through Detroit’s famous humming hallway to the B and C gates where all the Bombardier CRJ-200 flights depart.
Once I arrived at the gate I saw my chariot for today’s flights; N447SW, a CRJ-200 that was delivered directly to SkyWest back in September 2002. The only time it spent away from the airline was a brief seven months during the pandemic when it was parked in Tucson, Ariz.
The good news for this flight is you have no risk of missing a flight and getting stranded in the middle of nowhere. Just like in my previous Unique Connection Series articles, this aircraft will take me all the way from the starting point to my final destination — which in this case is Minneapolis/St. Paul.
Boarding started, nothing special just like every other Delta flight, and I took my place for the first flight in seat 10D. This trip was taken at the end of September, so I opted for a right-side window seat in order to get some wonderful views of Lake Michigan as we flew over, as well as the fall colors I hoped to catch upon landing. There were only 11 passengers on this flight up to Iron Mountain on a 50-seat jet, which is the reason the EAS program exists. Without the program and its subsidies, no airlines would fly a 50-seat jet nearly 350-miles with only 11-people on it, the program is a lifeline to communities all over the country.
Before boarding, I made sure to switch to a window seat towards the rear of the aircraft. I’m sure it’s not often you hear people wanting to move further back, but I prefer it on the CRJ-200s as it gives you a nice view of the wing, flaps and even the engine if your far back enough.
Pushback, engine start-up and a taxi to the runway for my flight to Iron Mountain. Before I knew it we had rocketed off the runway in Detroit towards the northwest bound for the Upper Peninsula.
It was a pretty average flight, up to cruising altitude of 28,000-feet and made our way across Michigan and upper Lake Michigan. Service consisted of Goldfish crackers or biscoff cookies and a mini water bottle, pretty good for an aircraft this size, as I’ve had a lot less service on longer flights using bigger aircraft. We then were above Traverse City, Mich. and Grand Traverse Bay including Mission Point.
At the tip of that point of land, in the picture above is Mission Point, which is located along the 45th Parallel, meaning I was halfway between the Equator and the North Pole. The CRJ-200 doesn’t have WiFi or inflight entertainment to speak of, but with a view like that, I really didn’t need it and spent most of the flight looking out the window. Before long the coastline of the Upper Peninsula was coming into view and we had begun our descent.
As we got closer to the ground, I started to see exactly what I was hoping for, which was fall foliage. The brown, yellow and red leaves slowly became more clear the closer we come to the ground.
Just before touching down in Iron Mountain, we flew over the Menominee River — which surrounds the airport and the community on Iron Mountain on three sides. This river also represents the border between Michigan and Wisconsin, which means Iron Mountain is on a peninsula, within a peninsula.
We touched down at the Ford Airport in Iron Mountain at 8:44 A.M. local time, making the flight time from takeoff to touchdown one hour and seven minutes. It was a brief five-minute taxi to the parking gate where I was happy to see no jetway — meaning we would deplane out onto the ramp.
This would be the 35th EAS Airport that I have visited, and the third in the state of Michigan I have seen. The others in Michigan that I have visited include Muskegon and Manistee, the latter of the two on Cape Air’s inaugural flight. Every EAS airport terminal I have been to has its own flair or unique design to it. At Iron Mountain, the architecture of the roof is what stands out the most.
The inside of the terminal was nothing fancy, but it was unique. There was a glass wall separating the sterile and non-sterile areas of the airport, the only way to get access between the two was through the TSA checkpoint or an alarmed door that the airline employees opened for arriving passengers to exit out of. Through the glass wall, I could see the baggage claim, which here was essentially a window they open where you can grab your bags. I do apologize for the quality of that baggage claim picture, the photo got a bug as I was transferring it from my camera.
I saw a few passengers talking to loved ones over the phone in the gate area, while the other person stood just on the opposite side of the glass in the airport lobby. This was fun seeing that and is certainly a unique aspect of this airport.
There was no restroom in the gate area once you went through security, so they only sent people through as they got closer to the departure time. The gate area was simple, with no permanent desk foundation or counter. The gate consisted of a simple single computer and a boarding pass scanner on a rolling table, which was wheeled out as the flight was ready to board.
No Public Address (PA) system in the gate area either, just someone talking as loud as they can, and yet despite this it didn’t feel unprofessional and actually added a bit of class doing things the really old-fashioned way. Before I knew it, the Delta agent began the boarding process, and I headed out for my flight to Minneapolis on board the same aircraft that brought me here.
I find that the smaller the airport it is, the nicer and more friendly people working there are, and that was certainly the case here. Everyone was so accommodating, and the gate agent even helped me with my seat assignment so I would have a better view on takeoff from Iron Mountain, I took my seat in 10A and buckled in for the short flight to Minneapolis.
The startup, and a short taxi over to the runway for takeoff. I could see the curvature of the runway in Iron Mountain from my seat as we turned onto the runway which was nothing alarming, most runways have dips and hills in them all of which are regulation. They are usually hard to see unless you are looking at them from the right angle, which I was this time.
We proceeded to take off from Iron Mountain not even an hour after landing, and I saw why the gate agent recommended a seat on the left side; a view of the river. In regards to the picture below, to the left of the river is Michigan and to the right is Wisconsin.
On this flight over to Minneapolis, there are 26 total passengers which is more than double that of the first flight, but still not a lot considering the aircraft can hold 50. We quickly climbed up to our cruising altitude of 24,000-feet for this short flight over to Minneapolis.
For this flight, the service was again a small water bottle and biscoff cookies, but instead of goldfish, there was a bag of pretzels. Still impressed by the service on a flight this short hop, the single flight attendant did a good job attending to passengers’ needs.
Before I knew it we had begun to descend and I could see downtown Minneapolis off the left side of the wing.
We touched down on the runway in Minneapolis/St. Paul at 10:23 A.M., which was 48-minutes after leaving Iron Mountain and 2-hours and 46-minutes after taking off from Detroit. By no means is this faster than the nonstop flight between the cities which can sometimes be under 90-minutes.
With spring break coming up for many schools across the country and pilot shortages looming, a unique connection could be your saving grace. If your hub-to-hub flight gets canceled or you miss a flight, this unique connection may just be the way of saving your vacation once the nonstop flights are completely full. On the other hand, you could just stop to see a place you’ve never been and probably have never heard of until now.
So, the next time your travel try connecting somewhere new and unique, you may just like where you end up.
A video trip report of this article can be found below. Some information and facts have been changed since the video’s creation in January 2022, this article has the most up-to-date information regarding this specific flight and was fact-checked on March 20, 2022.