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As MSP implements mask mandate, North Dakota's 'spoke' airports don't plan to join in

Across North Dakota, airports don't currently plan to add mask-wearing requirements, unless city health officials, the state Department of Health or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise otherwise.

Tim and Kathy Goheen wait Tuesday, July 21, in Hector International Airport for their flight from Fargo to Chicago. Michael Vosburg / Forum Photo Editor
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FARGO — Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport added itself to a growing list of airports in the United States requiring passengers to wear masks throughout their facilities Monday, July 20.

Across North Dakota, airports don't plan to add mask-wearing requirements unless city health officials, the state Department of Health or Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advise otherwise.

At Bismarck Airport, Assistant Airport Director Tim Thorness said the airport is monitoring state guidance on the matter.

"We look at it and reevaluate it all the time," he said. "If we need to make changes in the future, we'll do that."

MSP, Chicago's O'Hare International Airport and Denver International Airport require travelers to wear masks. The trio are the primary hub airports North Dakota flyers pass through en route to other destinations across the country.


Implementing or not implementing a mask mandate comes down to the difference between hub and spoke airports, according to Ryan Riesinger, Executive Director of Grand Forks International Airport.

"In some cases, passengers are in those facilities for an extended period of time on a layover," Riesinger said of hub airports such as MSP, O'Hare and Denver. Grand Forks, Fargo's Hector International Airport, Bismarck Airport and Williston Basin International Airport are considered spoke airports.

"That isn't as common of an occurrence at a spoke airport or a smaller airport where passengers are arriving right prior to the flight departing," Riesinger continued. "When they arrive back here from their trip, ultimately they're deplaning, gathering their bags and departing. There isn't a lot of loitering, if you will, that takes place at a smaller airport like ours."

Despite the lack of a mandate, both Riesinger and Anthony Dudas, Williston Basin Airport Director, said "the vast majority" of passengers are wearing masks at the airport.

The same is true in Fargo, where voluntary mask-wearing has "gone over well," according to the Hector Executive Director Shawn Dobberstein.

Passengers at the state's largest airport are "encouraged" to wear masks, he said, but not required to do so.

"We see a lot of folks doing that. Some do, some don't, but I'd say the majority have adhered to it," he said.

Unless local or state health officials mandate public mask-wearing in Fargo or the state at large, Dobberstein doesn't anticipate the Municipal Airport Authority would impose a mandate on its own.


"I don't foresee anything imminent here in the near future, but we'll follow the lead of local or state health officials if that's what they desire should be done here," he said.

Hub airports such as those in Minneapolis, Denver and Chicago have mask-wearing mandates in place due to the volume of passengers they service, Dobberstein said.

MSP serviced 255,447 passengers in May, down 92% compared to May 2019, according to the Minneapolis-St. Paul Metropolitan Airports Commission . In Fargo, Hector saw 10,982 flyers pass through its gates , down 86% from the previous year. Even in a depressed market for air travel, MSP handled more than 22 times as many passengers as Hector.

Hub airports are also more likely to service passengers from California, New York and other hot spots, Dobberstein added.

"It's a little bit different than Minneapolis, Chicago and Denver because they are hub airports and dealing with a few more people than we are here," he said.

Thomas Evanella is a reporter for The Forum. He's worked for The Forum for over three years, primarily reporting on business news. He's also the host of the InForum Business Beat podcast, which can be streamed at InForum.com/podcasts or wherever you listen to your podcasts. Reach him at tevanella@forumcomm.com or by calling 701-241-5518. Follow him on Twitter @ThomasEvanella.
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