Michigan Flyer to Put the Brakes on Travel to DTW

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Above: The Michigan Flyer headed to DTW yesterday afternoon (photo by Alice Dreger)

The Michigan Flyer will suspend its coach bus service from East Lansing to Brighton, Ann Arbor, and Detroit Metro Airport for one month, effective Monday, March 16, due to declining demand.

The announcement comes just as MSU students are being encouraged to return home.

On Tuesday, Governor Gretchen Whitmer’s declaration of a state of emergency followed two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Michigan. On Wednesday, MSU President Sam Stanley announced that MSU would suspend in-person instruction and transition to online formats. The announcement from MSU came just two hours before the university’s measure was set to go into effect.

MSU dormitories are remaining open since not all students have a permanent address to which they can return, but MSU has encouraged students to return to their permanent homes if possible.

Many students did not leave immediately after the announcement due to being caught off-guard. Instructors had little time to prepare for the online format, leaving students uncertain how their semester would proceed. Although MSU is a state university, its students come from all 50 states and over 82 countries.

Preparing to go home in those cases take time. Students need to buy tickets and many need to make special financial arrangements to deal with this unexpected cost. Many MSU students had returned from spring break just two days before.

Now, students hoping to get to Detroit Metro Airport have an additional problem to deal with.

Michigan Flyer cited “a sharp decline in demand by passengers traveling to and from Detroit Metro Airport” as the motivating factor for suspending service from March 16 to April 16. The University of Michigan, whose population the Flyer also serves, is also transitioning to online courses, and both schools canceled many forms of university-related travel.

Faculty, staff, and students frequently travel across the United States and around the world for study abroad programs, conferences, and research trips, and for several weeks at least, they won’t be doing that.

In its announcement, Michigan Flyer also stated that national restrictions on travel influenced its decision. The United States has forbidden the entry of non-citizens and non-permanent residents who have recently traveled to Europe (excluding Britain and Ireland), China, South Korea, and Iran. Citizens and permanent residents returning from these places must undergo extra screening.

Anyone who booked tickets for trips on the Michigan Flyer between March 16 and April 16 will receive full refunds.

But how will those who relied on the bus service get to Detroit Metro Airport? Driving one’s own car there and parking for nearly 30 days would be costly for many, even in long-term discounted lots. Renting cars to drive to the airport would also be difficult for many students since drivers under 25 often face hefty surcharges for their age. Under some rental car companies’ rules, they are not allowed to rent at all. Would-be passengers could consider flying from Lansing, but that often costs extra.

Some students will need to consider other forms of transportation for getting home. Indian Trails, which runs the Michigan Flyer, still has other operation routes to Detroit, Chicago, Duluth, and Milwaukee. Some will need to just stay here.

Things are probably going to get harder around here before they get easier. When MSU made the decision to close, there were two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state. As of now, there are 25.

ELi has a special section dedicated to our reporting on COVID-19 for East Lansing. See it here and sign up for ELi’s mailer to stay informed.

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