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 Delta to resume Atlanta flights

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PostSubject: Delta to resume Atlanta flights   Thu Sep 29, 2011 3:15 pm

Delta to resume Atlanta flights

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A perfect scenario— as Shoals Chamber of Commerce President Steve Holt calls it — will begin Nov. 1 when Delta Air Lines will begin offering flights to Atlanta on a 50-seat regional jet.

Regional jet service to Memphis began Sept. 1 after Pinnacle Airlines, which operates locally as Delta Connection, retired the last of its fleet of Saab 340 turboprop aircraft. Before that date, the company provided commercial air service from Muscle Shoals to Atlanta.

Now, the Atlanta connection is on its way back.

“To have a 50-passenger regional jet flying from our airport nonstop, twice a day and return is the perfect scenario,” Holt said. “We will embrace it excitedly and enthusiastically.”

Delta spokesman Trebor Banstetter said the change will increase connecting opportunities for Shoals travelers. From Atlanta, Delta has nonstop service to more than 200 designations, including international service to 70 cities, he said.

“We made (the change) because of customer feedback that they preferred Atlanta as a connecting hub and due to the increase in international service and more flights to U.S. cities as well,” Banstetter said.

Delta began providing daily, nonstop flights to the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport on the 33-seat Saab turboprop planes July 1, 2009. Two years later, however, the Atlanta route was terminated and Delta began flying nonstop to the Memphis International Airport. At the time, Banstetter said the airline was returning to the Memphis route because it was less expensive than flying to Atlanta.

Northwest Alabama Regional Airport officials said the number of people traveling from the Shoals steadily increased while the service to Atlanta was available.

Holt said nonstop flights to Atlanta on a regional jet is something the Shoals has wanted for the past 20 years.

“We’re thrilled about Delta serving the Atlanta market from the Northwest Alabama Regional Airport,” airport Director Barry Griffith said. “We think it’s a great opportunity for the traveling public to be able to leave out of here at a very competitive price and connect to any destination in the world.”

The chamber’s Air Services Committee has tried to raise awareness of local air service offerings and encourages people to fly the Shoals whenever possible.

“We will do everything we can to support them and market this opportunity,” Holt said.

The downside to the jet service to Atlanta is that it’s unclear how long it will be available.

Delta has announced its intentions to cease commercial air service in the Shoals and 22 other rural communities. The Shoals air service is subsidized through the Essential Air Service Program.

The U.S. Department of Transportation, which administers the EAS program, has issued a request for proposals from airlines wanting to provide air service to the Shoals and other communities affected by Delta’s decision.

Proposals are due Oct. 13.

The transportation department issued another order earlier this month requiring Delta to continue serving the Shoals and the cities until “a suitable replacement” can be found.

Banstetter said Delta would serve the Shoals with regional jet service to Atlanta until another airline is selected.

Griffith and Holt said they hope the public will embrace the renewed service to Atlanta.

Griffith encourages travelers to check flight prices on Delta.com and consider the cost of traveling to and parking at airports in nearby larger cities.

“Even if we have Delta temporarily, it’s very important the traveling public utilize the service because maybe Delta will reconsider being a partner with us if we provide them with the enplanements they need,” Griffith said.

Enplanements is defined as the number of passengers who board an airplane.

Before Delta confirmed the change, the airline’s website indicated that flights from the Shoals were returning to Atlanta.

A search for ticket prices for flights in November indicate a stop in Atlanta, whereas flights in October still list a stop in Memphis.

Holt said he has received calls from individuals who had purchased tickets for flights in November and noticed the stopover in Atlanta.

Bill Mosley, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Transportation, which oversees the Essential Air Service Program, said Delta did not have to get approval from the transportation department to change its destination from Memphis to Atlanta.

“They would not have to file anything with us,” he said. “A few years ago we approved Atlanta as a service pattern out of Muscle Shoals.”

Yay! I love flying from home...so so glad! I flew last week and it was cheaper to fly from home anyway. I was also quite concerned. There were 3 passengers total on my flight out, plane only half full on flight back. Hopefully rerouting to Atlanta will bring the numbers back up.
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