Delta Air Lines announced yesterday that it will discontinue all passenger service to and from Toledo Express Airport, leaving the airport with only three airline carriers by this fall and daily flights to just two cities.
A Delta spokesman said record high fuel prices are the reason for this latest service cut, which becomes effective Sept. 2 and will end Delta's three daily flights to Cincinnati through its Comair Inc. feeder carrier.
The announcement follows the airline's decision earlier this year to stop Toledo service to Atlanta, and effectively will sever Delta's longtime presence in Toledo. On Monday, the Atlanta-based airline said it was also cutting service at Lansing's Capital Region International Airport at the end of August.
The nation's third-largest carrier, Delta began Toledo service in 1945.
Toledo Express has lost more than half of its daily departures since 2004. That slide will surpass two-thirds on Sept. 3, when Continental Airlines stops its three daily Continental Connection flights between Toledo and Cleveland.
Of the airport's remaining carriers, Northwest Airlines operates five daily flights to Detroit, and American Airlines has three daily flights to Chicago through its affiliate, American Eagle.
There are also Allegiant Air services to Sanford, Fla., and St. Petersburg, Fla., although the carrier doesn't offer daily flights.
"To say that this is disappointing is an understatement," said Eric Frankl, airport director for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority. "There is no positive way to look at this."
City officials were quick to react to Delta's announcement yesterday. David Amstutz, director of economic development, said the airline's decision to pull out is an unfortunate result of fuel costs and the sluggish economy.
The price of jet fuel has increased 96 percent this year compared to last year's level, according to the International Air Transport Association, a trade group. Delta said in May that it would have to cut domestic capacity by 13 percent by the end of 2008 due to high fuel costs.
"With the rising fuel costs, all the airlines are eliminating routes," Mr. Amstutz said. "The one thing that comes to mind is that this will change the way people travel to and from Toledo."
The 23 Comair employees in Toledo impacted by the service cut will be offered an opportunity to relocate to other Comair stations or a "separation package," Comair spokesman Jeff Pugh said. Details of the package were unavailable.
Mr. Frankl said it was frustrating to note that there appeared to be few empty seats on Delta's soon-to-disappear flights between Toledo and Cincinnati.
"The problem is that even if they are 100 percent full, with these fuel prices, they can't make money," Mr. Frankl said.
Delta spokesman Susan Elliott declined to give details of the route's financial performance, but said that with today's fuel costs, a full commuter jet doesn't guarantee an operating profit.
"It has less to do with how full the flights were, and everything to do with fuel," she said.
Comair services the Toledo to Cincinnati route with 50-seat Canadair Regional Jets, an aircraft not known for fuel efficiency. The Erlanger, Ky.-based regional carrier on Monday announced that it will be cutting 520 positions - 300 pilots and 220 flight attendants - as Delta continues to shrink its domestic passenger capacity.
Comair also has said it will pull 14 Canadair Regional Jets from its fleet by year's end.
Deeper restructuring could lie ahead. Delta and Northwest Airlines have proposed to merge, forming the world's largest airline under the Delta name. However, regulators and shareholders have yet to approve the merger.
Passenger Dan Thornton, 43, a Montpelier native, was among several Delta travelers yesterday afternoon at Toledo Express who said they were disappointed that Delta is leaving northwest Ohio.
After having visited family, Mr. Thornton said he was flying home to Chapel Hill, N.C., by way of a Cincinnati connection.
"From a traveler's point of view, one of the things that's great about this airport is it's not busy," said Mr. Thornton, who also values Toledo Express for its close proximity.
Mike Krebs, 57, of Archbold, was departing for a business trip to Charlotte.
"It really shocked me that Delta is pulling out," he said. "That's basically the only airline I fly. I guess I'll have to go to Detroit."
One of the last passengers to check in for the 3 p.m. flight to Cincinnati was U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur (D., Toledo).
After greeting the Delta workers and expressing her sympathies, Miss Kaptur reminisced how it was once possible to fly from Toledo to Washington without switching planes.
"Compared to when I was first elected, there are no direct flights, so it makes it a real lottery if you're going to make it to the other end or not," she said.
And with a 6:30 p.m. vote on her schedule last night, Miss Kaptur said she was crossing her fingers for no weather delays. But the rain had been pouring throughout the afternoon yesterday, and soon the lights inside the terminal began flickering.
"This is the danger if you take this flight and it's late - you don't make your connecting flight," she said.
Moments after she passed through security and made her way up the escalator to her departure gate, the airport announced the flight's 30 minute delay.
Staff writer Ignazio Messina contributed to this report.
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