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Published: Thursday, 1/6/2011

Delta cuts new service from Toledo to Minneapolis to 1 round trip

Instead of morning and evening flights, Delta Connection carrier Pinnacle Airlines effective this week operates only an 8:11 a.m. departure from the Twin Cities to Toledo, with the westbound return flight scheduled to leave Express at 11:30 a.m.

Carla Firestone, a spokesman for the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority, said Delta officials had notified her agency, which operates the local airport, “around the holidays” of the change.

“We believe that it takes several months to build a new air-service market, and would have preferred it if Delta could have supported both flights for a few more months to vet out viability a bit further,” Ms. Firestone said.

Jerry Chabler, chairman of the port authority's airport committee, conceded that initial ticket sales were low — the route flew only about 35 percent full during November — but said the airline should have waited at least six months before changing the service.

“It's outrageous,” he said. “It's a new route, and people need time to get used to it. I'm very disappointed in Delta. They just didn't give it enough time.”

Trebor Banstetter, an airline spokesman, said that in addition to its slow start, the route's advance bookings were weak, thus precipitating the service cut at a time of year when air travel traditionally is slow. Delta will continue to watch the situation to see if demand rebounds enough in the spring to justify service restoration, he said.

The cut leaves Toledo Express with just four daily flights to major hub airports — the one Delta Connection flight plus three per day on American Eagle to O'Hare International Airport — plus less-than-daily, and mostly seasonal, flights to Florida on two scheduled-charter carriers, Allegiant Air and DirectAir.

“Though we understand this is a reduction in service, we encourage the community to continue to support this local asset and check Toledo Express first when booking air travel,” Ms. Firestone said.

Port authority officials had acknowledged that the Twin Cities route was endangered by its slow start, and in December, the agency announced free parking for Delta Connection travelers at Toledo Express to try to promote the service.

But Toledo Express has long struggled to keep high-value business travelers from driving up to Detroit Metropolitan-Wayne County Airport, where nonstop flights to scores of cities and frequent schedules to major destinations have trumped the local airport's convenience. Higher fares have been problematic for Toledo Express from time to time as well.

In recent years, as all airlines have pared back their networks to emphasize high-volume, high-revenue routes, service to Toledo has been gutted. Passenger volume at Express in 2009 fell below that of its opening year, 1955, and through November its 2010 pace was even slower. Year-end statistics for the local airport are incomplete.

Delta's Oct. 31 cancellation of the Toledo-Detroit service, flown for decades by Northwest Airlines' commuter affiliates before that carrier merged with Delta two years ago, was viewed as an admission by the airline that such a feeder route could no longer compete with travelers driving to Detroit for nonstop service.

But local officials hoped the Minneapolis-St. Paul service would grow thanks to destinations available from that hub for which no nonstop service exists from Detroit.

Mr. Banstetter said that the port authority and other local leaders “have been great partners” in promoting the Twin Cities route, but that in the current tough times, companies like his have a lower tolerance for poorly performing operations than they may have had in the past.

“With the struggling economy, airlines are limiting their overall capacity, and we really need to focus our resources on routes that are going to be successful,” he said.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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