published Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

Mainline service for the airport

Delta Air Lines' announcement that it will operate a mainline flight from Chattanooga to Atlanta starting in September is positive news for the region. The flight should provide better service for travelers, especially those in business, and expand the number of seats in the market. The changes are welcome.

When the airline ended 48 years of service to the city in 1995, those here who wanted to fly on Delta often found it maddeningly difficult task. They had to use a Delta-affiliated regional carrier to get to the Atlanta hub. That didn't always work well; sometimes, it didn't work at all.

That was particularly the case when Atlantic Southeast Airlines was the so-called Delta Connection here. Though many travelers would like to forget those days, it's hard to do so. ASA flights sometimes did not leave Chattanooga or Atlanta at all. Other times, they left late. And sometimes, ASA passengers were loaded on buses and driven to or from Atlanta. More often than not, no explanation was provided for the over-the-road excursions, cancellations or delays.

Would-be passengers were so fed up with ASA that they often played a game, supplying words to match the company acronym. "America's Sorriest Airline" was popular -- and one of the few phrases that can be printed in a family newspaper.

Indeed, the Chattanooga Airport-ASA relationship became so strained that in 2000 airport officials personally registered complaints with ASA officials. That apparently didn't do much good. A year later, airport officials scolded ASA (and Delta) for lousy service. The situation did improve and now regional jets connect the city to Atlanta, Charlotte and other destinations in a generally timely and efficient manner. Travelers appreciate that. The rising number of boardings here confirm growing trust in the reliability of the lines that serve Chattanooga.

The addition of Delta mainline service on a 125-seat DC-9 here is a test. If the region wants to keep upgraded service beyond a test phase, it will have to fill the seats on the new flight. That's a challenge area travelers should be eager to meet.

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Maybe the reduced fuel prices thanks to the new competition at the airport had something to do with Delta's reconsideration. We know it isn't the economy.

June 13, 2012 at 4:04 p.m.
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