Delta cuts: Asheville losing Cincinnati nonstop

Delta Air Lines is ending its remaining nonstop flight between North Carolina's Asheville Regional Airport and Cincinnati, another step by the airline to funnel more Asheville-bound travelers through Atlanta.

A Delta spokesman said the move is part of a broader response to poor economic conditions, although an Asheville Regional official said the flight has had good numbers of passengers. The last Asheville-Cincinnati nonstop will be June 30.

Delta's schedule in 2007 had three daily nonstop flights each way between Asheville Regional and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, which is one of its hubs.

The airline has been reducing service at Cincinnati in general, including ending nonstops from there to three other cities at the same time the Asheville service ends.

Delta has taken several steps to shift more traffic to Atlanta since it bought Northwest Airlines late last year, including increasing the frequency of flights between Asheville and Atlanta.

"The great advantage of Atlanta for customers in Asheville or anywhere else is literally the ability to take customers anywhere," Delta spokesman Kent Landers said.

Some complaints

Passengers may not take such a sunny view of the shift, which will leave Asheville Regional with seven nonstop destinations.

Waynesville travel agent Ronda Owens said last week she has heard a number of complaints about Asheville-Atlanta service. Federal statistics suggest that Delta's commuter affiliates have had trouble getting their flights in and out of Atlanta, the world's busiest airport, on time.

Flights through Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport were on time 75% of the time from May 2008 through April 2009, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. That contrasts with an 81.2% on-time record at Cincinnati for the same period.

Ten of the 31 most-delayed flights in the country for the first quarter of the year were through Atlanta and several appeared to be Delta commuter flights.

Landers said Atlantic Southeast Airlines, which operates many commuter flights in and out of Atlanta, "has significantly improved its performance in recent years."

Northwest eliminated its only nonstop flight between Asheville and Minneapolis/St. Paul earlier this year and cut the number of flights between Detroit and Asheville from two to one each way. But Delta beefed up its Atlanta service earlier this year and its July schedule shows 10 daily Atlanta departures from Asheville, up from six in July 2008.

Delta offers 1,083 departures to 240 destinations from Atlanta, Landers said. It has 264 departures to 90 cities from Cincinnati.

Patti Michel, Asheville Regional's director of marketing and public relations, said "passengers won't be impacted" by the Cincinnati loss because the Atlanta flights give them "a lot more opportunity, a lot more flexibility to get to their destinations."

The change does create more of an opportunity for Asheville Regional to lure air service to the Midwest, she said. The airport has had discussions with United Airlines and American Airlines about possible service to Chicago and with Continental Airlines about possible service to Cleveland. Each of those cities is a hub for the respective airlines.

Airport Director Dave Edwards has said any new service would probably not begin until 2010.

The Asheville Citizen Times is owned by Gannett, parent company of USA TODAY.

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