Delta cuts Memphis flights, move may create room for Southwest - WMC Action News 5 - Memphis, Tennessee

Delta cuts Memphis flights, move may create room for Southwest

By Lori Brown - bio | email

MEMPHIS, TN (WMC-TV) - (WMC-TN) Delta Airlines announced it is cutting its Memphis flights by 25 percent, but experts say people who live in the Mid-South will likely not notice a difference. That's because the flights cut are mostly used as connecting flights.

Delta says soaring fuel costs are the reason the airline is making the cuts. Delta's fuel costs are up 35 percent compared with last year.

The airline plans to pare down its 200 peak-day departures to between 150 and 170 by the end of the year.

"The flights they're cutting are the ones that have very few Memphians, or people coming to Memphis on those flights," Larry Cox, President of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority said. "They're mostly just connecting passengers."

Delta says no change is expected to key nonstop markets including New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Boston. The airline is also increasing nonstop service, on a seasonal basis, to five Midwest cities : Appleton, Wis.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Lincoln, Neb.; Evansville, Ind.; and Madison, Wis.

Cox also says the hub isn't going anywhere.

Delta's down sizing could create room for Southwest to come to town.

"I think there is a real opportunity for them here in Memphis," Cox said. "I think we can see some activity by Southwest in the not too distant future."

Delta doesn't plan to cut jobs. The airline is Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines Corp.'s largest customer.

But Pinnacle says it will not see aircraft retirements or reductions due to Delta's cuts.

Delta says most of flight reductions will affect ASA and ComAir.

"But overall Pinnacle and its subsidiaries faired very well in this move," Joe Williams, spokesperson for Pinnacle said.

Pinnacle does handle ground operations for Delta, and does anticipate that it might have to make cuts to its ground crew workforce at Memphis International.

"This is something all of us will weather, we'll get there," Williams said.

Pinnacle won't know what ground crew cuts will be necessary until Delta releases its schedule.

That isn't expected to happen until later this year.



From Joe Williams, director of corporation communications at Pinnacle:

Will Memphis-based Pinnacle Airlines see flight reductions as a result of these changes?

Pinnacle Airlines will not see aircraft retirements or reductions as a direct result of this announcement.  Delta previously announced that it will remove more than 50 smaller regional jets from its fleet this year, with the majority of previously announced reductions coming from Delta Connection carrier Comair.

Will Pinnacle be required to cut any staff as a result of these changes?

From a flight operations standpoint, we have the flexibility so that if we should lose any flights out of Memphis, those flight crews and aircraft could serve other markets in our system.  (We have 1,500 flights a day to 196 cities and towns in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and Belize.)

Pinnacle also handles Ground Operations under contract to Delta and other carriers in Memphis and across the nation.  From the Ground Operations standpoint, this is a reduction in flight schedules.  We would anticipate some impact to the ground operations workforce from schedule reductions, but won't know until we get the full schedule from Delta later this year.  Separately and unrelated, we have been very conservative with our Ground Operations hiring in recent months pending the outcome of an RFP for the ground service contract in Memphis, so while any impact on our people always concerns us, it should be less.  The key here is that we just don't know until we get the full schedule from Delta.

Most of the flight reductions would affect ASA and Comair.  While the schedule hasn't been announced, Delta has said they will protect the top 50 markets.  Here's an excerpt from Delta's media release to Memphis media earlier today, where they reaffirmed Memphis as a hub:

"Our changes at Memphis are designed to improve the performance of the hub by trimming unprofitable flying on small, regional routes with little local demand and focusing our service on flights to the top destinations that matter most to Memphis customers," said Bob Cortelyou, Delta's senior vice president – Network Planning.  

Delta expects to finalize fall and winter schedule changes later this year. Key nonstop markets for local business travelers, including New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Washington, D.C., Chicago and Boston, are expected to continue to operate at current levels.  Delta also has been investing in service between the Midwest and Memphis where it has seen strength.  This summer, Delta is adding or increasing nonstop service on a seasonal basis to five Midwest cities – Appleton, Wis.; Cedar Rapids, Iowa; Lincoln, Neb.; Evansville, Ind.; and Madison, Wis.  

Flight reductions beginning this fall are expected to be focused in small, regional markets where at least 90 percent of customers are connecting via Memphis, rather than originating or departing.  Already this year, Delta has eliminated nonstop service between Memphis and Montgomery, Ala.; McAllen, Texas; Monroe, La.; and Amarillo, Texas – each market with fewer than 10 local Memphis customers flying per day each way.

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