Delta quits McGhee Tyson flights to Memphis
By Robert Norris | The Daily Times
You may have heard of the “Last Train to Clarksville” circa 1966. Now it’s 2013 and time for new lyrics: “Last Plane to Memphis.”
The final Delta Air Lines flight connecting McGhee Tyson Airport with Memphis International Airport flew Saturday, according to Leslie Scott, a Delta spokeswoman.
Becky Huckaby, Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority director of public relations, said Monday the loss of the McGhee Tyson’s only direct flight to the West Tennessee city would be a minor inconvenience to passengers.
“It was a good intrastate connection for us, but it was a connection point. For most people, Memphis was not their final destination. They were going to the West Coast,” she said.
Huckaby said Delta is making adjustments by scheduling larger aircraft to serve McGhee Tyson passengers through its Atlanta and Detroit hubs.
“Delta is reorganizing their fleet. There won’t necessarily be more flights (from McGhee Tyson), but more seats,” she said.
Scott said that Memphis remains in the top-10 for peak-day departures for the airlines. Delta customers will have 64 peak-day departures to 29 destinations including service to 18 of the top 20 markets.
The airlines reduced service as rising fuel cost combined with inefficient aircraft and low local demand caused Memphis International to become unprofitable as a hub, Scott said.
Delta announced in June it would drop its money-losing hub in Memphis, slashing flights there and eliminating 230 jobs. It’s the outcome that was feared in small hubs like Memphis, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City when the wave of airline mergers began five years ago with Delta’s purchase of Northwest Airlines.
Northwest had used Memphis as a hub, meaning it funneled passengers through there on their way to other destinations such as New York or Florida. Delta flew as many as 240 flights per day out of Memphis in June 2009, including a flight to Amsterdam. It has been ratcheting that number down ever since.
At the time, Northwest executives said their Memphis flights made money. But Memphis was widely believed to be on borrowed time as a Delta hub. Atlanta sits just 370 miles to the east, and Atlanta-based Delta has turned that city’s Hartsfield-Jackson International into the world’s busiest airport, reducing its need for Memphis.
It was reported that other cities losing Delta flights include: Baton Rouge, La.; Fayetteville, Ark.; Fort Lauderdale, Fla.; Jacksonville, Fla.; Little Rock, Ark.; Oklahoma City; Omaha, Neb.; Phoenix; St. Louis; Shreveport, La.; and Tulsa, Okla. Some of the 29 cities that continue to have Delta flights to Memphis are Los Angeles, Denver, Houston, New Orleans, Charlotte, Chicago and Nashville.
Larry Cox, the president and CEO of the Memphis-Shelby County Airport Authority, said in June that Delta’s reductions would give the airport an opportunity to recruit other airlines. He said low-fare Southwest Airlines will expand there in the fall.
The Metropolitan Knoxville Airport Authority also would welcome Southwest and other low-fare carriers to McGhee Tyson Airport. In May, Innovation Valley, the regional economic development initiative, announced plans for a new Competitive Airfare Partnership to that would devote $3 million to lure more low-fare airlines to McGhee Tyson Airport.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.