Delta flights to LaGuardia won't be around for long

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Aug. 25--Delta Air Lines is truncating its plans to offer more service between Richmond and New York this fall.

Delta will add three daily nonstop flights between Richmond and New York -- two to LaGuardia Airport and one to John F. Kennedy International Airport -- starting Sept. 7, but then drop them after Oct. 30.

Starting Oct. 31, Delta will provide four daily nonstops between RIC and New York -- all going into JFK.

"Due to the constraints of takeoff and landing slots at New York-LaGuardia, Delta will not be able to provide nonstop service from Richmond International Airport [to LaGuardia] this fall as previously announced," Delta's Trebor Banstetter said.

Travelers going into the city generally view LaGuardia as the most convenient of the three New York metropolitan airports of LaGuardia, JFK and Newark Liberty International in New Jersey.

"Richmond remains an important market for Delta. We continue to pursue opportunities for additional slots at LaGuardia for future service," Banstetter said.

"I'd be dumbfounded if they don't. . . . Richmond is important to the Delta system," said George E. Hoffer, a University of Richmond transportation economist who recently retired as an economics professor at Virginia Commonwealth University.

New York's metro area is RIC's top travel destination, and Delta has the largest share of RIC's passengers, with more than a quarter of the traffic.

"It's pretty much right back to where we were October a year ago," RIC spokesman Troy Bell said. "The four flights to JFK were essentially what Delta offered a year ago."

The quick reversal of Delta's Richmond-New York schedule plans traces to a proposed exchange of Delta's flight slots at Reagan Washington National Airport in return for US Airways slots at LaGuardia.

The swap fell through last month because of federal conditions on the deal.

Delta had been leasing slots at LaGuardia for the increased Richmond-LaGuardia service from another airline, which it would not identify. "Unfortunately, they are no longer available," Banstetter said, "which is why we are focusing our Richmond service at JFK."

While not confirming that US Airways held the slots leased to Delta, US Airways spokeswoman Michelle Mohr said "we had a short-term lease at LaGuardia, and that's over, and those slots are being returned to us."

US Airways is adding more flights from around the country -- but not from Richmond -- to LaGuardia starting Oct. 31.

"We would have been happy if Delta pulled it off," Kim Scheeler, president and CEO of the Greater Richmond Chamber, said of the slot swap.

However, Scheeler said, "We're where we were, which is not bad."

By November, RIC will have 18 daily nonstop flights to the New York metropolitan airports. In addition to Delta and US Airways, Continental Airlines flies into Newark's airport, and JetBlue Airways serves JFK from Richmond.

About 3.3 million air travelers use RIC annually, with about 350,000 flying to or from New York.

Contact Peter Bacque at (804) 649-6813 or pbacque@timesdispatch.com.

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