Delta Air Lines is grounding Raleigh-Durham International Airport's only nonstop flight to Los Angeles, a route added 18 months ago after intense lobbying by Triangle business leaders.
Facing higher fuel costs, the carrier decided it would be more efficient to route RDU passengers to Los Angeles through its hubs in Atlanta, Cincinnati and Salt Lake City. The last flight will be Monday, although the airline plans to re-evaluate the service in June.
"They're taking a hacksaw to anything that's marginal right now," aviation consultant Mike Boyd said. "With $100 oil, flights that once were profitable are not profitable anymore."
Delta spokeswoman Susan Elliott said the airline is reducing domestic flights 5 percent this year as it shifts emphasis to more profitable international routes.
Airlines organized around a system of hub airports prefer to steer passengers through those hubs where there are more connecting passengers to fill planes. Travel agents in the Triangle said Delta's Los Angeles flight had too many empty seats.
Nighttime schedule hurt
John Lewis, president and chief executive of Raleigh-based Travel Management Partners, said the flights were rarely more than half-full because of their nighttime schedule.
Delta's outbound flight leaves RDU at 7:30 p.m. and arrives in Los Angeles at 10:10 p.m.
The inbound flight departs Los Angeles at 10:20 p.m. and arrives at RDU at 6:08 a.m.
Travel Management sells several thousand tickets from RDU to Los Angeles a year to a client list that includes Quintiles Transnational and Reichhold Chemicals.
But even though the trips could take several hours longer, customers preferred connecting flights with a more convenient schedule.
"Most passengers want to be out there in the morning and back at dinner time," Lewis said. "We had lots of interest in it, but we thought the times would be more conducive to what our clients would be interested in. We found we could not sell nearly what we'd hoped to provide."
In 2005, a panel of Triangle leaders identified nonstop flights to the West Coast as one of the area's biggest needs for recruiting new industry. Business leaders lobbied for the route, and when Delta agreed to provide the service, RDU spent $150,000 on promotions.
Delta's Los Angeles service is the only nonstop flight from RDU to the West Coast, long a goal of the airport.
RDU marketing director Teresa Damiano hopes to persuade Delta to renew the flight in June. But Lewis said passengers are unlikely to choose the flight unless the round trip becomes a daytime operation.
"I don't see anything changing until they change the schedule," Lewis said.
It's the first time a major carrier with tens of thousands of loyal frequent fliers has offered service to the West Coast.
Already, about 400 passengers a day travel between RDU and Denver, using connecting flights.
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