Low-Cost Airline ATA Says Goodbye

March 29, 2005
The airline filed for bankruptcy in October and in January announced it would end Fort Wayne operations.

Passengers board ATAs last flight from Fort Wayne International Airport as it prepares to head to Indianapolis on Monday.

Kim Prible is one of the ground crew who helped prepare an ATA plane for the airlines last flight leaving Fort Wayne International Airport on Monday. The airline filed for bankruptcy in October and in January announced it would end Fort Wayne operations.

For the seventh and final time since September, Mary and Dan Elias boarded an ATA flight to Indianapolis at Fort Wayne International Airport on Monday, bound for their home in Sarasota, Fla.

The couple lived 53 years in Fort Wayne, where they have three children and seven grandchildren. They moved to Florida four years ago. Since then, they estimate theyve taken more than 50 ATA flights to Chicago or Indianapolis.

Since June, they have been able to fly directly to their hometown to see their grandchildrens football games and dance recitals.

No more.

On a clear, warm but windy day, ATAs final flight departed Gate 2 at 12:32 p.m. Fifteen passengers less than half the 31-passenger maximum boarded Flight 3527. It was the only departing ATA plane Monday, as earlier and later flights were canceled.

The low-cost airline filed for bankruptcy in October, and in January announced Fort Wayne fliers would fall victim.

ATA has always been such a great airline, I really hate to see it struggle like this, Dan Elias said. I felt really bad; it was almost like losing our own business.

The Eliases were hit twice as hard. ATA also is ending service to Sarasota, forcing the couple to drive an hour to Fort Myers, Fla., to catch a flight to Indianapolis. The couple plans to make another trip in May.

Mary Elias said cost and convenience will keep them flying ATA.

We should get an extra bag of peanuts, she said.

Through February, 19,884 passengers departed via ATA flights, airport officials said. But nothing was much different about ATAs final flight. There was no formal farewell that was canceled last week when airport officials said ATA representatives would be unable to attend the event.

ATAs final flight was Snider High School freshman Matt Taylors first ever. The 15-year-old was leaving Fort Wayne a week before his schools spring break to see his grandparents in St. Petersburg, Fla. He bought a pack of gum to fight ear pressure and packed his iPod.

I heard it was scary, he said, admittedly nervous about flying. He didnt know what airline he was taking back, but it will be with his parents, who are meeting him in St. Petersburg next week.

Willshire, Ohio, native Ron Stetler was flying to Sarasota to meet his fiancee and close up the couples trailer for the summer.

He said he flies about three times a year and wouldnt be affected by ATA ending service in Fort Wayne. He also didnt have to worry about a return flight hes driving back.

Allen Bates has lived in Huntington for 25 years. He said he flies about six times each year, mostly on ATA. He was departing Monday for a job interview in Berlin, Md.

I have seen air carriers leave that eventually come back, there is a hope they will do something like that, Bates said. I definitely dont like to see companies leave Fort Wayne.

Fort Wayne worked diligently to attract ATA, providing a $2.5 million incentive package in exchange for its commitment to provide service from Fort Wayne for at least a year. ATA fell short of its promise, leaving the airport seeking a $563,013 payment in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

The Eliases will continue to take other ATA flights and deal with the inconvenience.

It was nice to fly right here, Dan Elias said. Otherwise you fly into Indianapolis, you rent a car or someone has to come pick you up, or you stay in a hotel room and drive up the next day.

Or as airport Community Affairs Manager Sandra Lux points out, you can still take other quality airlines into Fort Wayne.