After two decades of offering jet service from Bangor to Boston, Delta Air Lines announced Wednesday that it would discontinue those flights as part of a major domestic route realignment.
The move means that fliers traveling to Boston from Bangor and Portland airports will have to do so on smaller commuter planes. Delta has opened up two new routes, however, that will offer people in Maine direct jet service to Cincinnati and Atlanta.
The news was not a surprise to Bangor International Airport Manager Robert Ziegelaar, who said the change was expected and not as “bad as it could have been.”
Maine’s congressional delegation didn’t like Delta’s news. Sen. Olympia Snowe decried the airline’s “crash landing” of its service in the Northeast air corridor and said that as a member of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, she will press for a complete evaluation of rural air service.
“I am disappointed that Delta has made the decision to eliminate even more jet service between Maine and airports in other states,” Snowe said. “This is a crash landing for air service in the Northeast and shifts the brunt of Maine’s air service in the Northeast to commuter carriers.”
The restructuring by Delta is part of a program designed to return the company to sustained profitability. As part of the plan the company will decrease the airline’s presence in Boston by about 20 percent and will make Cincinnati its second-largest hub with 203 daily departures.
Service from Bangor and Portland to Boston will continue to be offered by Delta’s affiliate, Business Express, which said Wednesday it would increase its service to the two Maine airports.
“Beginning May 1, 1995, (Business Express) will increase service to both Bangor and Portland from its hub at Logan with a combination of 70-passenger Avro RJ-70 jets and 34-passenger Saab 340 aircraft,” a press release from the company stated.
“The loss of service in Bangor and Portland will be minimal,” said Warren R. Wilkinson, marketing manager for Business Express. “You are gaining new service to Cincinnati. This summer we are adding two nonstop flights from Bangor to New York. Although we are still firming up our spring schedule, it’s safe to say there will be an increase in flights between Bangor and Boston.”
Delta now offers four daily jet flights from Bangor; three to Boston and one to Newburgh, N.Y.
The elimination of jet service from Bangor to Boston comes on the heels of a series of commuter airplane crashes that rocked the industry and prompted demands for tougher airline standards.
Last month, Snowe decried the “double standard” in safety regulations between commercial jetliners and smaller commuter aircraft and said she would continue to look into the “troubling” safety record of some smaller commuter carriers.
Ziegelaar acknowledged that the need to fly smaller planes to Boston might concern some fliers, but said those who fly frequently have become accustomed to the smaller planes.
“This is something that has been happening nationwide … in markets where jets can’t be economically justified. Basically that is any market less than an hour’s flight and in some cases markets with less than two-hour flights. In those cases you’re going to continue to see substitutions of smaller, more efficient planes. It happened at other airports fairly early. We’ve been fortnate to remain unchanged for this long,” Ziegelaar said.
The delay in ceasing jet service to and from Boston and Bangor might have been due to Bangor’s location at the “end of the line,” which allowed Delta flights to make Bangor their last stop. The crew then would spend the night in Bangor before taking off the next morning, Zeigelaar said.
Just a few weeks ago Delta announced a new training policy that would require that Business Express pilots meet the same training requirements as Delta pilots.
“That is a very positive move that will probably be followed elsewhere in the industry,” Ziegelaar said.
He said he was pleased with Delta’s decision to establish three jet service flights from Bangor International Airport to Atlanta and Cincinnati.
Mainers traveling to Florida for vacation, for example, may be able to get better flights by flying directly to Atlanta.
The two daily Cincinnati flights again will allow BIA to offer better service to westbound travelers. The airport’s westbound connection was lost when United Airlines, with its direct flight to Chicago, pulled out of Bangor.
“We have had many requests for a westbound connection,” Ziegelaar said.
Delta’s jets that operate out of Bangor seat about 150 people, while Business Express routinely operates 35-seater commuter planes. Business Express said Wednesday, however, that a 70-seat jet now would be used regularly in Bangor to pick up the excess Boston business.
Ziegelaar said the move by Delta was a financial one prompted by “cutthroat” competition that was forcing all major airlines to streamline their services.
In a typical summer Delta would fill about 750 seats daily out of Bangor, but year round the airline would be able to fill only about a third of the seats available on its four daily flights, Zeigelaar said.
“When you compare the seats available vs. the seats sold, it was not economically sound,” he said.
Delta has operated jet service to Boston since the early 1970s when it took over Northeast Airlines.
Ziegelaar said USAir, which offers commuter flights out of Bangor, has talked of establishing jet service from Bangor to Philadelphia and Pittsburgh this summer.
“I don’t see this as a real negative. It’s not necessarily positive, but it’s too early to call it negative. We do lose jet service to Boston, but we will have better westbound service and more direct service to Atlanta. We’ll have a clearer picture in a month from now,” he said.
Ziegelaar said he was optimistic about BIA’s growth in domestic traffic.
“This is a shakeup, but overall the picture continues to look good,” he said.
Domestic traffic at BIA has increased steadily at about 3 percent a year and Ziegelaar said he fully expected Maine’s tourism appeal to grow.
“Things are looking good. Basically you simply can’t get to secondary communities on jets anymore. Those days are gone and they’re gone forever,” he said.
For many years, Delta has been the nation’s most profitable air carrier, but spokeswoman Alison Clements said the airline had “not shown a profit” in recent quarters and had embarked on a drive to cut its per-passenger costs to be competitive with the new low-overhead carriers. The cutbacks on routes serving smaller cities and other yet-to-be implemented realignments, Clements said, are intended to return Delta to profitability by 1997.