By Dennis Seid/NEMS Daily Journal
True story: A couple of weeks ago, a business executive needing to get to Tupelo looked at flights from his home in Tampa to Tupelo Regional Airport.
But instead of flying into Tupelo, he chose Columbus because it cost $400 less.
His flight was with Delta Air Lines, which provides service to both Tupelo Regional and Golden Triangle Regional.
So why the big price difference?
Delta doesn’t consider the two airports in competition with each other; neither does it think they serve the same market. That’s true to a certain point, but fact is, it’s only a 45-minute drive from Tupelo to Columbus.
Who wouldn’t take the drive and save big bucks?
So now we have Delta delivering the news that it’s bringing back three daily flights via its Mesaba subsidiary to Tupelo in June. Of course, it’s getting a nice $2 million subsidy to do so.
Tupelo leaders have long pleaded with Delta – and Northwest, before it was gobbled up by Delta – to focus on affordability, reliability and convenience with its flights to and from Tupelo.
Sometimes it worked, but too many times it didn’t.
How else do you explain the drop in boardings in Tupelo from more than 31,000 in 2006 to just over 13,000 last year?
Granted, six years ago, Tupelo had Northwest and Delta providing up to seven flights a day. But today, only two flights leave Tupelo.
And some of the reduction in boardings can be attributed to the economy and airline industry problems.
But in many ways, Delta cut its own throat by reducing flights, tagging flights with Muscle Shoals and providing an otherwise weak and inconsistent schedule – not to mention the number of cancellations and schedule changes that alienated potential passengers.
So now Delta is happy to be back in Tupelo and providing what the community has asked for, the airline says.
But how long can we count on Delta playing ball?
In its Essential Air Service bid, in which it offered the new flight schedule for the aforementioned $2 million, Delta says it has “decided to transition to an all-jet regional aircraft fleet, and all Saab 340 aircraft will be retired within the next two-three years. Accordingly, Mesaba can commit to an EAS service contract only so long as it maintains Saab aircraft in its fleet.”
And Delta flies Saabs out of Tupelo.
In April, the morning flight to Memphis is switching to the late afternoon because Delta said it had “aircraft scheduling issues.”
Those issues are caused by Delta’s “retirement” of the Saabs.
But if fewer of those unreliable Saabs are in Delta’s system, how does that help Tupelo? It doesn’t – unless Tupelo starts getting some of those regional jets to fly in and out.
Read Delta’s statement again. Within two years, the city will be back at the negotiating table.
Between now and then, there’s much work to be done to try to get things right. And it all depends on affordability, reliability and convenience.