Delta Air Lines is eliminating its flights between Lexington and Cincinnati, beginning Nov. 1.
Three daily flights by Delta carriers between Lexington's Blue Grass Airport and the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport will dwindle to two on Sept. 7 — a normal seasonal occurrence because of less demand — then be cut out altogether in November.
The Cincinnati airport, 70 miles away in Northern Kentucky, has been an easy connection point for Lexington travelers flying to other cities.
But Delta spokesman Kent Landers said Thursday that eliminating the flights between the two airports will mean that travelers from Lexington will lose one-stop service to only one city — Huntington, W.Va., which is a two-hour drive from Lexington.
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Delta travelers will still be able to make one-stop flights from Lexington to anywhere else they could before, but they will have to connect through hubs other than Cincinnati.
On Delta, that would mean connecting through Atlanta, Detroit or Memphis, Landers said. And with the addition of service between Lexington and Minneapolis-St. Paul in early September, customers will gain one-stop access to about three dozen cities that now require two stops to reach, he said.
"For connecting service, there are ample options via our other gateways," he said.
Delta picked up the hubs in Detroit, Memphis and Minneapolis in its merger with Northwest Airlines, which was completed in January.
Delta made the decision to cut the Lexington-Cincinnati service because of demand, Landers said. Fewer than five people a day fly from Lexington to Cincinnati with Cincinnati as their destination, while about 100 people a day fly from Lexington to Cincinnati to make connecting flights, he said. Regional 50-seat jets operated by Delta carriers make the brief Lexington-Cincinnati flights.
"While we are always disappointed to lose service to a city, we are grateful that Delta Air Lines continues to add new flights," said Blue Grass Airport spokesman Brian Ellestad. "The new service to Minneapolis will provide our customers with another means of going westbound."
John Mok, chief executive officer for the Kenton County Airport Board, which operates the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport near Florence, said he wasn't happy about losing the Lexington flights.
But, he said, "It's such a short drive. It probably makes little sense to fly up to Cincinnati anyhow."
Mok doesn't have a final fall flight schedule yet, but if losing the Lexington flights means his airport will get service, or more service, to a more distant destination, that would be a good trade-off, he said.
Mok, whose airport, a Delta hub, has seen its daily departure numbers for Delta flights decrease from about 650 in 2005 to 170 or 180, said he thinks that the situation with the airline has stabilized.
"They're indicating they're pleased with summer revenues out of Cincinnati. It indicates to us they don't see dramatic reductions as in past years," he said. "I think it's encouraging from our perspective that perhaps we have reached the ground floor with Delta. Maybe we'll stop descending at this point."
Said Delta's Landers: "We have a limited number of airplanes to be deployed across 300 markets around the world. To do that it's a matter of applying them to places where there's the highest demand."
He said Delta is "going to be serving the same number of customers we do today; they'll just be routed in different ways."
The Minneapolis-St. Paul flights will give travelers from Lexington more one-stop connecting flights to several cities in Canada, the Midwest and West that aren't available now, Blue Grass Airport's Ellestad said. Examples are Bismarck, N.D., Spokane, Wash., and Winnipeg, Canada.
But Delta's decision to cut the flights between Lexington and Cincinnati doesn't sit well with at least one local travel agency.
"We're terribly disappointed by Delta's decision," said Darlene Silvestri, one of the owners of Avant Travel. "We had sort of thought this might be coming. Travelers are disappointed. I guess there was a sense of comfort in that they were close to home."
She said some of Avant's clients will choose to drive to Cincinnati to get a non-stop flight, rather than fly from Lexington to another Delta hub.