Nonstop flights to cities cut at the start of the pandemic more than two years ago have mostly returned to Chattanooga airport, except to New York.
But airport officials said last week Delta Air Lines was continuing to tell them nonstop flights would resume when commercial traffic heads to that key destination.
“Once COVID happened, that was one of the routes that was cut,” said Terry Hart, the airport’s general manager, in an interview.
Hart said in 2021 that nonstop services between Chattanooga and New York’s LaGuardia Airport could return in September, but that hasn’t happened as business traffic nationwide has been slower to return. than pleasure travel.
As of last week, he said, Delta continues to maintain its intention to bring nonstop flights back to New York when business travel returns to more typical loads for the airline.
“We’re not there yet,” Hart said. “In our discussions we had two, they said the service would come back. It was one of the routes that worked well.”
Chattanooga offers nonstop service to Atlanta, Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas-Fort Worth, Detroit, Miami, Orlando, Tampa-St. Petersburg and Washington, D.C.
Air traffic around the world has been hammered during the coronavirus shutdowns in 2020. Chattanooga Airport had its worst year in 2020 for boardings since 1983. This ended six consecutive years of record air traffic growth at the airport.
Also in 2020, for the first time Chattanooga officials could remember, American Airlines was the premier passenger carrier at Lovell Field, flying over perennial favorite Delta.
Chattanooga Mayor Tim Kelly said in an interview last week that direct flights to destinations are needed from the airport. Many people who live in the Chattanooga market commute to other airports to fly, he said, and it’s important that they travel from Lovell Field.
“We want them to keep flying out of here,” Kelly said.
He touted the airport’s official start last week of its $28 million terminal expansion that will add gates for planes, improve passenger amenities and increase the size of the security checkpoint for travelers. .
Jermaine Freeman, the city’s economic development manager, said the efficiency and convenience of nonstop flights can be “a game-changer for our prospects for economic development.”
“When we recruit potential businesses to create jobs in Chattanooga by opening additional offices and facilities here, they will consider whether travel and access to our city is easy and efficient,” he said in an email. -mail. “Adding more destinations served by nonstop flights is an essential and critical part of our city’s economic development and success.”
Freeman also said tourists looking for weekend getaways want to go to places they can reach quickly.
“The more flights, stopovers and connections people make, the more likely they are to experience delays, cancellations and disruptions to their routes and schedules,” he said.
While Delta and other airlines put more planes in the skies as the pandemic subsided, the total number of flights between Chattanooga and other cities has not fully returned.
For example, Delta had offered more than 11 daily nonstop flights between Chattanooga and Atlanta before the pandemic, but the number is about half now.
In addition, it may be some time before full flight numbers return due to pilot shortages across all airlines and other nationwide staffing shortages, according to Hart.
“Seating capacity has not increased,” he said.
Hart said passenger boardings in Chattanooga are about 80% of what they were before the pandemic.
“We continue to see a rebound,” he said of the long-term outlook for the future.