Fielding complaints about canceled and late flights on Delta Connection service, Chattanooga Airport officials said Monday they'd like to have a face-to-face meeting with executives for the air carrier to try to improve its on-time performance.
"I think it would be helpful for some board members to go down there and express our concern ... ," Chattanooga Airport Authority Vice Chairman Jim Hall said.
Airport officials said they could also invite Delta executives from its Atlanta headquarters to Chattanooga to see the newly renovated passenger terminal.
"We've got a first-class front door for our new first-class city," Hall said at a meeting of the airport authority. "We need to do everything we can to make sure the service out of the airport is first class."
Weather-related events over the past month and a half have disrupted service at times between Chattanooga and Atlanta. Delta carries more than half of all passengers who board planes at the airport, with the large majority of them traveling to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport.
But, in addition to those events, some business people and others have criticized what they see as all-too-frequent canceled flights and delays.
Chattanooga businessman Jerry Baldwin said there's a reason why nearly two of every three air travelers in the area fly from a different airport than Lovell Field, a figure supported by a recent study.
"We can't get home," he said in an email. "There is nothing worse than being stuck and not being able to tell your family when you will get home."
He said that "if you were to be sitting at a gate in Atlanta listening to the gate tell us, once again, we have a mechanical issue ... you would see every single traveler start shaking their head. Why? Because they know this is only the beginning of the delays, and the odds are the flight will cancel."
Baldwin said the question then is "do you run and rent a car? Or do you wait a few hours only to be forced to rent a car then?"
Greg Vital, another Chattanooga business flier, said in a Facebook post Feb. 7 that he has tried to support the airport, but noted a recent cancellation.
"We arrived at 5:15 a.m. for a 6 a.m. Delta flight, which was delayed and then canceled by 8 a.m. which caused us to miss two connections to the West Coast," he wrote. Vital said he had to take a cab to Atlanta's airport, paid by Delta, to catch a flight. Feb. 7 wasn't a day affected by snowy weather.
"It's not about flying when it's unsafe or when an occasional piece of equipment is not air worthy. It's about reliable and dependable airline service," Vital said.
Chattanooga Airport board member Mike Mallen said officials need to impress on Delta that Lovell Field needs good service routinely. He suggested the airport document over a two- or three-year period the canceled and late flights "so we can graphically make the case."
Airport President Terry Hart said he plans to gather the data related to the service issues.
He also noted the weather-related difficulties in the past month and a half, including a Dec. 31 failure of carrier-operated de-icing equipment at Lovell Field that created some cancelled service. Hart said the airport is talking with Wilson Air Service, which runs Lovell Field's general aviation operations, about it providing de-icing for the airlines next winter.
Hall said that the airport has had subpar service from Delta in the past, and a vice president for the airline visited the airport.
"We did see some considerable improvement in the service," he said.
In other business:
• Airport officials agreed to expand its intermediate parking lot by 104 spaces to help alleviate parking problems. Hart said plans are to take down a fence on nonleased space the airport gained from its recent deal to buy out general aviation operator TAC Air.
The airport plans to spend about $20,300 to move a fence and prep the spaces, Hart said. He said the new parking should add about $2,000 a month in new revenue. Hart termed the added spaces "an interim fix" to parking problems.
• Also, airport boardings grew 14.2 percent in January over the same month a year ago, despite the weather, to 24,260 passengers.
"We're very pleased to see that, even with all the weather systems," Hart said, citing "competitive fares" and the convenience of flying from the city.