Delta boardings soar as Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport traffic climbs

Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport, which boarded more people than ever in 2017, also saw its airlines gain passengers with Delta Air Lines surging and claiming nearly half of all traffic.

Delta boardings soared nearly 8 percent higher last year than in 2016 as the Atlanta-based airline's share of air traffic in Chattanooga is up almost 30 percent from a decade ago, figures show.

While the airport hit a new record of 484,517 boardings last year, up 15.6 percent, Delta's Express Jet service captured 231,151 of the total, or 47.7 percent, according to Lovell Field.

"It's a big player in the Southeast," said airport Chief Executive Terry Hart about Delta. "It has a major hub in Atlanta. Many of our business travelers frequent Delta. It's important they continue to do well."

Traveler Jeff Avery of Chattanooga said Wednesday at the airport that he was boarding a plane to Atlanta on Delta with an ultimate destination in Memphis.

Avery said he likes Delta service out of Chattanooga rather than having to drive to Atlanta and face that city's automobile traffic.

"All airlines struggle at times but most of the time I've had pretty good luck," he said, adding that he'd like to see Chattanooga land a nonstop flight to Memphis.

Janice Holcombe, another air traveler, said she too was flying Delta out of Chattanooga.

"It's convenient. By the time you pay for parking in Atlanta, you do just as well," the Ooltewah woman said.

Holcombe said she recently flew a United Airlines nonstop to Newark Liberty International Airport and likes the convenience of that service to New York City.

United started flying to and from Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport just over a year ago with the Newark flight and another nonstop to Chicago.

Hart said United's traffic on the New York area flight is building. The airline has a goal of filling 70 percent of its seats and its loads are around that number, he said.

United boarded 51,632 passengers in Chattanooga in 2017.

On Wednesday, United executives said they plan to grow rapidly nationally and rebuild service on routes the airline abandoned to regain high-paying connecting passengers. United was the nation's biggest airline a decade ago but has slipped behind American Airlines and Delta.

American, meanwhile, which flies nonstops to Chicago, Charlotte, N.C., Dallas and Washington, D.C., from Chattanooga, posted a 4.5 percent gain in boardings last year, figures show.

Allegiant Air, which flies nonstops from Chattanooga to the Orlando area and Tampa Bay, posted a 2 percent increase in 2017, according to the airport.

But Delta offers more flights out of Chattanooga, to Atlanta and to Detroit, than any other airline. Depending on the time of year, Delta could offer about 10 daily flights, Hart said.

He said at peak times of the year, Delta flies two or three 150-seat MD-80 jets from Chattanooga to meet demand.

While Delta's market share in Chattanooga is nearing half, it's still below the 62 percent level it held 20 years ago, figures show.

It was about that time when Delta removed its mainline service and replaced it with Atlantic Southeast Airlines. ASA posted chronic cancelled or delayed flights and many passengers started flying other airlines or driving to nearby airports.

In 2007, Delta's share of all traffic at the airport had fallen to 36.2 percent, airport figures show.

In 2010, ASA owner SkyWest entered into a definitive merger agreement with ExpressJet Holdings and its name was later changed.

Hart said he expects 2018 to see even more Chattanooga airport boardings due to the area's business growth and a solid national economy.

"Customers have become our best ambassadors in spreading the word that it is incredibly easy and convenient to fly out of Chattanooga, and the air fares are lower or certainly competitive with larger airports," he said.

Airport traffic
Delta Air Lines service captured 47.7 percent of Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport boardings in 2017. Below are boardings by airline:

› Delta: 231,151
› American: 168,349
› United: 51,632
› Allegiant: 31,512
› Charters: 1,873

Source: Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport