Update: American Airlines pulling out of Columbus Airport in June, just before merger with US Airways is complete

tadams@ledger-enquirer.comMarch 6, 2013 

Less than three years after spreading its wings into the Columbus Airport, American Airlines is pulling the plug on its two daily flights between the city and its major hub at Dallas/Fort Worth International in Texas.

American spokesman Matt Miller confirmed the airline will stop service here after its last flights on June 11.

“American Airlines continually evaluates its network to meet customers’ needs and strengthen our presence in our key hubs,” Miller said via email.

The airline resumed service to Columbus in July 2010, using its American Eagle regional jet service and 44-seat Embraer aircraft. Before its latest entry into the local market, American served the city from 1989 until 1995, exiting then because passenger counts were not strong enough to support business.

Columbus Airport Director Mark Oropeza said Wednesday that he was notified nearly a week ago through an unannounced visit by American Airlines officials that the company was calling it quits here once again.

“The loads were decent, but apparently the yield, or profit, per passenger was just not what they wanted it to be,” he said. “I don’t know what their magic number is, but they know what they’re looking for.”

American Airlines boarded about 16,500 passengers in Columbus last year, down from 17,500 the 2011, Oropeza said.

Delta Air Lines, which currently has four flights to and from Atlanta each day, had 43,500 boardings last year, down as well from 44,300 boardings in 2011. Delta typically bumps its schedule to five flights into and out of Columbus during the summer.

Oropeza said he is disappointed in American’s decision to pull out of the market. It had taken many years of courting the airline to bring them back here. That culminated with the decision to resume service on July 15, 2010.

The federal Base Realignment and Closure process that brought the U.S. Armor School from Fort Knox, Ky., to Fort Benning in 2011 was a major carrot for the airline. The military later reduced the BRAC-related population growth in the area from 28,000 new residents to about 22,000.

“It’s disappointing because you go through all of that effort,” Oropeza said of recruiting American Airlines. “But at the end of the day, it’s their call, not ours. So we’ll just redouble our efforts. We’re not going to say die. We’re not going to go, my god, the world’s coming to an end. We’ve been through this before. We’ll just keep on plugging away.”

American’s departure comes with its parent company, AMR Corp., having filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in November 2011. Last month, the company announced an $11 billion merger between it and US Airways, with the deal expected to close in the third quarter of this year, just after the Columbus service is discontinued.

Oropeza said American Airlines has pledged to “protect” Columbus customers who already have flights booked after June 11, offering to put them on Delta at no extra charge.

“Passengers ticketed on American after June 11 will be able to fly on Delta at no additional charge, pending availability,” Miller said. “There is no guarantee that Delta will be able to accommodate passengers in every instance. It will depend on the availability for that particular flight. If a passenger can’t be accommodated on a Delta flight, we will either refund the passenger’s ticket or provide alternative travel on American — likely out of Atlanta.”

For those wishing to book trips with the airline through June 11, a check of its website showed flights available. Scheduled flights disappear starting June 12.

Oropeza noted he has been trying to attract US Airways to the city, which would let passengers connect to its major hub in Charlotte, N.C., before heading to their ultimate destinations. But the merger with American puts that effort on hold for now.

“We’re going to let the dust settle on the merger thing,” the airport director said. “We’ll keep after them. We’ll make some more presentations to them like we always do, and we’ll focus on the Charlotte hub.”

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