ExpressJet giving up ‘Delta Connection’ hop between Columbus, Atlanta

Delta Air Lines and ExpressJet Airlines are parting ways on the "Delta Connection" flights between Atlanta and Columbus. --
Delta Air Lines and ExpressJet Airlines are parting ways on the "Delta Connection" flights between Atlanta and Columbus. -- Columbus

The airline that transports passengers back and forth between Columbus Airport and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport is ending its contract early with Delta Air Lines, which will cause a shuffle in regional jets servicing Columbus.

But Columbus Airport and Delta both said Monday that they expect no major changes locally as Atlanta-based ExpressJet Airlines ends its service in the coming weeks as the “Delta Connection” for four flights into and out of Columbus.

“We have not been advised by the carrier of any interruption in our market service at all,” said Columbus Airport Director Richard Howell, who had heard about a year ago that ExpressJet was planning to give up service to the market after deciding to do away with all of its CRJ200 aircraft.

Those are the 50-seat regional jets used by ExpressJet and other feeder airlines to move travelers between smaller airports and major hubs such as Atlanta and Dallas.

Michael Thomas, a spokesman for Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines, said that all flights now being done by ExpressJet will be replaced by other regional carriers affiliated with Delta. He said SkyWest Airlines already is handling one Columbus flight and could take on more. The airlines is a subsidiary of Utah-based SkyWest Inc., which also owns ExpressJet.

There’s also the possibility that Endeavor Air, a Minneapolis-based subsidiary of Delta, could operate some of the flights, said Thomas, explaining that customers taking any future Delta Connection flight between Columbus and Atlanta should notice no difference in the service.

Thomas declined to discuss how full the flights are between Columbus and Atlanta. Howell, however, said he understands that the short hop between the two cities — which connect travelers to other major airport hubs — is performing well for Delta in a community that has a major U.S. Army base and a handful of large corporations that do business elsewhere.

“I met with Delta a couple of months ago and our load factor (filled seats) is up over 70 percent,” he said. “The load factors have actually gone up in the last year. Our system contribution is really, really high, which you would expect it to be going through Atlanta. So they’re actually pleased with the market.”

Howell said there currently are no other airlines giving any major consideration to being in the Columbus market. But he’s hopeful that could change in 2018 or beyond.

“I think you’ve probably seen the stories about pilot shortages and things like that. That has been a really daunting task for us to overcome, because there’s just not a whole of regional pilots coming into the system right now. The carriers are kind of scrambling around trying to find pilots,” the airport director said. “We’ve had some great conversations with some carriers. But, sitting here today, I couldn’t say if anybody was going to be coming in anytime soon. I’m hopeful we might hear something next year.”

The current airport shuffling comes with ExpressJet announcing last week plans to wrap up its agreement with the Delta Connection brand after landing contracts and renewals with United Airlines and American Airlines. ExpressJet’s original deal with Delta was to end starting in 2019, but both sides agreed to terminate it much earlier.