Businesses urged to book Delta's Paris flights

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The Allegheny Conference on Community Development is making an all-out push to keep Delta Air Line's nonstop flight to Paris.

The conference has sent an e-mail to area businesses urging them to book the flight from Pittsburgh International Airport as much as possible over the next three months for trips to Europe, the Middle East and India in a bid to persuade Delta to continue the flight. The carrier has not committed to keeping the flight beyond Aug. 31.

"To keep the service in place, business fliers need to show Delta that they value the flight by using it whenever practical," Peter Kalis, chairman of the conference's transportation and infrastructure committee, wrote in the e-mail. "Delta will launch daily service on June 1 for the summer months. But the flight's performance over the next 90 days will go a long way toward determining what happens next fall."

The conference is expecting the airline to decide this spring, possibly in April when the fall schedules typically are put in place, whether to extend the flight to Paris-Charles de Gaulle Airport beyond Aug 31.

In an interview, Mr. Kalis said the next few months will be "critical" to the survival of the flight, which was launched in June 2009 backed by $9 million in conference and state subsidies over two years to offset potential revenue shortfalls.

"If we can make that positive showing with our bookings through the spring and summer, we have some level of optimism that Delta would continue the daily service," he said.

Delta had the option under its agreement with the conference and the state to drop the flight this June. However, it announced in November that it would extend the service until Aug. 31 and expand it to seven days a week over the current four.

Beyond that, it has given no guarantees.

"Whether this flight stays or goes away really depends on whether people get out and fly it," said Trebor Banstetter, a Delta spokesman.

Under the subsidy agreement, Delta received $5 million from the conference and the state after the flight's first year, with the conference citing a plunge in fares caused by the global recession as the reason.

However, the flight's performance has improved since then, both by conference and airline accounts.

Ken Zapinski, the conference's senior vice president of the transportation and infrastructure program, said the flight has shown more than a 10 percent revenue improvement over the first year as a result of increased ticket sales and higher ticket prices.

"It's been doing substantially better than year one," he said.

Likewise, Mr. Banstetter said the flight "has definitely improved over time." The fact that Delta extended the service beyond June to the end of August is evidence of that, he said.

Once the subsidies end, the conference will not commit any more money to the flights, Mr. Kalis said. He noted that Delta decided to increase service to seven days a week and extend it until Aug. 31 knowing that.

"I think that's pretty significant," he said.

Mr. Zapinski said that the winter months typically are the slowest travel months, one reason the conference decided to make a push to drum up business. "They're going to make decisions on the fall schedule around April and we want to put our best foot forward," he said.

A frequent business traveler, Mr. Kalis, chairman and global managing partner of the K&L Gates law firm, would like to see daily service to Paris remain. That, he said, would give business travelers the ability "to come and go from Europe as their business schedules dictate, not as their flight schedules dictate."

The response to the Paris service also could have an impact on future moves by Delta in the Pittsburgh market, officials believe.

Earlier this month, Delta announced that it would add three daily nonstop flights to Boston in April, boosting its total number of flights out of Pittsburgh to 36. Mr. Zapinski said conference officials have been told that Pittsburgh is a "target market" for the airline.

Mr. Banstetter also has referred to Pittsburgh as a "focus city" where it sees an opportunity to capture more of the market. That "potentially" could translate into more service, depending on the response from travelers.

Delta offers about 30 flights a day from Pittsburgh to seven destinations, including Atlanta, Cincinnati, Detroit, Memphis and New York.


Mark Belko: mbelko@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1262.


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