The quickest and most comfortable ride from the Tampa Bay area to Florida's capital is going away.
Delta Air Lines will end nonstop flights between Tallahassee and Tampa International Airport on Oct. 1 as part of a wider strategy to feed passengers through big hub airports like Atlanta. Also, the small jets Delta flies can't make money, the airline says, even with round-trip fares of nearly $500.
That leaves thousands of people — state agency employees, sales reps, legislators and regular citizens — with limited options:
• Fly on the Continental Connection's cozy and noisy 19-seat turboprop planes. But they're not for white-knuckle fliers and are more likely to get canceled or delayed than jets, some veterans say, because they can't fly over bad weather.
• Drive four-plus hours and spend a night in a hotel to make a morning meeting.
• Take Delta to Atlanta and catch a connecting flight to Tallahassee. But the numbers don't add up. Flying and layover time (not counting check-in and clearing security at TIA): 3.5 hours. Cost: between $800 and $900.
How about driving east to Orlando International? The state's biggest airport won't have any nonstops to Tallahassee once Delta says goodbye.
"It's awful," said state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, a Tampa Democrat. "It's not good for the public trying to get to the seat of state government."
Tampa International officials are lobbying American Airlines and US Airways to fly the route with their commuter carriers. They're also asking Gulfstream International of Fort Lauderdale, which flies as Continental Connection, to add to its five daily flights to Tallahassee. Gulfstream now plans to trim one daily flight in November.
The loss of two daily round-trips on Delta's 50-seat jets cuts the number of available seats in half, said Louis Miller, executive director at Tampa International. That's not a big deal in the slow fall season, he says, but could leave travelers scrambling as preparations for the legislative session begin in December.
"These airlines will realize that 25 percent of the state's legislative delegation is in the Tampa Bay area, and they fly out of Tampa International," Miller said. "The market is cut by 50 percent … and they can come pick it up."
Steve Huettel can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 226-3384.