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Delta's capital crime: no nonstops to Tallahassee

“You can't get there from here," the rustic resident of Maine told the lost traveler, or so goes the legend.

The same might also be said of the poor slob trying to get to Tallahassee by air.

On Wednesday, Delta Air Lines ended all daily nonstop flights to the capital city from Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale.

As a result, it will be harder than ever (and more expensive) for people to exercise their right to petition their government. It means major inconveniences for many legislators and higher costs for taxpayers, who pay for lawmakers' travel.

Eliminating air service to short-haul, low-volume medium-sized cities is happening across the country, as airlines shed costs by grounding fuel-inefficient turboprop planes that serve those cities. Airlines use lots of fuel.

"This is part of a national strategy. It is not Tallahassee- or Florida-specific," said Phil Inglese, Tallahassee's deputy aviation director. "Fuel is the driver."

The alternatives aren't very pretty — starting with driving, at nearly $4 a gallon.

Delta wants you to know that you can still fly to Tallahassee, but you will have to fly through Atlanta. Continental still services the Tampa-Tallahassee route, with its twice-daily flights on cramped, noisy 19-seat planes.

American Airlines flies two daily nonstops to Miami, using 44-seat regional jets, and those will fill up fast next spring. (Round-trip fare to travel Monday: $1,154).

The loss of air travel from Tampa is going to mean more traffic on the Suncoast Parkway, but the loss of flights from South Florida is going to be difficult for people who live there. Driving more than 400 miles each way is not practical, and flying through Atlanta takes too long. But that fate awaits lawmakers, lobbyists, university presidents, county and city leaders — you name it.

"It's a horror," said Sen. Nan Rich, a Democrat from Broward County. "Think about it. We're the fourth-largest state in the country, and we're not going to have access to the capital from one of the most populous areas of the state. I feel like I'm in Alaska."

Want to testify on a piece of legislation, or visit your daughter at FAMU or FSU? Rent a car.

It's one more sign of the downturn in Florida's economy.

Gov. Charlie Crist has pleaded with Delta to reconsider, and he asked Southwest to consider offering service to Tallahassee. But so far, nothing has come of his efforts.

Inglese, the airport official, says it's all about load factors. He says airlines tell him they won't consider adding flights unless they can sell more than 80 percent of the seats. "If enough people fly, they will add the seats," Inglese said.

With Tallahassee now an outpost by air, it's worth recalling former state Sen. Lee Weissenborn of Miami, who tried to move the capital to the more centrally located city of Orlando and failed miserably. His efforts spurred construction in the 1970s of the 22-story Capitol building that towers over Tallahassee, which probably ensured that the capital will stay put forever.

Speaking as a resident, it's a great place — as long as you don't mind flying through Atlanta to get here.

Steve Bousquet can be reached at bousquet@sptimes.com or (850) 224-7263.

Delta's capital crime: no nonstops to Tallahassee 10/03/08 [Last modified: Monday, October 6, 2008 1:00pm]
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