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Caterer ordered to serve Delta

Delta Air Lines won a court order Wednesday forcing its largest caterer to resume supplying food and drinks for the airline's flights.

Delta, which is struggling to avoid filing for bankruptcy, said many flights were without regular food and beverage service after Gate Gourmet International cut off deliveries Tuesday afternoon amid a contract dispute.

Neither company would discuss specifics. Delta resolved a similar dispute last week with caterer LSG Sky Chefs that disrupted food service to about 10 percent of the airline's flights.

Delta, one of the busiest airlines at Tampa International Airport, restored food service after Fulton County (Ga.) Superior Court Judge Stephanie Manis told Gate Gourmet to resume deliveries.

"They have immediately resumed catering all flights," Delta spokesman John Kennedy said Wednesday evening.

Both caterers were likely trying to get advance payments from Delta so they wouldn't be stuck with unpaid bills if the airline files for bankruptcy reorganization, said Bill Brandt, chief executive of Development Specialists Inc., which advises distressed companies.

"They're doing the smart thing . . . trying to bring their bills current," he said.

Delta has lost $5.6-billion since 2001 because of low-fare competition and high operating costs, especially with recent spikes in the price of oil. The nation's No. 3 airline says it must cut operating costs by $2.7-billion annually, including $1-billion a year for pilots.

Talks with pilots are continuing. But chief executive Gerald Grinstein warned this month that time was running out to reach a deal before Delta would be forced into bankruptcy court.

Exactly how much the dispute with Gate Gourmet affected customers was unclear. Like most other carriers, Delta cut back food service after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to cut costs.

First-class passengers still get meals on flights over two hours. Coach passengers can buy meals on some flights longer than 3{ hours or on Delta's low-fare arm, called Song. Delta was able to round up some food and drinks from vendors other than Gate Gourmet on Wednesday, a spokeswoman said. On some of Delta's longer flights Wednesday, first-class passengers were offered food vouchers for airport restaurants, while passengers in coach got snacks and drinks.

The airline's Web site advised customers that food service on "many of our flights" had been disrupted. International travelers and first-class customers on domestic trips over 1,550 miles received vouchers for meals at airports, the airline said.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettelsptimes.com or (813) 226-3384. Information from Cox News Service was used in this report.

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