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New airline's fliers struggle to book via Delta

New airline's fliers struggle to book via Delta

November 10th, 2012 by JEFF AMY, Associated Press in News

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., is asking Silver Airways and Delta Air Lines to speed up linking their computer systems to allow customers using the Delta web site to book travel to four Mississippi airports.

Airport managers say the inability to book flights through the site is driving away passengers who otherwise might fly in and out of Tupelo, Greenville, Meridian and Hattiesburg-Laurel.

"It's not aligned well," said Greenville Mid-Delta Regional Airport Director Draylan Grant.

Wicker, in a Wednesday letter to Delta CEO Richard Anderson and Silver CEO Darrell Richardson, says the hassle could further depress air travel to the four cities.

"A seamless integration of the online passenger experience with Delta Air Lines and Silver Airways is necessary for passengers to realize the full potential of continued air service to these underserved areas," he wrote.

Delta spokesman Anthony Black said the problem will be fixed by year's end. "We apologize for that inconvenience to the mutual customers," he said.

Black and Silver spokesman Steve Bennett said it's a complicated process to mesh the two airlines' computerized booking systems.

"It's technical," Bennett said. "On either side there is a coming together that has to happen. It's just a matter of getting the functionality up and running."

For now, Black says passengers can book by calling Delta's reservation line. Passengers can also find Silver Airways flights on large online booking sites, although the company shows up as Island Air.

Memphis-based regional carrier Pinnacle Airlines Corp. had served Greenville, Tupelo and Hattiesburg-Laurel from Memphis, but Delta dropped service as part of cuts at the shrinking Tennessee hub. Another Delta affiliate flew between Meridian and Atlanta.

Silver, based in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., contracted to fly between the cities and Atlanta beginning Oct. 1 in exchange for a subsidy from the federal Essential Air Service program. As part of the deal, the flights were supposed to show up on Delta's website and the larger airline was supposed to award frequent flier miles.

Tom Heanue, executive director of the Hattiesburg-Laurel Regional Airport, said only 487 passengers boarded Silver flights at his airport bound for Atlanta in October. He said the service needs to have more like 1,200 passengers a month to be sustainable.

"A lot of people are just not sure how to do it all right now," Heanue said.

Gant said passenger loads have increased in Greenville in the second month of the service.

Heanue said the transition has been plagued by a series of problems. Silver doesn't take American Express, driving away business customers. And it hasn't completed certification to become a preferred military carrier, meaning soldiers flying in and out of Camp Shelby have trouble using the flights. And Heanue isn't sure whether Delta is living up to its agreement to award frequent flier miles. Black said any problems with frequent flier miles will be fixed and passengers will get back awards for past travel.

Despite those troubles, Heanue praised Silver for not cancelling flights, and said he believed problems will work themselves out.

"These are things that are going to fix themselves as they go," he said.