Delta will cut flights in Myrtle Beach in August to several cities, eliminating service to Cincinnati and New York, and reducing the number of flights to Atlanta, as part of a companywide contraction, a company spokesman said.
It's the latest blow to air service at Myrtle Beach International Airport, which is particularly vulnerable as airlines cut back on regional flights to smaller destinations. Earlier this month, United Airlines said it would cut winter flights here, and Southern Skyways canceled plans to fly several routes before they even began.
Though many airlines, including Delta, typically reduce service in this tourist destination in the winter off-season, Delta's cuts are coming sooner this year and there's no plan yet to bring flights back.
Delta spokesman Kent Landers said fuel prices were to blame for the cutbacks.
"In this fuel environment, regional jets with a small number of seats serving a point to point market like [Cincinnati] are inefficient because it requires a lot of fuel to carry 50 people nonstop to a single destination," he said.
In 2007, almost 17 percent of passengers at the Myrtle Beach airport flew on Delta or one of its subsidiaries, according to Horry County numbers.
Starting Aug. 19, Delta will fly five times daily between Atlanta and Myrtle Beach instead of seven. The last flights to Boston, New York (LaGuardia Airport) and Cincinnati will be flown the weekend of Aug. 30, Landers said. The company may add flights back next spring, depending on market conditions, he said.
For now, this leaves Myrtle Beach without nonstop flights to Cincinnati. Spirit Airlines flies to Boston and LaGuardia. Myrtle Beach Direct Air & Tours and Continental Airlines fly to Newark (N.J.) Liberty Airport.
Airlines are trying to fill planes to capacity, which means there is less wiggle room when flights are canceled or delayed.
David Brandts of Cincinnati said he flew standby on Delta to Myrtle Beach and had to stay overnight in Atlanta because every flight he tried to get on filled up.
"I don't like it," he said. "We understand that with fuel costs what they are, they've got to send full planes. But at the same time it makes it hard to fly."
Earlier this year, Delta announced it would reduce capacity - the number of seats and miles flown - by 13 percent. Delta will be increasing its international flights, Landers said.
The move is not a surprise to Myrtle Beach tourism officials, who found out last week in a meeting with Delta that the company would be adjusting its schedule.
"It was clear it was a challenging time for them, and we were going to experience some cutbacks in the short term," said Bill Golden, president of Myrtle Beach Golf Holiday, a golf marketing group that works closely with the airlines. About half of the 1.6 million passengers that fly through Myrtle Beach annually are golfers, according to an Horry County study.
Scot Stone of Centerville, Ohio, whose son was flying Delta on Friday, said some of his golf buddies would not come to Myrtle Beach if they couldn't get direct flights.
"A lot of guys would switch and go to Michigan," he said.
Over the past year, Delta service has come and gone in Myrtle Beach, with flights to Cincinnati being particularly volatile.
Flights to Cincinnati on Delta subsidiary Comair were cut in 2007 but reinstated earlier this year.