HEBRON, Ky. - Comair is Delta's latest departure from the airport that was once its third-largest hub.
The loss of Comair is devastating to its current employees, but the impact of the loss of a Cincinnati-based airline was softened by the slow-motion nature of its demise.
One former employee said it was "death by a thousand cuts."
In the last two years, Delta cut its wholly-owned subsidiary in half, reducing Comair to just 44 aircraft and slashing staff to run the smaller airline.
That reduction was the latest in a series of decisions made by Delta that sealed the fate of Comair, with rumors of a Comair shutdown beginning in 2001 when its pilots went on an 89-day strike.
Friday's memo from Comair's president to his employees, announcing Comair would cease operations September 29, cited Delta's decision to reduce the number of 50-seat jets it uses.
Comair flew more of the older, 50-seat jets than any of the other regional jets in Delta's fleet, so the decision to drastically reduce those aircraft left Comair with few options for survival.
What's left out of that explanation is that the parent company made the decision that sealed Comair's fate. Comair is not only a wholly-owned subsidiary, Delta is also the airline's only customer. Delta even owns the planes, so Comair's future was completely in the hands of Delta executives.
Comair's fate has mirrored that of the Cincinnati Northern Kentucky International Airport. Both benefited greatly from the marriage with Delta when the carrier was investing heavily in its Cincinnati hub.
Comair delivered passengers from other US cities to Cincinnati, and then Delta wide-body aircraft took them to destinations around the world.
Today's Delta operates a fraction of the flights it once had at CVG, but still calls the airport a hub.
Three major events contributed to a virtual divorce between CVG and Delta -- reductions in air travel following the 9/11 attacks, Delta's bankruptcy, and the merger with Northwest Airlines.
The new Delta inherited Northwest's hubs in Detroit and elsewhere, at the same time Delta was investing in New York City airports. Many Comair flights and crews were moved to LaGuardia while Delta added to its own JFK operations.
Comair operated out of Concourse C at CVG until 2008, when Delta announced it was closing the concourse. Even though Delta has a lease on it until 2025, Concourse C remains empty.
At the time Comair said the decision was made to "increase passenger comfort" by eliminating the shuttle buses needed to get to Concourse C. In hindsight, it was one more nail in Comair's coffin.
When the I-Team first broke the story on July 17, we discovered the airline had ceased all hiring, and its flights had disappeared from the Delta schedule to certain major cities after October 1.
No flights will be eliminated -- according to Delta, it will replace Comair flights with other Delta-branded aircraft. But the Comair employees may be stranded.
Comair absorbed a slow-but-steady drumbeat of cuts over the 12 years of Delta ownership, reducing the airline to the point where the once-great airline will simply fade away this fall.
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