Sunday, October 10, 1999

Delta's ready when you want to pay huge bucks

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Last Monday, I dragged my ashen, lumpy self out of the rack in Milwaukee to make an airplane reservation. I called Delta. “I need a flight from Cincinnati to Atlanta on Tuesday morning, returning Thursday morning,” I said.

        “Nine hundred and 12 dollars.”

        Uh-huh. I fly all the time, usually Delta, seeing as how Delta owns Cincinnati, lock, stock and overhead bin. From Cincinnati - Northern Kentucky International Airport, hereafter known as Delta International, you can get just about anywhere on Delta, anytime. For this, you part with your first-born son and your finest meats and cheeses.

        “Can you do any better?” I asked. Ha-ha.

        “Sorry,” she said.

        “OK. How about Dayton?”

        “Two ninety-eight-fifty,” she said.

        I took the Dayton ticket, just as I have taken the Louisville ticket, the Columbus ticket and the Indianapolis ticket. I am a real company man.

        When is your hometown airport not your hometown airport? When you live here.

        Last week, I flew to Houston from Dayton, saving 750 bucks. I've flown to San Francisco from Louisville, saving $1,000. Last March, four of us from the paper flew from Columbus to Boston at a total savings of $3,200.

        At Delta International, if you do not book six months in advance, stay eight weeks and a Saturday, you will owe the airline all your earnings for the next 12 years. That's if you're going to Atlanta.

        “Convenient, frequent service comes with a premium price,” explains Delta's Dave Anderson. Premium prices, OK. More than $600 higher to fly to Atlanta clangs my sensibility meter.

        Dave calls it a “value assessment.” Delta figures because it can fly you anywhere, often non-stop, it can charge you a forearm and a rib cage. Dave says traffic from Cincinnati continues to rise, which indicates either that local travelers prefer being hosed, or the alternatives at Delta International are somewhat lacking.

        Delta flies out of Terminal 3, a bright, gleaming, state-of-the-art edifice. Everyone else gets Terminals 1 and 2. Been to 1 or 2 lately? They're Dubuque. The lights are dim, the carpet's worn. Tumbleweeds blow down the concourse. There's no Starbucks.

        Delta does this because Delta can. Delta is a boa, constricting mice.

        Good luck to any upstart airline. Delta matches their fares and crushes them like a grape. Delta dislikes it when you apply the word “gouge” to its local operation.

        OK. We won't say, “gouge.” We'll say, “Cincy to San Francisco, leaving Oct. 7, returning Oct. 8: $1,915. Columbus to San Francisco, same dates, on Continental: $430.”

        Make that value assessment.

        Funny, but when I'm stuck flying from here for rapacious and obscene amounts of money, the flights don't seem much different. Same Communion-sized cup of orange juice. Same incredible shrinking snack. For 1,100 bucks, you figure they'd throw in some jerky or a mint.

        It's too bad, because I like Delta.

        Delta's planes are often on time. Delta has never lost my bags, they've never canceled a flight for some bogus reason. I like living where I know I can fly non-stop to Frankfurt, Germany, even if I never will. It makes me feel, you know, cosmopolitan.

        But greed is greed, and greed is not good. Two words for Delta in Cincinnati:

        Hel-lo, Columbus.

        Paul Daugherty, an Enquirer sports columnist, writes a lifestyle column on Sunday. He welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

        Enquirer columnist Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.