Lawton_Tuesday night, one airline and a big empty space where a second one once served its passengers are what people see at the terminal at the Lawton-Fort Sill Regional Airport. Delta officially has departed town for what could be its last time, and left American Eagle as its one-and-only airline. One year after returning to serve Lawton, the final Delta flight took off at about 12:30 PM on Tuesday afternoon.
Delta was Lawton's best option for passengers looking to travel to the East Coast, but airport officials say the airline simply couldn't justify being here. Airport Manager Barbara McNally says that even with a second year's worth of revenue guaranteed through the Lawton Industrial Foundation, Delta wouldn't be swayed. McNally says the local economy will take a hit for the departure of the airline, and all the revenue that East Coast passengers bring in now will be gone in an instant. Workers pulling down the "Delta" sign said it all.
Thelma Dexter was one of the final passengers traveling this route on the airline. She flew in Tuesday morning to see her grandson who is stationed at Fort Sill - now, she may not be flying out. She says she flew in from New Jersey, and flying in and out on the other airline was expensive. "We're probably gonna wind up driving back home - if the weather permits," she said.
Airline officials say Thelma - and thousands like her - are more than just visitors...they're a boost to the economy. When they go, so will the money - and not only from plane tickets. "The car rentals are going to see a decrease," said McNally. She says that when the rental car industry takes a hit, the airport soon will follow. "The parking lot provides revenue for the airport which helps us balance our budget," she said.
McNally says all workers at the airport will feel the difference. "I'm sure the gift shop and the restaurants will be affected, too," she said. She says she believes American Eagle will be cautious, and not react too quickly. "They may re-assess some of their routes, but I guess that we're not going to see any dramatic jump," she said.
However, that doesn't help Thelma. She says driving to Oklahoma City may be her only option - a very expensive option. "They wanted $1,400 for us to fly out of Oklahoma City - cost me $40 just for the baggage," she said. "Then you add on all kinds of ticket fees, and all of this."
McNally says it's a sad day for the airport, and Lawton. "So many local folks were so happy when we got the Atlanta piece...it was a good connection. For those folks, I really am sorry - it's a bad thing for all of us," she said.
McNally says the airport and the Chamber of Commerce have created an Airline Task Force. She says a group will meet in the near future to begin searching for other airlines to attract that will fill the East Coast vacuum that Delta's departure has left in its wake.
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