For more than 10 years, Andy Litsky of Capitol Hill flew the Delta shuttle to New York's La Guardia Airport at least three times a week on business and to visit family and friends. This year, he switched to Amtrak.
Auditor Michael Graves of Reston also was a regular Delta shuttle passenger until two years ago when he switched to the American Airlines shuttle, American Eagle.
The battle for frequent shuttle passengers has pitted US Airways against Delta for most of the past decade. Now, passengers are increasingly turning to the two other competitors on the Washington-to-New York route: American Airlines' Eagle regional jet operation and the earthbound service of Amtrak. At the same time, the number of passengers using the shuttles overall has declined markedly in recent years as travelers take to the road or the train or just simply avoid the trips altogether.
The shift has significant ramifications for US Airways and Delta because the route -- a high-priced, roughly hour-long trip -- is one of the most lucrative for those carriers. The loss of travelers is crimping revenue at both carriers -- with Delta's passenger loads down the most.
American began its own regular Washington-to-New York shuttle service in the fall of 2002. Amtrak has added passengers on its regular East Coast train and on its troubled Acela high-speed train. Acela service was suspended in April because of cracks in the cars' brakes and is expected to resume in limited form this month.
Delta's share of the Washington-La Guardia market was 41 percent, with 65,503 passengers, in the first quarter of this year, compared with 51.3 percent and 75,090 passengers in the first quarter of 2002, before American Eagle service began.
US Airways had 80,216 passengers, or about 50 percent of the Washington-to-New York market in the first quarter, compared with 71,309 passengers, or 49 percent, in the first quarter of 2002. With 10 flights a day, American Eagle now claims about 9 percent of total passengers for the Washington-to-New York route.
American has made its inroads with 50-seat regional planes, while both Delta and US Airways fly regular jets seating about 120 passengers.
Graves switched from Delta to American to build his frequent-flier miles, and he says he doesn't miss the extra legroom and free alcoholic drinks on the larger jets.
"It's only an hour or so flight. It's too short of a flight to care," he said. "This was about building frequent-flier miles."
American spokeswoman Lisa Bailey said the airline has "done very well" in a fairly entrenched market. "We're very pleased with the operations," she said.
Shuttle service had its heyday in the 1980s when several million passengers flew it each year, and New York Air and People Express battled Eastern Air Lines for dominance of the Northeast corridor. Fares in those days were as low as $100 round-trip. Today, a round-trip walk-up ticket is about $500, or about half that amount depending on negotiated corporate discounts.
Demand for seats has since declined so much that neither Delta nor US Airways keeps an aircraft on reserve to handle overflow passengers. In February, Delta ended its promise of a guaranteed seat even when flights sold out. US Airways quietly dropped the practice in 2003. Shuttle passenger demand has declined 18 percent between the first quarter of 2001 and the first quarter of this year, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics.
Delta spokeswoman Benet J. Wilson said the decline in this year's first quarter was due largely to the airline's decision to no longer offer guaranteed flights. "We do think we have a very good product that people seem to be happy to fly on," Wilson said.
Before Amtrak suspended the Acela high-speed train, the four-year-old service had become a popular option for travelers seeking to avoid airport security and flight delays. As many as 15 trains ran each day. The trip from Washington to New York arrived about 30 minutes sooner than the regular trains. Spokeswoman Tracy Connell said Amtrak plans to put one or two Acela trains back in service later this month.
Some former shuttle customers say they have become fans of the train service -- high-speed or not. Litsky has about 140,000 frequent flier miles on Delta, but he said he prefers to ride the regular Amtrak train, which takes about 31/2 hours. "I can work while I ride, and it only costs about $80 each way," he says. "There are many more, simpler options today than there were years ago."
Flight Delays Are Increasing: Airport congestion is growing and flight delays are expanding because of the rapid growth in low-fare airlines, with some delays lasting as long as 71 minutes, according to a reported issued last week by the Department of Transportation's inspector general.
The report also said nine airports were at risk of greater delays this summer than last: Washington's Dulles, Philadelphia, Newark, Atlanta, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., New York's La Guardia and Kennedy, and Chicago's O'Hare. The number of delays across the nation were up 17 percent in the first quarter compared with the same period a year ago. The average length of delays increased to 52.3 minutes, up from 48.5 minutes.
Question of the Week: Summer often means delays and canceled flights because of thunderstorms. BizClass wants to know: If you were on a delayed or canceled flight recently because of a storm, how did the airline treat you? Did airline employees go the extra mile on your behalf? Did the carrier give you a meal voucher? Send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your name and a daytime telephone number.