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The landing strip and runway of the Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport


* Leaves Chattanooga - 6:45 a.m.; arrives in Atlanta - 7:35 a.m.

* Leaves Atlanta - 7:15 p.m.; arrives in Chattanooga - 8:01 p.m.

Source: Chattanooga Airport

Delta Air Lines flew into Chattanooga for nearly 50 years when it suddenly decided to pull its regular mainline service in December 1995 and turn over its flights to smaller affiliates.

Today, Delta resumes its mainline service to Atlanta after a 17-year hiatus, doing it with one of the biggest jets flying into Chattanooga Airport.

A Delta spokesman said the carrier plans to continue to offer the service between Chattanooga and Atlanta into 2013, though there are no promises after that timeline.

"The best way to keep it there is have people sitting in the seats," said Trebor Banstetter of Atlanta-based Delta.

Banstetter said the airline will fly one 125-seat DC-9-50 each day between the cities. Delta's other daily flights on its affiliates will continue to be serviced by smaller aircraft.

Delta will continue to offer nine daily flights between Chattanooga and Atlanta and two daily between Chattanooga and Detroit, officials said.

When Delta pulled its jets in 1995, it filled its routes with affiliate airlines such as Atlantic Southeast Airlines.

Almost immediately, regular passengers began complaining about canceled and late flights. About six months after Delta's pullout, air traffic in Chattanooga plunged by 20 percent as travelers went to other airports to fly.

Terry Hart, Chattanooga Airport's chief executive, said the return of Delta's mainline service has been a goal for the city for many years.

"The economic growth across our region comes at a time when the airlines are looking for ways to reduce their inefficient small fleets," he said in an email.

Hart said officials hope that airlines will continue this fleet strategy and Chattanooga will benefit.

Chattanooga Airport traveler Tiffany Phillips, of El Dorado, Ark., said Wednesday she likes the larger jets.

She said she thinks airlines make a more concerted effort to bring larger planes in on time because they're carrying more people.

Cyrus Beroukhim, of New York, who also was flying out of Chattanooga, said he's a musician and it's typically easier to store instruments on bigger aircraft.

Wendy Law, who was flying with Beroukhim, said she has been kicked off of flights before because they said her cello was too big.

Banstetter said new ground handling equipment has been added to Chattanooga Airport to handle the bigger jet, and training was done to make sure its personnel stationed in Chattanooga were prepared for it.

He said the airport also may see larger aircraft when diversions from Atlanta's airport occur.

"Now we have the facilities [in Chattanooga] to handle mainline planes," Banstetter said.