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Delta adds nonstop flights to 3 Midwest destinations

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Delta Air Lines in mid-October will add a slew of Midwestern destinations to its lineup of flights departing from Salt Lake City.

Joe Esposito, director of Delta's U.S. Network, said the airline on Sept. 1 will offer three daily nonstop flights from Salt Lake City to Detroit. Beginning Oct. 15, Delta will add two daily nonstop flights from Salt Lake to Indianapolis and Columbus, Ohio.

"We're offering passengers (in the three Midwestern cities) access to the West Coast through our Salt Lake City hub," Esposito said. Delta operates about 400 flights per day out of Salt Lake City International Airport.

Delta's new regional carrier/partner, Shuttle America, will operate the flights using new 70-seat Embraer 170 jets, Esposito said. The planes — which offer both coach and first-class seating, leather seats and larger overhead bins — are new to Delta and new to Salt Lake City, he said.

"The aircraft is a benefit for customers because it offers the first-class product — the first smaller jet that offers that service," Esposito said. "We're talking about fairly long flights, and it's important for our customers to know that they can upgrade, and that these new planes mean improved comfort."

For Delta, which has been battered about with relentless increases in fuel prices and speculation that the airline is speeding toward bankruptcy, the new flights mean new passenger streams and an ability to reach more communities, Esposito said.

Today, to get to any of the three destination cities, passengers have to change planes at least once, likely in Cincinnati, Atlanta or Chicago. Delta will offer the only nonstop service among the three cities.

The additional flights aren't likely to mean more jobs in Salt Lake, Esposito said. The airline currently employs about 4,000 people in Utah.

In the past week, Delta's stock fell from a high of $2.31 per share (one week ago today) to a low of $1.55 (this past Thursday), in part because of a research note released earlier in the week by Merrill Lynch analyst Michael Linenberg. Linenberg lowered the Atlanta-based airline's rating from neutral to sell, and wrote, "We think the recent surge in fuel prices greatly increases the likelihood of a bankruptcy filing within the next two months."

Delta spokesman Anthony Black declined to comment.

The airline's stock finished the week at $1.61.

Linenberg said last week that while Delta, which has lost nearly $10 billion since January 2001, has been in talks with creditors about additional funding, he believes the surge in oil prices could keep lenders at bay for now.

He estimated that Delta's fuel bill this year could grow by more than $1 billion, wiping out the $1 billion of cost concessions provided by the airline's pilots last year.

"We think the probability of a Delta bankruptcy filing has grown, and we think investors should be mindful of Oct. 17, when more restrictive bankruptcy legislation becomes effective," Linenberg said. "That could be a key factor in Delta deciding whether to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy."

Contributing: Associated Press.

E-mail: jnii@desnews.com