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Buffalo losing nonstop flights to Albany NFTA's executive director contacting airlines to see if they will add the route

Buffalo travelers heading to Albany will lose nonstop flights early next month.

Continental Airlines confirmed Tuesday its subsidiary, Continental Connections, will eliminate the two daily flights July 7.

"This is the first in our memory that there won't be nonstop service from Buffalo to Albany," said Lawrence Meckler, executive director of the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, which operates the Buffalo Niagara International Airport in Cheektowaga.

Meckler said his staff has set up meetings with other airlines to gauge interest in adding the route.

"We're not going to let this rest. We should have direct service between Buffalo and the state capital," Meckler added.

In a study tied to construction of the new airport terminal in 1995, the business community cited New York City and Albany as the top two destinations needing increased service.

Continental, which has offered the nonstop flights between Buffalo and Albany since 1994, said current de
mand is not strong enough.

"Those flights are operated by Commute Air, our Continental Connections partners on that route. It was a business decision on their part," said Continental spokeswoman Mary Clark.

Albany-based Commute Air did not return phone calls about the decision. The small airline has been using 19-seat Beechcraft 1900s on the flights, which depart at 8:10 a.m. and 5:55 p.m. daily.

This is not the first time airline connections between Buffalo and Albany have hit turbulence. US Airways ended its four daily direct flights in April 2005. Over the past two decades, now-defunct regional flyers Mall Airlines, Shuttle America and Mohawk Airlines all made short-lived attempts at nonstop Buffalo-Albany flights.

Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, D-Buffalo, for whom Buffalo-Albany trips are a way of life, described the end of the flights as "disappointing," but said he doesn't blame the airline.

"I'd say it's a market-driven decision," Hoyt said. "If the demand was there and there was money to be made, other airlines would be jumping in."

Hoyt, who occasionally flies or takes Amtrak to get back and forth to Albany, said he prefers driving the Thruway.

"After you get to the airport an hour early, take the flight and then drive from the airport to downtown Albany, you've put in over three hours," the lawmaker said. "I can do the drive in under 4 1/2 and use my cell phone to get a lot of work done."

He also noted that the drive, even with increasing gas prices, costs substantially less than the $390 that Continental currently charges for a round-trip.

While nonstop service soon will be history, Albany-bound passenger will continue to have several choices via Continental, Delta and United airlines, as well as USAirways.

The flights, which connect through Philadelphia, New York City and Washington, D.C., range in price from $248 to $573, and take 3 1/2 to seven hours.

Continental initially introduced the nonstop flights as part of its early 1990s "Peanuts Fares" promotion, enticing flyers with $99 fares.

e-mail: slinstedt@buffnews.com

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