One hundred fifty years after the day the Yankees took Atlanta, another 76 of them will be flying in from Lincoln. 

Delta Air Lines restores a daily direct flight to Atlanta from Lincoln on Wednesday with a one-year, $750,000 revenue guarantee from the federal government and $52,000 kicked in from Lincoln businesses.

The first departure flight on a CRJ-900 regional jet, scheduled for 7 a.m., is full, Lincoln officials said Tuesday as they gathered at the Lincoln Airport to mark the start of service and to encourage Lincoln business and leisure travelers to patronize the flight. The first flight leaving Atlanta was scheduled Tuesday night for a 7 p.m. departure with an 8:30 p.m. arrival in Lincoln.

Delta and United flights to Chicago, Denver and Minneapolis have been the city's only reliable commercial airline destinations since Delta stopped a 2009 flight to Atlanta because of high fuel prices. 

In addition to the Atlanta service in the summer of 2009, Delta provided short-lived Memphis service in the summer of 2011, and its predecessor, Northwest Airlines, had Lincoln-Memphis flights for about nine months in 2005.

A southeastern destination from Lincoln has always been a "dilemma," said Nick Cusick, a Lincoln Airport Authority board member and businessman, whose Bison Inc. sports equipment manufacturing company has booked 15 trips on the Atlanta flight.

"If it indeed works, they want to add a second flight," Cusick said. "We need to use it, or we will lose it."

He and other Lincoln officials will be making public presentations pitching the flight. As a condition of the Transportation Department grant, the Lincoln Airport has committed to spending more than $100,000 to raise public awareness of the flight. Cusick identified businesses that contributed to cover the $52,000 mandatory private share as Ameritas, Assurity, Union Bank & Trust, Nelnet, CHI Health St. Elizabeth, Duncan Aviation, Hampton Construction, Olsson Associates, Cheever Construction, MTZ Construction, Benesh, Bison and the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce. 

Wendy Birdsall, president of the chamber, "implored" people from Lincoln to use the flight.

"Fly Lincoln first," she said. Birdsall said she did a comparison of fares from Omaha and Lincoln to Atlanta during October for weeklong stays, and they were virtually the same.

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Fares aren't cheap, however. A check of the Delta.com website on Tuesday found fares for a round trip departing Lincoln on Sept. 10 ranged from nearly $1,300 down to $630 with a Saturday-night stay.

In October, round-trip fares were around $1,000 without a weekend-night stay and closer to $400 with a Saturday-night stay over.

Delta fares on the Lincoln-to-Minneapolis route, meanwhile, were around $800 without a weekend-night stay and closer to $400 with a Saturday-night stay over.

Lincoln Airport data show that in 2013, Lincoln business and leisure travelers flew from Lincoln 30 percent of the time and used Omaha's Eppley Airfield 65 percent of the time.

But Lincoln Airport's traffic was up 5 percent in 2013, an addition of 14,000 passengers after several years of decline.

Lincoln Mayor Chris Beutler and City Council members Carl Eskridge and Leirion Gaylor Baird also joined John Wood, who retired as the Lincoln Airport's executive director last week, and his replacement, David Haring, in promoting the new Delta service.  

Beutler and Wood called attention to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport as the busiest airport in the nation, with a vast array of connecting flights.

"There are connections all up and down the East Coast, the Caribbean, South America, all over the world, really," Wood said. 

Haring, starting his first full week as executive director, called attention to Lincoln Airport's growing traffic at a time when aviation is contracting, not expanding.

"To get a market like this is a great thing for this city and this region," he said.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7241 or at dpiersol@journalstar.com. On Twitter @RichardPiersol.


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