Long delays on the only nonstop flight between Tallahassee and West Palm Beach have the Palm Beach County legislative delegation hopping mad.
The delegation relies on the flights to serve in the 60-day legislative session that began March 4. Legislators have been stuck at the airport a half-dozen times in the past two weeks awaiting a Continental Connection jet.
Delays as long as six hours have been attributed by Continental personnel to a need for maintenance on the plane, said Rep. Mary Brandenburg, chairwoman of the 17-person delegation.
"Some of the people are quite concerned about whether they're safe at all," she said.
The group plans to send a letter of concern next week to Continental Connection, which is operated by Fort Lauderdale-based Gulfstream International Airlines.
David Hackett, president of Gulfstream, said the problem is twofold. The airline operates mostly 19-seat planes, with only a few 30-seat jets. Heading into the start of the session, Hackett estimated he had 20 requests for the larger plane on the West Palm Beach-Tallahassee route.
He agreed to make the change. But simultaneously, the only available backup to the 30-seater went in the shop for an overhaul, where it remains because of a lack of some key parts. Gulfstream also runs the bulk of its service from Fort Lauderdale. "West Palm is a little harder to support because it's not the main hub," he said.
Hackett said there is no question that the planes are safe and he expects the spare parts to arrive soon. "I think we'll have it remedied by the end of next week," he said.
Rep. Susan Bucher, D-Royal Palm Beach, said she got back to West Palm Beach on March 20 at 10:30 p.m. on a flight scheduled to arrive at 7:35 p.m.
"We're all having tremendous difficulty getting back and forth," she said. The flights cost about $800 for a round-trip refundable ticket, which lawmakers need because of last-minute schedule changes. "It's very expensive," Bucher said.
In addition to Continental and Gulfstream, Bucher has asked that the letter of concern go to the Federal Aviation Administration, the U.S. Department of Transportation and the Florida congressional delegation.
"In past years there was an occasional problem," she said. "This year it's almost every time we go to the airport."
Tom Stieghorst can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 305-810-5008.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times