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Gateway to Mexico, at last

BANKRUPTCY COURT has a certain clarifying effect on airlines. Whatever they were doing before Chapter 11 must have been seriously off-base, so they either reemerge from bankruptcy with a leaner, fresher business model more tailored to what their customers want, or go out of business. Delta Air Lines recently went through such a process of awakening. Evidently realizing that the 4.5 million Latinos in Los Angeles County might want to fly somewhere south of the border other than Mexico City or beach resorts, the bankrupt Atlanta-based carrier announced this week that starting this winter, it will fly nonstop from Los Angeles International Airport to nine additional cities in Mexico and two in Central America. To feed passengers into the new routes, Delta also will launch new service between five western U.S. cities and Los Angeles, making LAX a sort of Mexico mini-hub.

Each time a major American airline has gone through bankruptcy protection since 2002 (there have been four), they have focused on more vigorously developing their international flights. And each time, Mexico service from LAX has been ignored. That’s not to say Delta won’t be the only carrier at LAX flying to multiple Mexican cities. Aeromexico and Mexicana, Mexico’s two biggest airlines, have much of their country covered, and Alaska Airlines flies to Mexico City and most of the tourist hot spots.

Still, Delta’s move finally establishes LAX as an important gateway to Mexico for a U.S. airline. And Delta, which now flies to three cities in Mexico from L.A., won’t just travel to places many Americans associate with beaches and tequila headaches. Two of the cities -- Torreon and Zacatecas -- are in the heart of the country, far from the nearest tourist resort.

Delta says its new LAX hub is just an “initial splash” into Mexico from Southern California; if the routes prove successful, the company hopes to expand in the near future. While airlines are at it, they could make LAX into a true American gateway to all of Latin America by adding nonstop flights to Argentina and Brazil, especially because the latter’s national airline, Varig, hit major financial troubles and stopped flying to Los Angeles. American Airlines has had great success in the past blanketing the Caribbean and South America with flights from Texas and Florida. It’s long past time for California, and Los Angeles, to begin catching up.

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