Delta to lease AirTran 717s from Southwest

When Southwest bought out AirTran they were quite up front about their desire to get rid of the 717s in their newly acquired fleet. Thanks to a new agreement between Delta and their pilot union, it seems like there is a deal on the table which will allow them to do precisely that. Assuming the pilots ratify the new contract Delta will lease 88 of the 717s from Southwest, putting them in to operation while also retiring the DC9-50s and some CRJs as well. The replacements will be in a capacity-neutral manner, which suggests more aircraft will be retired than will be brought in based on the seating densities.

The good news in this move is that fewer tiny regional jets generally should lead to a better in-flight experience for passengers. The bad news is that it may also lead to decreased frequencies as there will be fewer planes flying. Plus, the AirTran 717s are not known to be the most comfortable aircraft in the skies. That said, they are equipped with gogo’s in-flight internet service and Delta is also a customer of gogo so that should see the connectivity remaining in service.

As part of the deal with the pilots to bring the 717s into the fleet Delta will also be allowed to increase the number of 76-seat jets they have operated by regional carriers. These are not mainline pilot jobs, but the total number of regional pilot positions will likely remain steady as the smaller regional jets are retired and these are brought in to the fleet.

The overall position with the pilots at Delta seems to be quite positive these days. More flying will be mainline which means more pilots working for the parent company rather than a regional affiliate. It also seems relatively good for customers, with fewer of the small CRJs and the new planes all offering wifi and first class cabins. Seems to be mostly smiles all around.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Delta is certainly going to add F and change the interiors of these 717s, so any concerns about how “comfortable” they will be seems premature.

    1. The AirTran configuration already has a F cabin. I haven’t seen any confirmation one way or the other that the interiors will be replaced and there isn’t a ton of motivation to do son on the part of Delta given that they don’t have to.

  2. Tim, the comfort issue is with the seats in the Y cabin. DL could very well pull out a row of seats to create their EC section and just put new covers on the existing seats, which is what they’ve done with second-hand MD-90s they’ve acquired. The FL Y seats on those planes are very, very bad – I think they’re the worst Y seat I’ve ever flown in.

  3. I’ve flown AirTran’s 717s quite a few times and I don’t find the seats any less comfortable than Delta’s or American’s MD-80s.

  4. DL may not change the cabin on receipt but they will certainly update them over time. I know that AirTran has F but Delta will add a row or two.

    The 717 seats, like all DC-9-based aircraft have slightly wider seats than 737 variants, which makes them a bit more desirable, all other features being equal.

  5. Thank God the NW DC9s wiLl FINALLY retire! What DL will do with those pilots is not clear though… Switching from DC9 30/50 to MD 80/90 or 717 looks easy but is not.

  6. I always liked that delta flew the DC9s, sad to see them go, it was a nice nod to nostalgia, especially since I never had to fly on one. Glad to see the 717s will be sticking around the USA though.

  7. Any idea when the last DC-9 is going to retire? Might have to figure out a way to fly on one….

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