Delta cuts in the Pacific; accelerates 747 retirement

It is no secret that Delta planned to retire their fleet of 747-400 aircraft as they came up for the next round of D-check heavy maintenance inspections. It is, however, slightly surprising that the carrier is accelerating the retirement party, pulling four of the planes out of service in just a few months’ time.

A Delta 747-400 at the gate in Atlanta; it was headed to Tokyo on this particular afternoon, a route it will no longer fly as of 30 September 2014
A Delta 747-400 at the gate in Atlanta; it was headed to Tokyo on this particular afternoon, a route it will no longer fly as of 30 September 2014.

The first two retirements come at the end of September as flights between Tokyo and Atlanta/Los Angeles switch from the 744 to 777 service. Four weeks later, at the end of October the Detroit-Nagoya route will convert to an Airbus A330 and Delta will discontinue service on two routes, Nagoya-Manila and Tokyo-Hong Kong.

Blue=777s, Orange=330, Red=Cxld
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

The cuts in the Pacific come can be attributed to softness in that market, with an otherwise strong 2Q2014 results including a 2% drop in yield and a 2.6% drop in revenue in the region. The company will cut some beach routes out of Tokyo to the tune of a 15% capacity reduction and a 10% overall intra-Asia capacity reduction which is pretty easy to see when two 744s are pulled from the NRT-HKG and NGO-MNL routes. The cuts also reflect the growth of Delta’s trans-Pacific operations at Seattle, where new flights bypassing the Tokyo hub are operating, reducing the need to offer continuing service to move passengers through the region. It is worth noting that United Airlines killed their NRT-HKG service a year prior to Delta’s move, though United has a joint venture agreement with ANA to provide revenue sharing for onward service on the latter’s flights; Delta does not have such a partner in Asia.

Certainly it is sad in the nostalgic sense to see the retirement of the Queen of the Skies pick up pace; the 744 can be a great plane to fly on. Plus there’s the part where these planes and the Japan connections are part of the Northwest Airlines legacy, bits which are slipping away more and more. And it is arguably a bit surprising to see Delta make this move given the recent investments in retrofitting the interiors of the aircraft. But, at the end of the day, it is a business and financial pressures on the Yen and reduced local traffic makes it hard to justify keeping the big birds in the sky.

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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. The KEY difference is that UA still partners with ANA, so nearly every intra-Asia that UA killed is already replicated on ANA, thus connectivity is preserved (the only reason why UA still hasn’t killed NRT-ICN is because only UA [with ghetto 738] and OZ fly it within Star … ANA has already entirely switched to HND-GMP)

    For DL, you have absolutely no choice but route through SEA. Their relationship with KE is in the ice age so forget about using ICN as a proxy for NRT.

  2. Incredible that less than 6 months after finally starting HKG, AA will have 30% more seats into HKG then NW, er I mean DL.

  3. Absolutely agree with the major points of sadness here: the quickening approach of death for the 747 (especially with US carriers) and the continual bleed of NWA’s NRT hub. So sad to see two great legacies continue to erode…

    And honestly, with the cabin upgrades DL has made to their fleet, their 747 had once again become a choice aircraft for business travel.

    With no US flagged A380s (probably ever)… Sigh.

    The new widebodies are interesting, but there’s a romance to 2 deck jumbos that ever-longer twin aisles just don’t have.

  4. Odd…I have DTW-NGO booked for next Feb and it is still showing as a 747 according to

    If it switches to an A330-300 or A330-200 do you have any recommendations for best BusinessElite seat?

  5. So sad to me for the NW-nostalgia, strong preference to connect in NRT over SEA (or any US airport) and from my somewhat limited experience of competitors, the business seat on the 747 is by far Delta’s best and I think the best among US carriers.

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