The Delta Shuttle Shuffle

I love the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia. It has history, charm, character and it is incredibly easy to get in and out of for the Shuttle flights Delta operates between New York and Chicago, Boston and Washington, DC. For the O/D business traveler the separate facility is a time saver and makes the trips that much easier, even if it doesn’t have a SkyClub. Starting on 2 November 2014 Delta will be taking the Boston Shuttle flights out of the Marine Air Terminal and moving them to Terminal C. As a NYC-based customer this makes me a bit sad. But looking at the bigger picture this move is likely a huge improvement for the carrier and for many of its passengers.

The press release announcing the move highlights a variety of reasons passengers should be happy. There is talk of the larger aircraft now serving the route (717s, an up-gauge from the E75s), in-seat power and a few other things which are mostly available today on the route (wifi, free drinks/snacks, shorter check-in cutoff time, etc.). But I think all of that is a distraction from the real reason for the move: Connectivity.

The current passenger flow for the Shuttle is very focused on the O/D market. And that’s great for those passengers. And those passengers are part of the market Delta is going for, but the Boston Shuttle has always been the weaker of the Shuttle markets and yet Delta is adding capacity. A lot of capacity, actually. The 34 additional seats on each flight – even with a decent number of them being middle seats – is a 44% bump in total seats on offer. And Delta doesn’t want them stopping in NYC.

The Boston market is a tough one for most airlines. Not quite big enough to support a hub but enough business traffic to support a lot of people flying to a lot of destinations reasonably often. And a lot of that traffic stays in the north-east and mid-Atlantic regions. JetBlue has made major inroads picking up business traffic and pretty much everyone else has lost. This shift in New York is Delta’s counter move. They’re going for Boston-based business traffic with frequent, easy connections in NYC.

Many more markets now become available to Boston-based customers as an easy single connection. Assuming the NYC airspace cooperates.

Take a look at the routes Delta serves from LaGuardia. For most of these a connection form Boston in Atlanta, Minneapolis or Detroit is simply not going to work. But a quick, easy connection in LaGuardia just might be reasonable enough. Delta made a HUGE investment in the New York City market when they made the slot swap with US Airways around DCA. And, yes, most of that was focused on building up the O/D market at LaGuardia for a whole bunch of mid-sized business markets. But now that they have those markets established it is time to start feeding them. Hourly service in from Boston is going to be a nice chunk of that feed.

Of course, there are the ever-present risks of connecting at LaGuardia, including a highly congested air space, limited capacity for reroutes and delays which kick in when someone sneezes in Central Park. But from a passenger flow perspective the theoretical value of the Boston->LaGuardia->Everywhere routing is hard to beat. And Delta is going to do their best to grab that market.

As for those saying the shift makes this no longer a shuttle market, remember that it was only in 2008/2009 that the service was hourly on a dedicated MD-80 family sub-fleet with extra pitch; that transition to the E75s was completed in March 2009. Those planes also operated out of the Marine Air Terminal so there’s no reason that switching to the 717s would require also shifting to Terminal C. For the O/D market the key is the hourly frequency. That’s what keeps the business customers coming back. And the DC and Chicago markets have a dramatically lower number of connecting passengers; moving those out of the Marine Air Terminal would benefit no one.

But for the Boston flow this move makes a lot of sense. Even if it is a bit less desirable for the NYC-BOS commuters.

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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. Terminal C is actually pretty easy in-and-out. And it’s where US Airways runs *its* shuttle from. In fact, Delta has the gates in C that US used to use for its shuttle before the DCA slot swap. You’d arrive at LGA and there was an escalator straight down and a short, uncongested walk straight out. Truly not bad. And of course terminal C has a nice shiny new Skyclub.

  2. It has been a while since I was last at LGA, but I remember that the Avis lot location in proximity to the MAT made the difference more than once in catching my flight back to Boston. Pretty much everyone in Boston will do all they can to bypass the 3 NYC area major airports for connections, so I honestly don’t think DL will picking up that many folks willing to go via LGA. I’ll also take the EMB over the 717 any time

    1. “Pretty much everyone in Boston will do all they can to bypass the 3 NYC area major airports for connections”

      You say that, but I doubt it is actually true. Especially when DL has so many more destinations available with shorter travel times.

      1. Distance wise, BOS-LGA-XXX may be shorter but once you factor block times that DL pads for LGA I would think it makes more sense just to connect at DTW or ATL. Really the only markets that make sense to do BOS-LGA-XXX are anything east of CMH or north of RDU (both of which are already flown by DL to BOS). Which basically means just the Washington Area, Pittsburgh, and Buffalo -in which there’s plenty of nonstops at dirt cheap prices.

        Now DL may need help filling LGA seats in which case I’m sure they’ll get some of the low-yield leisure people to do this. But is that worth the lost convenience of the MAT for local LGA-BOS people? DL seems to think so.

  3. Timely article. I just flew a DL shuttle flight and was puzzled by the whole experience. The marine terminal is rather dumpy. There is no club – but there is a coffee stand where the delta employee will pour you a coffee in a paper cup with an agressive tip expectation. No Internet which is avail in a club. The open seating seems less efficient.

    So…paid $459 for a day trip to washington… Got free glass of wine.

    Upon landing there was an announcement that if you are connecting on a flight in term C or D….. You need to collect checked bags and bring over to terminal yourself. Really??

  4. The Delta double connection….always a hardsell. Will always be a hardsell! Can’t see how connecting thru LGA, will help Delta fill planes. Agree with “JohnSD”. But, if LGA was the only connection, possibly maybe a gain for Delta.

    1. Not a double connection, a single connection. Delta has a ton more flights/destinations out of LGA than in the past because of the US slot swap.

  5. Good post…though way too long. This is a common problem with travel bloggers…trying to prove how much they know by just going on and on. Gary Leff’s posts are regularly two or three (or four) times longer than need be.

    I also don’t understand the statement that some people will say LGA-BOS is “no longer a shuttle market” just because it is no longer in the Marine Air Terminal. Who would say that or why would they say that? It’s still regular hourly(ish) service. US Air still calls it a shuttle. Why does the LGA gate the plane uses impact what the service is called? And, the plane lands at a normal gate at BOS right (that hasn’t changed)? Don’t get it.

    1. Sorry that 700 words is too much to read. I thought I did a pretty good job of explaining the reasons for the assertion I made and providing counter-claims to the various other discussions in a reasonably concise manner.

      Maybe next time I’ll just write, “Better for cxns ex-BOS,” and call it a day, OK??

  6. With the tech industry in both cities, I’m amazed that there isn’t more demand for a BOS-SJC nonstop other than the JetBlue once daily (and eastbound red-eye). I find myself doing the BOS-JFK-SFO route on the new AA A321T that works pretty well, even though I far prefer the SJC airport.

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