Competition drives many of the decisions seen in the aviation world and today both United Airlines and Delta Air Lines made moves on their routes and schedules to address such. United is playing defense while Delta is on offense, creating some interesting positioning as they tweak operations.
United Defends Newark
United will resume year-round service on the Newark-Rome route after previously taking the winter off. Service varies between 3x weekly for most of the winter and daily at the peak Christmas/New Years season; the first flight in the new service cycle will be 9 November 2017.
— Seth Miller (@WandrMe) July 6, 2017
United is presenting the increase in service as part of its celebration of 20 years flying to Italy. But there is an additional story to be told. The service start date just happens to match up with Norwegian’s launch of service on the same route. Norwegian is also adding Rome service from Los Angeles in November and Oakland in February 2018. United has little choice but to engage in the competition as it tries to maintain its network and traffic overall. President Scott Kirby has been clear in recent months that shying away from such competition is not an option. That should create some interesting scenarios both for the airlines and passengers.
United will fly the route on its 767s while Norwegian will use its newer 787s. In Business Class (flat beds) or Economy (2-3-2 layout, in-seat IFE) the United product should be significantly more comfortable. Norwegian’s Premium Economy offering is way better than United’s Economy Plus extra leg room option but it generally is also priced between economy and business class so passengers will pay for that increased space. But avoiding the 3-3-3 layout in coach on the 787 in favor of the 767’s setup is a big win for passengers.
Delta’s Offensive in Boston
For Delta the new routes announced from Boston – twice daily to Pittsburgh and seasonal to New Orleans – are a challenge to JetBlue’s position as the dominant domestic carrier at Logan Airport. With these new routes Delta will exceed 100 peak daily departures from Boston while continuing to connect business markets that JetBlue has captured in recent years. The New Orleans service is short-lived, just a six week stint around Mardi Gras and Spring Break, where demand spikes. The Pittsburgh play is more focused on long-term growth for business travelers.
Delta has not been shy about growing operations at Boston and directly challenging JetBlue on many routes, including Austin, Buffalo, Tampa, San Francisco, and Jacksonville. Some growth remains seasonal or less-than-daily service but all of it chips away at JetBlue, and there is not too much JetBlue can do in response. Sure, it now serves Atlanta again and the pseudo-shuttle operation from LaGuardia to Boston is a nice effort on JetBlue’s part to serve its business contracts, albeit with a fraction of the frequencies Delta offers. Overall, Delta’s size gives it a lot of power in this competition. One need only look at the growth in Seattle to see what levels of coverage Delta can bring to play. That said, don’t expect massive long haul growth from Delta at Boston any time soon. Maybe a bit more if JetBlue does take the A321LRs it has been teasing for Europe service.
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