Offense or Defense: Delta + United making moves


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.

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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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.

4 Comments

  1. the interestingly odd thing about their attempt to win the wallets of the BOS market is still their steadfast refusal to go up against the other 2 legacies by offering *any* service to the 2 Chicago and 3 DC airports.

    You’d *think* those 2 should be thoroughly crucial business markets from a BOS perspective.

  2. The BOS-PIT may also have something to do with AA slowly pulling out of that route (or the whole PIT).

  3. Seth Miller: I am not an airline geek but it is clear to me that Delta is following the old Willie Sutton philosophy: They are going where the passengers are. Seattle, Boston…not making new hubs per se. But lots of flights where there are lots of people and where the other airlines don’t have fortress hubs.:

    1. Delta is absolutely making a new hub in Seattle. It wanted a west coast locale from which to run Asia trips (adding to its DTW operation) and that’s where the right mix of local traffic and geography and lack of international competition existed. Of course that move was about increasing profits, but it is also definitely about building a hub.

      Boston is less clear in terms of connecting flow in the traditional hub sense. There are a few TATL flights on DL or SkyTeam partners but not a ton.

      DL is also growing at RDU in an impressive way.

      Eventually the hubs no longer have growth potential and a large airline has to build out other routes or stop growing. That’s most definitely an approach that has the company playing offense rather than shifting other capacity around on defense.

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