Delta claims that it will not be adding any more international flights from Seattle due to constraints at the airport’s customs facility which was built nearly 30 years ago. Delta says it is bursting at its seams due to the large increase of international flights at the airport. Citing 45% growth in international traffic at Sea-Tac since 2009 and noting the custom facility was originally built for 1,200 people, Delta says the airport could not handle any further international expansion at this point.
In an interview with Delta’s CEO Ed Bastian, Delta CEO said his airline can’t/won’t grow in Seattle right now due to facility constraints:
“The current receiving area for international passengers, built more than 30 years ago at the airport’s South Satellite, gets extremely congested at midday peak periods, as travelers try to squeeze through customs.
“It would be difficult to bring more international traffic flow at this time,” Bastian said. “There’s a limit to how long customers can wait to clear.”
Bastian said Delta won’t subject its own passengers to that type of squeeze.
“When the facility comes online, that will support growth,” he said, adding that the airline sees more “opportunities” in Asia, as well as Mexico and Latin America.
I find this argument hard to believe as the airport does have the capacity to add more international flights. Just this last month Volaris and Xiamen Airlines announced new flights to Seattle. Volaris will land at 9:30pm and Xiamen at 10:25am. Delta could easily add more flights with earlier or later departures and arrivals which would connect to their morning or evening banks of regional flights in Seattle. Currently, Delta’s flights are heavily concentrated to arrive between 8am and 9:30 am and again between 11:30am and 2pm. If Delta opted for early morning or evening arrivals similar to British Airways or Emirates, Delta could easily expand if they truely wanted.
Future connector from the South Satellite terminal to new Concourse A Custom Facility
I think the truth is, Seattle-Tacoma is maxing out it’s growth potential for Delta Airlines. Delta has built a hub in Seattle with new flights to several points in Asia while pulling down their hub in Narita. In addition, Alaska Airlines and Delta have grown substantial domestic operations from Seattle in the last 5 years and Delta is not winning the battle for Seattle as easily as it once hoped. Until passenger revenue increases on flights from Seattle and load factors are higher, Delta is finally facing the cold hard truth. No more growth in Seattle, for it is not sustainable nor profitable. It’s time to let their network from Seattle mature and focus on revenue growth vs network growth. The facility constraints are just an easy copout!