Recently, Delta unveiled its launch routes for its new Airbus A220 (aka Bombardier CS100) aircraft. Service begins January 31, 2019, with flights between New York – LaGuardia and Boston and Dallas-Fort Worth. What I really found interesting, though, are the cities Delta decided to focus on with this first round. Namely, DFW and Houston’s Bush Intercontinental Airport. All but one of the new routes serves these two cities (New York to Boston the one exception). So that got me thinking: what exactly is Delta thinking here?
The New Airbus A220: The Basics
First, I’ll start with a few A220 basics. Delta’s configuration features 109 seats, with 12 First, 15 Comfort+, and 82 Main Cabin seats. The setup closely mirrors Delta’s existing Boeing 717-200 fleet, which contains 110 seats in a 12/20/78 configuration. Also like the 717 (and its fleet of MD-88 and 90 aircraft), coach is in a 2-3 configuration. That gives coach passengers sitting on the left side a chance to escape the middle seat entirely.
Delta recently released photos of the new A220 cabin. I must say, the 2-3 layout makes coach seem spacious, despite advertised pitch of only 30-31″. Perhaps that’s because of seat width – 18.6″, wider than any of Delta’s other narrow-body aircraft.
Also, the new seats feature all the new bells and whistles, including seat-back IFE screens, in-seat power and USB ports, access to Delta Studio content, and WiFi.
A Backdoor Capacity Increase
Although the A220 basically matches the seating capacity of the 717, Delta plans on using the plane as more than just a 717 replacement. Take Dallas to LaGuardia, for example. Currently, Delta operates five flights daily, using one Embraer 170, two Embraer 175s, one Airbus A319, and one CRJ-900. That provides a total of 429 seats daily. Starting January 31, however, this switches to three A220 flights, one E-170 flight, and one CRJ-900 flight. That increases total capacity to 472 seats, a 9.1% increase. In some markets, though, the A220 does operate as a true 717 replacement, such as Houston to Salt Lake City. There, three 717 flights switch to three A220 flights in July, making the move capacity neutral.
So Why Dallas and Houston?
Based on blog reactions I’ve seen, many seem perplexed that Delta chose Dallas and Houston as its A220 focus cities. To me, though, the choice of Texas in general makes some sense. Delta acknowledged in December, 2017 that it viewed Texas as a substantial gap in its network. However, the talk in the meantime was that Austin, not Dallas or Houston, would be Delta’s next focus city. So why not up-gauge some existing AUS service instead? Delta already operates flights from Bergstrom to the same cities seeing A220 service from DFW and IAH.
New York certainly makes sense to upgrade from both DFW and Houston Intercontinental. Both represent critical business markets, and feature fierce competition. Delta’s competitors from DFW to New York (both NYC airports and Newark) offer 31 nonstop peak weekday frequencies. That’s 21 on American, and 5 each on Southwest – and just one of those United flights utilizes a regional jet. By comparison, Delta’s reliance on RJs (7 out of 8 frequencies) simply isn’t competitive. So, improving the passenger experience by upgrading to mainline aircraft seems wise.
Beyond that, Dallas does makes some sense, I suppose. Delta once had a fairly sizeable operation at DFW, with its “Easy Street” hub in Terminal E. As a result, some residual loyalty to Delta remains throughout the Metroplex. I can see why Delta might want to offer something better. As mediocre as American is these days, there’s probably at least some former Delta flyers willing to go back if they offer a better product. Maybe it’s also a dare to Dougie to go through with deploying the new but poorly-received 737-MAX 8 at DFW…
Houston, on the other hand? Not sure I totally get this one, besides New York, which is also a hyper-competitive business market. Delta itself never maintained much of a presence in H-Town, although SkyTeam was big here in the old Continental days. In addition, while American seems rudderless at the moment, United is at least trying to improve. I just don’t see why Delta wants to stick fancy new planes from here to Detroit, Minneapolis, and Salt Lake City. None are massive business markets from Texas. And I question why Delta wants to put shiny new planes here rather than a focus city 200 miles west.
I find it interesting that Delta chose Dallas and Houston as its first A220 focus cities. I just wonder a little about increasing capacity in Dallas and Houston to Delta hubs, rather than using the new planes for its planned Austin focus city. Seems like that would better demonstrate Delta’s commitment to Austin now and in the future.
Anyway, I’ve never flown the A220/CS100, and I’m looking forward to giving it a try. I’m already booked on the inaugural DFW-LaGuardia flight on January 31, technically Delta’s 2nd A220 departure that day. Fittingly, I plan on finishing up the day by heading to Miami on an American MAX 8, then home in American’s Basic Economy. This promises to be a fun day…