Delta Invades Raleigh/Durham and Pittsburgh with Flights to Paris

Delta whipped up a surprise yesterday when it announced it would begin flights from both Raleigh/Durham and Pittsburgh to Paris/Charles de Gaulle next summer. I think I like this move, at least it seems like it’s worth a try, but I do find myself wondering if the planes will actually make it that far.

Delta Does Raleigh/Pittsburgh to ParisThe flights will operate five days a week beginning June 2/3 with 757s. According to the Great Circle Mapper, the Pittsburgh flight will be 3,910 miles while the one from Raleigh clocks in at 4,052 miles. You know that Continental Newark-Berlin flight that has to make fuel stops a lot? Yeah, that’s only 3,980. So how the heck are they going to make this work? Maybe Delta’s Pratt & Whitney engines have longer legs than Continentals’ Rolls Royce ones. Or maybe they’re planning on lots of fuel stops.

But let’s assume they’ve figured out how to make this work technically. Will it work from a business standpoint? Pittsburgh is US Airways territory. Even though they’ve virtually abandoned the city, that’s still the big airline in town. And Raleigh, despite having lost its American hub years ago, is still an American loyalist stronghold. So, Delta, member of SkyTeam, is taking aim at the Star Alliance and oneworld carriers here by trying to steal some share. So how can they go into these cities where they have no loyalty and make a European flight work? It’s all about Air France.

If they take passengers from these cities and send them into Paris, they can connect them on to a ton of Air France flights all over Europe, Africa, and the Middle East. All of a sudden, the service looks pretty interesting in that it can make a current two stop itinerary (US city to US gateway to EU gateway to EU city) into a one stop one (US city to EU gateway to EU city). And that can be attractive. Unfortunately, Delta’s red-tailed stepchild Northwest has tried this once and failed.

You may remember when Northwest started Hartford to Amsterdam as a way to take the traffic from Hartford and send it through Northwest partner KLM’s Amsterdam hub. It sounded good, but it lasted only a year before they announced the flight would be dropped. Maybe that was just because of high oil prices, and now it looks completely different, but if that was the case, you’d think Delta would be bringing that flight back instead of trying something new. In Hartford, there isn’t a loyalty to a single carrier like you have in Raleigh and Pittsburgh, so I’d think it would be an easier one to make work. Of course, if there isn’t enough local traffic, loyalty doesn’t matter. I figured that they might feel safer trying it from a Northwest stronghold like Indianapolis, but then again, that’s another 100 miles further than Raleigh, so I have no idea if they could even make that trip.

I have to give Delta credit for trying this one. If it works, it opens up a lot more opportunity for Delta from the East Coast to Paris and Amsterdam. If only Boeing would have kept the 757 production line and created an extended range 757-200 instead of wasting their time with the stretched 757-300. Just imagine what airlines would be flying right now if that plane had more range.

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