Delta Brings Business Elite to Domestic Flying (Again)

In 2003, I found myself sitting in the Business Elite cabin on a 767 going from JFK to San Francisco on Delta. It was a very nice ride, but that service was soon discontinued. Delta has tried a few things between New York and LA/SF, but for the most part it has been a standard domestic service. That’s going to change once again.

Flights between JFK and both LA and SF will now be on internationally-configured 757s. That means you’ll get audio/video on demand in the 158 seats in the back of the bus and international Business Elite in the 16 seats up front. LA will be up and running here in early September but it looks like SF won’t be fully outfitted with the new aircraft until late October.

Delta Wants to Fight in NYC - LA/SF

This is not only a product improvement but it’s a capacity increase. Delta has been flying a mix of 757s and 737s on these routes lately, and now they’ll be all 757. So what’s behind this increase in capacity and improvement in product? Remember, they want to “win” New York.

United has ps and American flies its 767-200s between New York and SF/LA, both of which have an international three cabin product. So this enables Delta to try to compete for some of that business, though the product will still be inferior to what the other two are offering. At least it will now be in the same category.

If that’s not good enough, Delta probably has some spare 757s sitting around. As we head into winter, the already bad international travel market is going to start looking even worse. So Delta can pull those 757s off of weak international routes and put them on less weak domestic routes instead. I tend to think this won’t be a winner if you look at the bottom line, but if they want to “win” New York, as they like to say, they need to do something to compete in these markets.

I doubt this will be enough to steal away the corporate business from United and American, but it very well be less of a loss maker than sticking them on Transatlantic routes during the long winter ahead.


25 Responses to Delta Brings Business Elite to Domestic Flying (Again)

  1. Allan says:

    The 737 should never, ever be used on a flight across the country from LAX to JFK. If you want my business, promise me that your airline will never put me on a 737 for any flight over 3 hours.

    I know the 737 is the “most popular” aircraft in the history of the world but it sucks and will always suck. Boeing can sell a million more 737’s and it will never change the fact that it is a glorified Greyhound with less leg room.

    I blame Southwest for this whole “let’s cram people into crappy 737’s” trend.

  2. chris says:

    Hey Brett: If they really want to win NYC, they need to do something about that AWFUL old Pan Am Terminal at JFK that they keep patching up. Check in /security lines for flights on Friday or Sunday afternoon is complete chaos. At least it was this time last year. UAL PS check in at JFK is much smoother and faster. Not sure about AA check in.

  3. A says:

    Will this added capacity for trans-continental traffic further drive down ticket prices on these routes? I know these are big population areas that generate a ton of traffic but seriously those routes (last I checked) were pretty cheap to fly considering flight time/fuel burn. Meanwhile I’m heading out on a business road trip because Delta sees fit to gouge me on tickets to small market cities. I know, I know, ticket price isn’t based on distance alone, but as just some joe consumer it seems Delta wants to “win” NY on the wallets of those flying to less glamorous places.

  4. ttjoseph says:

    @ Allan:
    What exactly about the 737 makes it undesirable relative to, say, a non-BusinessElite 757?

    Also, I hope these are sold as regular domestic flights…I want that Medallion upgrade! :)

  5. Potcake says:

    No mention in the link about cabin service– will this be standard domestic or true BE?

  6. Chris says:

    @ A – This actually isn’t a very large net addition. Same number of F seats (16) but a few more Y seats.

    I think that the point that is missed is that UA’s contracts are who they are going after… UA cannot offer the NY based traveler the direct connections that DL can and, with a true Business experience can compete with the AA F seat in the market.

  7. Dan Webb says:

    From what I’ve heard, this service is coming into place because Delta has already been pulling the 757s out of transatlantic service.

  8. Allan wrote:

    The 737 should never, ever be used on a flight across the country from LAX to JFK. If you want my business, promise me that your airline will never put me on a 737 for any flight over 3 hours.

    Allan, I fail to see how the 737 is any worse or better than the 757. Sure there might be a different cabin, but besides that the cross section is the same. The Newer 737 might also be a wee bit quieter than a 757. We’re not going back to getting a steak in coach on an L1011, or any other widebody for most domestic runs. The AA 767-200 is an exception, not the rule.

    I really see Delta as going after United. It seems the vultures are starting to circle around United and see if they can pick it away to death. Republic and Southwest in Denver, other airlines on the transcon, V Australia down under..

    An argument can be made for Continental wanting United to go, so they can pick up the pieces and become a more important Star Alliance partner and not have to share the feed.

  9. David SFeastbay says:

    @ Allan:

    Flying over 3hrs has nothing to do with a 737 itself, it’s how the airline configures it. If an airline did a 40 seat luxury business class service would you still complain about 737 being used for a 3+ hour flight?

  10. David SFeastbay says:

    It would be interesting to see how DL does against UA in/out of SFO. UA will have more flights and have a greater feed SFO-JFK, but DL will have greater feed JFK-SFO. It will be a east coast vs west coast route contest. Which carrier will have a greater amount of originating traffic, DL in the east or UA in the west.

    LAX-JFK will really be a DL/AA contest since UA has less flights in the market and both have a pretty good operation at either end.

    So DL will have to battle both UA and AA in these two markets, but UA and AA will only have to battle DL for the most part.

    But they still have to contend with CO EWR-LAX/SFO as well who will be UA’s Star Alliance partner, so that could help make UA a more power house for DL and AA to compete with.

  11. Jason H says:

    @ David SFeastbay:

    While it isn’t purely DL metal, with the NW purchase, DL did get and strengthen its ties with Alaska/Horizon. If that is included in the mix, it really can alter the dynamics of the SFO and LAX market for DL.

  12. CF says:

    chris wrote:

    Hey Brett: If they really want to win NYC, they need to do something about that AWFUL old Pan Am Terminal at JFK that they keep patching up.

    Amen. That place was nasty 20 years ago.

    A wrote:

    Will this added capacity for trans-continental traffic further drive down ticket prices on these routes?

    They can’t be driven down much more. The capacity decrease isn’t that substantial. There are 144 in the back on the 737 and 158 on the 757. Same number of seats up front (16).

    Potcake wrote:

    No mention in the link about cabin service– will this be standard domestic or true BE?

    Good question. It’s supposed to be BE, at least that’s my understanding.

    Chris wrote:

    I think that the point that is missed is that UA’s contracts are who they are going after… UA cannot offer the NY based traveler the direct connections that DL can and, with a true Business experience can compete with the AA F seat in the market.

    As has been said, UA’s strength is on the west coast while Delta’s is in NYC. So, United will continue to win the contracts with a lot of west coast flying while Delta won’t. Though some companies will use both and this just gives another option for them if they go in the premium cabin transcon. I don’t think it’s aimed at United any more than it’s aimed at American. Maybe less so since Delta and American both get much of their strength in NYC.

  13. Marc says:

    Cranky –

    This is a great move for the Business Class traveler — especially those connecting at JFK to Europe/Asia/Africa, as it offers standardized BE service the entire journey. (And don’t get me started on the “inferior” comparison to UA/AA. I will take an older BE seat with consistent great service anyday than the newer seats and standard surly UA/AA service anyday. I’ve flown all three multiple times and DL definitely has their A Team on these routes).

    As far as the criticism for the 737’s they were flying — they were (are) terrific new planes (737-700’s I beleieve) fully equipped with the video-on-demand and Dish TV at every seat.

    And I agree completely that Delta’s JFK facility needs to be leveled immediately and rebuilt if they are ever to attract the higher-end corporate fliers.

  14. Dick says:

    Very interesting that you did not mention Virgin America in these markets. They have a far superior product – seat comfort, food, inflight entertainment, a staff that makes passengers feel welcome. Oh did I mention WiFi on every flight? I know where I am spending my travel dollars!

  15. ttjoseph says:

    CF wrote:

    They can’t be driven down much more. The capacity decrease isn’t that substantial. There are 144 in the back on the 737 and 158 on the 757. Same number of seats up front (16).

    I paid something like $320 for my last transcon roundtrip on DL (JFK-SAN). I don’t understand how DL could have made any money on that…but I’m not going to argue with the price!

  16. CF says:

    Marc wrote:

    As far as the criticism for the 737’s they were flying — they were (are) terrific new planes (737-700’s I beleieve) fully equipped with the video-on-demand and Dish TV at every seat.

    It’s not even worth correcting, but they were 737-800s. They only have a couple 737-700s. I agree that the 737s are perfectly fine and it’s all about how they’re configured inside.

    Dick wrote:

    Very interesting that you did not mention Virgin America in these markets. They have a far superior product – seat comfort, food, inflight entertainment, a staff that makes passengers feel welcome. Oh did I mention WiFi on every flight? I know where I am spending my travel dollars!

    I didn’t mention Virgin America, because I don’t think this has anything to do with them. Virgin America has made progress in growing their corporate accounts, but the biggest business is with American and United and that’s who I think they’re gunning for.

  17. Ron says:

    What’s the point of corporate accounts, anyway? Wouldn’t corporations best be served by shopping on the open market? My employer has relations with a few “preferred” carriers (currently AA, DL and WN, I believe), but travelers are free to fly with whoever they want and I don’t really know what the benefits are to using the preferred ones. The fact that our travelers typically control their own budgets is a great incentive to economize, so travelers typically shop around (spending less on travel frees up your budget for other activities, or for more travel). I’m not aware of any contracted rates, but I don’t see how they would help; for example, I’m flying on business LAX-DCA and back next week, and the airfare will cost my employer $300. Are there contracted rates that go below that?

    Perhaps I’d have a different outlook if we were allowed to fly other than in coach. Anyway, I’d be curious to learn what these fat corporate contracts are.

  18. CF says:

    Ron wrote:

    Perhaps I’d have a different outlook if we were allowed to fly other than in coach. Anyway, I’d be curious to learn what these fat corporate contracts are.

    I haven’t been in the game directly for awhile, but sometimes the contracts are great deals and other times they aren’t. Speaking from my past knowledge, these contracts often aren’t set rates but rather percentages off of existing fares. The lowest fares may not be eligible for any discount but the higher you go, the bigger the discount. There are also thresholds built in for market share. So for example, United could require a corporate contract give the airline 80% of the share on JFK-LAX as part of the deal to get the best percent discount.

    Personally, I’ve found cheaper deals on my own, and often the expense of having an in-house agency to handle the contracts can be quite large as well.

  19. Ron says:

    CF wrote:

    often the expense of having an in-house agency to handle the contracts can be quite large as well.

    Yes, I was wondering about that as well. We have an account with Egencia, and the travel department suggests that they would prefer it if all travel were booked through it so they could get statistics and what not. I’m not sure why they need this rather than monitoring the expense reports. From my perspective, Egencia has some nice features but also some problems, most crucially that sometimes it just doesn’t work (an error message on the final or pre-final screen). So I use it some of the time. I guess it’s a nice service to offer to your employees, and in theory it could make them spend less time planning travel on the company’s dime (that is, if the service were reliable). But I’m not sure what advantage we get from having a department analyzing everybody’s travel, when employees pretty much regulate themselves and are anyway accountable to their supervisors and budget holders rather than the travel folks.

    Incidentally, while Expedia recently dropped the $7 booking fee, Egencia has kept it. Just another little expense of doing things the corporate way.

    • Joel says:

      Hello CF,

      I noticed your message. I realize it is a bit old, but I appreciate the positive notes and I would be happy to help with any concerns you might have. I to am a frequent business traveler and an employee of Egencia. Let me know if I can help. Best Regards,
      Joel
      jennis@expedia.com

  20. Matt says:

    I fly Delta LAX-JFK every week and am very excited of this news. Every once in awhile it has been a treat to lay flat in 1st. Now it sounds like every plane will be equiped so I can fly in extra comfort.

  21. Paige says:

    @ Ron:

    Ron, I hope this does not seem intrusive but I saw your comment and wanted to follow up directly. I work for Egencia and of course, we take feedback like yours seriously.

    Specifically, your issue with the “error message” is one we have not heard before and I want to make sure we address immediately. Would you mind getting in touch with me directly so I can ask you a few questions? My email address is: pyoung@egencia.com

    Regarding your question about the value of booking through a travel management company like Egencia, it definitely varies by the individual company goals and needs. Not knowing your company’s specific goals, many of our clients use Egencia for some of these reasons:

    – To your point, many company’s like using Egencia because of the real-time reporting capabilities – getting “statistics and what not.” :) Especially during challenging economic times, reporting provides an additional level of insight. In this case, it’s real-time versus expense reports, which are submitted after travel. By having more than one source of data, companies can also make better business decisions.

    – Many companies have preferred agreements with certain airlines, hotels or car companies that they will book a certain amount of travel and as a result, receive certain discounts or amenities such as free wireless or breakfast. By booking your travel through one source, corporations can make sure they meet these agreements, achieve thresholds and receive those discounts/amenities.

    – Last reason is that when travelers are booking through different sources, it can be difficult to find them during an emergency. Should a severe weather event or even larger issue occur, Egencia pulls immediate reports for our clients to determine if their travelers have been affected. If you’ve booked through another source, you may be difficult to track down…your family or boss may know where you are but perhaps, it’s the middle of the night on a Sunday. By working through a single service such as Egencia, we can actually find you and get you home safely at any hour, any day of the week.

    Alright, I’ll get off my soapbox now. :) Apologies for the lengthy response. Ron, please feel free to reach out to me directly. I’m happy to answer any other questions you may have.

  22. Ron says:

    Paige,

    I’m certain it’s impossible to recreate the error I got. It was over a year ago, going from L.A. to Morocco with a stopover in D.C. on the way back, a total of 6 segments, all Delta coded but operated by 4 different airlines (thanks, Fly America!). Everything went smoothly except I wasn’t able to do the final booking. I didn’t stay to investigate, but just went over to delta.com and booked the same itinerary there (as Jakob Nielsen says, when users have a problem with your web site, they just leave). Sorry I can’t be more helpful.

    I do find some features of Egencia very nice, for example it has a very good interface for searching alternative airports. Other features are less convenient, such as the restriction that if you narrow your search by time of day you’re limited to windows of exactly 4 hours. Overall it’s not significantly better or worse than other sites, just different in some of the details, so I use it some of the time.

    One feature that is missing from this and every other site that would be useful for businesses dealing with the U.S. government is an indication of whether an itinerary is compatible with the Fly America Act. I realize this is difficult to implement and probably impossible to get right with 100% accuracy, because compliance with the Act is partly dependent on the availability of alternative flights and that’s something that’s very hard to search exhaustively. But some indication, and pointing out alternative compatible flights, would definitely be useful.

  23. Bob Davis says:

    FFS — I’m a 2MM about to get to 3MM on DL. All I want is convenient connection service. I don’t give a rat’s tailpipe about NYC’s terminals. I spend my time in the Crown Room.

    Get a life everyone. Stick with an airline that takes care of you. It’s always been Delta for me. And I’ve tried AA at DFW, UA at ORD, and YX in MKE. I grew up in Dallas and started flying in 1980, and have lived near MKE for the last 12 years. Delta always has the better attitude. I’m so glad they bought NW…I can now get good connections west from MKE.

    I used to fly ORD-LAX-SYD each month…that’s a lot of miles in F on UA. It got me great service over the Pacific…but didn’t earn me squat domestically or to Europe.

    If that had been DL service, I would have been welcomed the next time I had flown to LHR or FCO.

    We need to get used to the fact that flying ain’t what it used to be…no more piano bars on DC-10’s.

  24. Meg says:

    @ Paige: Paige, My corporation has had Egencia for almost a year and our travel costs have gone up. You cannot match airline rates such as JetBlue and Southwest web fares. I get better hotel rates on hotel web sites. And quite frankly – not having hotel loyalty points available during stays – means no upgrades, no free breakfast, etc. – and certainly no reward to use after spending 90 days a year on the road. Egencia is only about pleasing the corporation as opposed to the traveler. And after our COO had to take a flight with two layovers to not be “out of policy”, our contract will be ending. Beware!

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