Delta Makes a Big Push for Los Angeles But It’s Different This Time

How many times have we heard this story before? Delta decides to make a run at growing its presence in LA every few years, and the results are always the same. It ends in retreat. But this time, Delta is doing things differently, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the end result was different as well.

Usually when you think about an airline trying to make a big push in a market, you think about adding new flights. That’s certainly what Delta has tried before. It bought Western Airlines in the 1980s and ended up shrinking. More recently, it has tried two separate build-ups in LA and none have ended well. Delta now finds itself well-behind American and United in LA, but instead of challenging that dominance, Delta is looking at how to improve what it already has so that it can attract more high-yield business travelers on to its airplanes.

Delta LAX Awesomer

Oh sure, there have been new flights added, but they’ve been more opportunistic than anything else. Things like the daily winter flight to Jackson Hole and summer service to Anchorage and Bozeman are more about filling a need. Those kind of flights aren’t going to appeal to the business traveler. Even the growth in business markets won’t have the frequency needed to matter (a daily summer flight to Boston, 3 to Seattle….) This is just filling out the schedule where there’s opportunity and nothing more.

That’s not to say that scheduling moves haven’t made a difference in business markets, but it’s not about adding a ton of capacity. The most obvious example is the introduction of a Delta Shuttle operation between LA and San Francisco. Flights will depart hourly and there will be the same types of amenities you see on the east coast Shuttle… free newspapers, snacks, drinks, etc. But the real benefit is that there are dedicated check-in counters that require arriving only 30 minutes before departure and close-in gates to make things move quickly.

The funny thing about the Shuttle is that it didn’t require much of a capacity change. Delta had already built up a ton of flights in the market, but now the airline just makes sure they depart at the top of the hour. It’s about trying to use the schedule more wisely, but even more than that, it’s about investing in creating a product that appeals to travelers.

This isn’t the only example of Delta building a product. It’s also focusing on another important business market, JFK, by bringing the level of service up to an international standard. That includes putting flat beds in business class. I still remain skeptical of the need for those beds, but certainly travelers aren’t going to complain. There are also a host of other onboard improvements just on the JFK route.

Even on smaller routes, Delta has decided to only use airplanes with First Class and wifi. There are no 50-seat or smaller aircraft in the Delta LA operation, yet American and United have a ton of those uncomfortable, all-coach airplanes.

Naturally, Delta is making these moves in markets where high value customers will take notice. And to help get those people on the airplane, Delta is trying to woo them with flash on the ground as well. In Atlanta, Delta uses a surprise-and-delight tactic with its best travelers by meeting them at the gate with a Porsche instead of making them head through the terminal on their own. (Oh, the horror…) That Porsche operation is now coming to LAX as well.

So Delta is putting a lot into the product, but that’s not enough. Now it has to actually get people’s attention and try to build a buzz around all these moves. Last week, I was invited to a party up in an enormous house in Beverly Hills. While I didn’t attend, I know there were a lot of folks who did. If someone told you an airline was throwing this kind of event, you’d probably guess it was Virgin America. But this was indeed Delta.

Of course, it’s not all about flashy parties. Delta is spending time with local customer groups and I get the feeling it’s sharpening its sales team in LA to try to make that push.

This is most definitely not your traditional play to win a market. And that’s why it may very well have a chance to succeed. While I remain far from convinced that the Shuttle to San Francisco and flat beds to New York are going to make a difference, Delta has finally started making the kind of decent profits that allow it to take these chances. I like the willingness to try new things. Hopefully we’ll see some of them stick.

Original photo via Delta Air Lines archives


32 Responses to Delta Makes a Big Push for Los Angeles But It’s Different This Time

  1. SEAN says:

    On the flat bed front, United has been running adds on local TV here in the NYC area. Interesting that those flights go between JFK – LAX or SFO considering they have an enormus hub at EWR.

    If US Airways& American merge, could that be an opening for Delta to grow even more at LAX? After all PHX will be a larger hub for the combined airline than what currently exists at LAX to begin with.

    • S*A*A*D says:

      AA will not surrender LAX to PHX or any competing airline. The LAX market is far larger and more diverse given the transcons, Asian markets, nonstops to LHR on AA and BA metal, the QF partnership and even the local VFR to Hawaii. PHX doesn’t come close; it does provide more logical O&D pairs than LAX but still not as good as SLC or DEN. It will be interesting to see what happens in the desert.

      • S*A*A*D says:

        By “more logical O&D pairs” I refer to domestic connections from around the country to Southern California. I also don’t see much being added to Phoenix that both airlines don’t already cover. AA hits DFW and ORD, already served by US.

  2. Hollywood always had a tradition of flying AA/PA/TW/UA in the glamour days of Hollywood as those airlines flew to the big cities east and west. DL was that crop duster airline in the south so Hollywood had to need for them.

    DL has a ways to go to become king of Hollywood, and AA/UA have been providing royal treatment for Hollywood for generation now so have a leg up on DL.

    By what DL is doing could made AA/UA improve their service even more and they could keep holding onto the customers DL is trying to woo.

  3. robby says:

    If DL shuttle service between LAX-SFO continues to use ERJ-900 a/c, then great.
    However the last time this topic was brought up I thought I saw that they would be using ERJ-170/175’s.
    For me that’s a deal breaker, ERJ-700-900 are the smallest jets I want to get onto.
    Three across seating is too cramped.
    And as much I like the 700 & 900’s, I hate the far apart window spacing.
    You are likely to end up with a window 18″ away from you, and stuck looking at a wall instead of the view outside.
    Maybe DL will eventually acquire the new Bombardier C series with big windows galore….

    • JB says:

      I think Robby is a little confused on his airplane types… The ERJ is an Embraer product and the E-175 holds just as many seats as the CRJ-900 (Canadair Regional Jet product, built by Bombardier), but the E175 actually has a larger cabin. The E170, also with a larger cabin, is comparable to the CRJ700, and the E145 to the dreaded CRJ200 50 seat aircraft. In each case, the Embraer product has been more comfortable than the CRJ.

    • Did you mean the E190’s?

      And the route is using E175’s.

      LAX-SJC/OAK use a mix of CR7/CR9’s with a couple of Horizon turbos on some of the SJC flights.

      • robby says:

        sorry
        E175 is not a E145
        I’ve yet to fly either btw
        But my niece flew the E145 and hated it

        • robby says:

          ERJ = Embraer = Brazil
          CRJ = Bombardier = Canada
          To add to the confusion, the new Bombardier C series…..

          Is Jane’s Pocket Book of Commercial Transport Aircraft current on these types? :)

  4. Don says:

    Wow. This route is becoming a bloodbath. I wouldn’t be surprised to see NK and WN reconfigure three planes of their own and offer the same. That last sentence was sarcasm.

  5. Jim says:

    The US airline industry is starting to focus more and more on the wealthiest customers. The gap between rich and poor is growing. Not a good sign for society…

    • CF says:

      Jim – This isn’t really targeting the wealthiest customers. It’s traveling those who fly the most often. Those people may not be rich at all but their jobs pay for them to fly all over. It’s really just a matter of catering to those people who fly the most and yes, it helps if you pay more for a ticket.

  6. sjcuser says:

    I flew SJC-LAX on OO dba DL in June and both my flights were massively delayed. Between a cramped terminal and the massive delays, I would avoid LAX unless I was actually going to LA.

    I’ve never had that much trouble on OO flights out of DL’s SLC hub and I’ve flown many a flight in and out of SLC.

  7. SAL says:

    Delta is choosing to focus on quality vs quantity in LAX. Could work, if Delta properly markets itself in LA. But don’t expect their competitors (primarily United, Virgin America, JetBlue, and stand-alone American) to stand still.

    If US and AA merge and Doug Parker is in charge, that could present more growth opportunities for Delta, as Parker would likely dehub LAX, or at least significantly shrink AA’s network there, in favor of PHX.

    • SEAN says:

      That was sort of my point earlier. A reconstituded American wouldn’t need a SIZABLE Hub at LAX if there’s a rather large one in PHX unless they’re intending to serve different market segments i,e PHX domestic O & D vs LAX longhall & international.

      Speeking of Delta, what is the situation with them at JFK. Are they going to move all there flights into terminal 4 & close terminal 2? I read that was possible if another gate extention was built for regional jets.

      • Jim says:

        LAX and PHX serve entirely different market segments. Do you really think that Qantas and Cathay are going to move their service to PHX to get the Oneworld connections? Do you see AA moving its Japan flights to PHX? LAX is also a much larger market and has many more premium travelers.

        • SEAN says:

          Personally I don’t think so, but I thaught it was a valid questio.n

        • S*A*A*D says:

          The different market segments would be the key.
          If AA can serve the domestic market OTHER than LAX via connex thru PHX then it opens up seats IN to LAX for connex over the water and v.v. They might have to right-size some of those planes at LAX, though, so they don’t fly a lot of empty metal because all of the former traffic is now routing through Sky Harbor.

          To do that, however, means possibly giving up market-share and bragging rights. Their planes might have higher load factors and better yield if AA repositions LAX as a Transpac gateway but the overrated emotional need to be king of the hill (at least in the old days) might shoot holes in that strategy, too. Again, it will be interesting to watch.

          • Scott says:

            The LAX/PHX issue for the new AA is similar to what they are going to have to sort out with JFK/PHL, although I think the east coast is going to be even trickier to figure out. US has a nice int’l gateway (and domestic hub) in PHL, while AA has a nice new terminal at JFK and a decent TATL operation there — in addition to premium transcons. Do they continue two TATL hubs so close to each other? In comparison, the LAX/PHX issue seems much simpler.

            As someone who lives on the west coast, I’ve really taken notice to what DL has done in New York. You see Delta’s upscale ads and brand all over NYC, and they’ve really upped the game at LGA. I haven’t seen their new terminal at JFK, but I hear it’s great. If DL can make such a splash and big bold moves in a huge market like NYC, why can’t they do it at LAX?

          • CF says:

            Scott – I think the big difference between NYC and LAX is that Delta has a huge advantage in terms of capacity in NYC. Sure, United owns Newark, but Delta is way above the rest at JFK/LaGuardia. The schedule there already makes them a default favorite whereas in LA, the schedule isn’t there.

          • SAL says:

            Scott – US has much bigger ops at PHL than AA at JFK and LGA. I think AA/US shrinks JFK and LGA, and shift the flights to PHL. US has already retreated from NYC, and AA stood on the sidelines at NYC while its competitors expanded and grabbed market share from AA.

      • Ben says:

        There are two more phases of the Terminal 4 expansion plan at JFK that will eventually move all DL operations there. The next phase is the regional jet gates at the end of Concourse B. Eventually they plan to extend the A Concourse to add more gates. That is phase 3

        • SEAN says:

          Thanks for the info.

          If that be the case, then the terminal 2/3 station on the AirTrain system will be closed. That is unless a new terminal gets constructed. Also the fate of terminal 7 maybe comeing up as well as BA may move into Terminal 8 in a few years to join AA there.

  8. Robert says:

    I don’t care what Delta does in the future with its LAX. I know what they did to Pan Am in 1991 and what they are presently doing to the former Pan Am WorldPort at JFK. (demolishing it!) So when the time ever comes that they need any kind of bailout, merger, help in any way. SCREW THEM! AND THEIR ATLANTA MASTERS!! I will never fly this airline ever again. In fact, I haven’t since 1991. So I keep true to my word. Y’all be good now. Hear?

    • robby says:

      Robert, I agree with your sentiments re: the WorldPort, but what was DL to do with PanAm? At least they created the beginnings of a global network.
      Since the merger w/ Western :( you can still see the remains of Western in their network / route structure (SLC)
      I’ve gone all in with DL, they appear to be the first major to have finally figured out how to survive post deregulation (ei: ancillary fees, purchasing their own refinery, etc).
      Safe travels

      AA + US = (likely) an airline not much different than AA today. I fear for PHX.

    • Great Example of re-writing history.

      PanAM went belly-up and Delta, under poorly advised leadership, bought up their worn out, inadequate airplanes, and broken down ground equipment. Delta hired a great many of their employees and worked out a seniority and compensation scheme that folded them into the Delta employee groups by category. In contrast, when TWA went out of business American cherry-picked their assets and added their employees to the bottom of their seniority lists – most of them are now all gone (“laid off”).

      The old PanAm Worldport was a structural mess and totally outdated. PanAm did not keep it well-maintained, nor did the Port Authority. It was designed and built well before the TSA and CBP security and immigration requirements and was not a feasible candidate to reconfigure. It leaked enough water during a one hour rain shower to supply a family of four for a year. Like Shea and Yankee stadiums, time to move on with customer-centric facilities.

      If you really pine for the past, check out how Delta and the Port Authority have respected the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia airport while operating the Delta Shuttle from that facility.

      • sjc user says:

        I agree. T-3 at JFK should have been called T-3rd world. The DL terminals at JFK were barely passable as a 3rd world airport. The Worldport needed to go.

      • ROBBY says:

        Yes, I’ve heard about the leaking roof at the WorldPort.

        For clarification, when I say WP, I am referring to the Oval World Port Roof.
        Saarinen’s TWA was saved, are you saying it’s beyond the realm to save an iconic piece of architecture (flat oval roof) and incorporate it into the new?

        • Pretty sure it all had to do with money. Saving the “superstructure” of the old TWA terminal was cheaper than tearing it down and could be incorporated into a new facility – then easy to say “keeping alive a landmark.” The former PanAM terminal was a structural mistake from the beginning and it was cheaper to tear it down than try to save it – compartmentalized, not open like the TWA structure. Delta had the guts and fiscal responsibility to take any heat for not saving it. I was in it last summer. I surprised how small it was and how cramped the security area was – canvas “sails” hanging from the ceiling to catch rainwater and condensation. What a mess. The Delta redcoat told me that the staff was embarrassed by the facility.

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