Delta Invades Raleigh/Durham and Pittsburgh with Flights to Paris

757, Delta, Northwest, Schedule Changes

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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32 comments on “Delta Invades Raleigh/Durham and Pittsburgh with Flights to Paris

  1. Personally I’d take the short hop over to Atlanta or Cincy just to ride in a widebody. The 757 is a rather comforable plane for up to 3-4 hours, but for transatlantic it just gets claustrophobic. Several times I’ve ridden Iceland Air 757’s and those are relatively short flights with the stop at Reyjkavik. Still it was uncomfortable compared to a 767 or A330.

  2. Could the airlines make an increased range 757? I know that the old USAir had a select set of 737-301s and 737-401s that had full entertainment systems installed and did the transcon routes (at least out of PIT) when the 757s went into maint many years ago…

    Alaska’s 737-400s don’t go east past Chicago, so US must have done something to get extended range out of their selected 400s… replaced some cargo area with extra fuel tanks, maybe?

  3. Hartford is probably just too close to Boston (103 miles driving to BOS) and New York (JFK 117, EWR 131, and you can ride Amtrak to EWR). Springfield is just 93 miles from BOS. In a similar driving range you can get from PIT to CLE (126 miles) and from RDU to CLT (161 miles); the closest big international gateway is IAD (256 miles from PIT, 284 from RDU). These may be more successful than BDL simply because they have fewer alternatives.

  4. Wonko – Yes, USAir did have some 737-400s with extra fuel tanks. I believe it was called the IGW (Increased Gross Weight), and I actually flew it once from Tampa to Los Angeles! I’m not sure of the feasibility of doing this to the existing 757 fleet, but I would imagine that it would have been done were it a good option.

  5. Given the popularity of the 757 and its resurrection as a transatlantic aircraft, would it be worth Boeing’s while to start making updated versions of the type? I would guess, since you didn’t include it in your post, that this isn’t on their radar screen, and I wonder why. With AA, US and CO retrofitting their 757s with winglets, this new DL service, the advent of Open Skies, etc., it would seem like there is a market for new, extended-range 757s, no?

    At any rate, I’m with A–unless you’re lucky enough to be flying somewhere other than coach, I’d almost rather stop in ATL (or wherever) and board a widebody across the Atlantic.

  6. *addendum: I mean, I guess if winglets, extra fuel tanks, etc., are more economical than buying completely new aircraft, then maybe there wouldn’t be a market for new production, but if more and more airlines are going to join the widebody long-haul club (and if the trend toward all business class flights continues), they’re ultimately going to need replacements for all of those old modified birds.

  7. Brett and Wonko, at least US used fuel to increase the range. Urban legend has it that when Northeast flew their 727s (I think it was first with their -100s)nonstop from MIA to LAX, they had FAA permission to shut #2 down during flight. I’ve never seen offical confirmation of this.

  8. Zach – It’s a good question, but I don’t know the answer. Clearly Boeing has its hands full right now with the 787, so they probably aren’t looking at things like this. But the desire for a smaller mid to long haul aircraft is clearly there. Maybe they will try to address that one of these days.

  9. Delta is really maxing out their 757s. I would’ve thought that this route would be planned for the 787s that Northwest / Delta has coming. It’s still a bit early in the merger to know fleet / operations specifics, but maybe I missed something. Brett, do you know what their plans are with the 787?

    It’s interesting to think that Pittsburgh was once one of the largest hubs in the world. Remember when it had over 500+ flights a day served by US Airways? Now, terminals are blocked off with concrete and the new terminals are basically just standing there. Do you think other airlines see Pittsburgh as newfound opportunity?

  10. I think on the next generation narrowbody, Boeing and Airbus will at least be able to product a jet with 4000nm range. Don’t forget about the Boeing 737-700ER with 5500nm and the Airbus A319LR with 4500nm although they’re not nearly as widespread as the 757.

  11. Zach, resurrecting the 757 has been hashed over and over in the aviation discussion forums.

    As much as it is an awesome airplane it is also a 20+ year old design. Also the molds/forms other equipment needed to make new parts have likely long been destroyed.

    The 757 isn’t coming back, but you bet a replacement is on the radar, I’d expect as part of the 737RS plan if I were to place my bets..

  12. Oh CF, how much do you think this is Delta attempting to thumb their nose at their traditional competitor (US Airways) and the airline they just took over the largest airline mantle from (American)?

  13. I live in Durham and one of the big pluses I see is better recovery options for missed connections. If I have to fly to JFK or BWI before heading off to Europe and something goes wrong and I miss the connection, I’m more than likely stuck for 24 hours until the next night’s flight. But if I leave RDU straight for Europe even if we’re late arriving in Paris and miss a connection, there are probably several more flights that day I can take to continue to my final destination. That said price will still be a factor. We have this option now with AA to London but it always seems a good bit more expensive then going to JFK first. BTW, I’ve never gotten the sense from anyone I know that they are an AA loyalist. Each carrier out of RDU seems to have a different set of non-stop destinations so the carrier you choose depends mostly on where you’re going (at least for the leisure traveler).

  14. Didn’t US Airways just add a Paris flight out of CLT? It’s clear Delta’s taking them on in PIT and since they realize they can’t compete in CLT they figure they can take away some of that route’s business by flying out of RDU. I’m excited to see how they each price these new routes. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that price wars are awesome.

  15. Jonathan – I don’t think Delta has said anything yet about their 787 plans, and who knows how they’ll feel about it when they actually take delivery. These routes are probably way too hefty for a 787.

    Nicholas – I don’t think they’re really trying to thumb their noses here, but I do think they see a legitimate opportunity to take traffic away from those guys. I can’t imagine that AA will respond lightly while US may just let it go, especially since they gave up on PIT years ago.

    Mike – Yeah, they did. It’s interesting to think the two might be related, but I don’t know that it’s true. I agree though – price wars are terrible for airlines but great for passengers.

  16. “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”

    Speaking from a personal and convenience point of view, not a business point of view, I miss the Northwest BDL-AMS flight.

    I live just 63 miles from BDL, while JFK is 120 miles and BOS is 122 miles from my house. Driving to BOS is actually faster and easier, but I can do BDL in my sleep at 4:00am (and I have plenty of times).

    The problem with DL’s move into PIT and RDU has an obvious flaw. DL has no hub to move passengers onward from these airports. What is DL’s plan? To support these flights entirely on the population of PIT and RDU? Is that a viable business model?


  17. Good point. Delta has some flights to their big hubs (ATL and CVG) out of PIT and RDU, but I can’t imagine them being able to sustain a regular Paris route in a market as small as PIT or RDU without the airport being at least a focus city. Brett mentioned the epic fail that was Northwest’s grand experiment and it didn’t work. If it didn’t work in Hartford (which probably drew from the greater NY and greater Boston areas), it’s really going to fail in markets like Pittsburgh and the Triangle.

  18. Fish – This isn’t about gathering feed at Pittsburg and Raleigh because they definitely don’t have any. The goal is to dump Pittsburgh and Raleigh passengers in Paris and then connect them on to Air France. So there’s still a hub to feed, it’s just on the other side of the Pond. Whether it works or not is something we’ll have to find out, but as Mike says, if it it didn’t work in Hartford, these markets may be tough.

  19. Brett,

    I understand the theory that this is a way to bring pax into Air France’s hub at CDG, while I think this is a DL/AF attempt at pulling in traffic from limited markets, it does not address Delta’s statements on these routes. In speaking with a DL PR person I was informed that the new city pairs were designed to be two-way receprical route. Both flowing passengers into the AF network throughout Europe,and also bring passengers into the US to be fed into the DL network.

    I asked how bringing pax into PIT and RDU would feed DL’s network and was tod that they’d be flown onto DL hubs and sent along from those cities. That answer of course lead to ‘Why wouldn’t you just fly the pax into ATL,JFK and in the future MSP and DTW, skipping the limited traffic from RDU and PIT.” I was met with answers again only pertaining to moving passengers throughout the AF network and the conversation was then cut very short.

    BDL-AMS flights were often quite full. Conn has a heavy amount of business traffic. There is a lot of banking in Conn, as well as many insurance companies employing thousands of frequent flyers with ties to Europe. These pax were the mainstay of the brief BDL-AMS route. My problem with the BDL-AMS route was that it often cost me more than $500 more than flying from JFK or BOS. For the $500 difference,I drive the extra 50+ miles to JFK or BOS, or took the train to either city and flew from there. Using Amtrak vs the cost of parking for a day trip, still saved me around $430 on average.

    However for trips when it was someone else’s dime and I needed to work then fly, then get home in time to pick my kids up from school (which was a few of my trips) the BDL-AMS flight won hands down.

    Back to the original issue, I don’t see how this survives long term for Delta or Air France. The 1-way out bound traffic from both cities is minimal for this kind of service. A feeder flight from RDU to ATL or PIT to JFK to make those connections to a much broader availability of destinations makes more sense for Delta.

    Steven Frischling
    The Travel Strategist

  20. Perhaps one reason why DL has chosen not to resurrect BDL-AMS at this time is due to financial service firms’ poor business conditions.

    Mr. Frischling’s comment that the added convenience of flying nonstop to Europe was not worth the additional premium is telling. If a fare premium is too high, business passengers may be encouraged or required to use close-by less expensive alternatives. I suspect that businesses which may have allowed J class travel on the BDL-AMS route have, like so many, eliminated that privilege and clamped down on the remaining business travel they do permit.

    I believe that the RDU-CDG route may be more successful for DL than PIT-CDG. DL is traditionally strong in the South, and NW had its MEM hub. Both DL and NW may have a sizeable number of DL/NW loyalists and corporate clients in the RDU area (I wouldn’t be surprised if NW had more traction in PIT than DL given NW’s “heartland” strategy and PIT’s reasonably close proximity to NW’s DTW hub). And while few regions of the country are being spared in this economy, the RDU “Research Triangle” area may be slightly less impaced by the economic slowdown compared to other communities.

    Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if either route is the result of market subsidies by the airport authorities or community economic development groups.

    Finally, if there are any other “gray hairs” like me who are fans of your blog, Brett, all I can say is the growing use of aircraft like the 757 across “the pond” reminds me of the line “everything old is new again.” Go back to the 1960s, when single-aisle aircraft like 707s and DC8s were the sttandard across the Atlantic. Obviously, routes like RDU/PIT-CDG weren’t flown back then. However, the 757’s capacity makes it a very nimble aircraft to use on these long, thin routes.

  21. Don’t you think some of this has to do with aircraft utilization? The new Delta now has a bunch of airplanes, but a major goal of consolidation is to reduce capacity (although that is not what Delta claims). However, Delta is now competing against itself with overlapping domestic routes and other routes where they would like to cut capacity. So why try a plan where you would eventually take most of your 757’s out of domestic service and put them on hopefully more lucrative TATL routes? Why park a bunch of planes in the desert when you can still get more years of service out of them (DC-9’s)? Plus, it’s not like they have to add employees or resources. They can cut capacity, remove aircraft if they want, and still have enough 757’s left over to do this with a bunch of cities.

  22. Shane – I’d say there’s no question that if they had all their 757s happily deployed on the most profitable opportunities, they wouldn’t be looking to do this. So they’re probably seeing that there is a way for them try and increase profitability by moving the 757s over here. If it works, great. If not, oh well. It’s worth a shot.

  23. Jonathan:
    I don’t think PIT is going to enjoy a newfound re-emergence as anything. It is quite sad that it is largely idle, but with fewer US airlines and fewer US flights, airports are seeing drops in the number of daily flight, not increases.

    PIT has been bargaining for a true international flight for some time. The county thinks that this will stimulate international corporations to move to the area. They supposedly waived landing fees for the PIT-CDG DL flights, but I wonder what other incentives they gave DL? ($0.50 off per 10,000 gal. of Jet A for every cup of coffee they sell in the terminal perhaps?)

  24. JG:

    How about this (from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette):

    The local business community, which has been adamant in seeking the service, is so confident it can make Delta’s decision worthwhile that it, along with the state, is providing a financial backstop. If the Paris flights don’t meet revenue targets after one year, the Allegheny Conference and the state will split a $5 million payment to the airline. If enough revenue isn’t generated in the second year, they’ll pay another $4 million.

  25. K:

    Thanks for the info!

    Although I wish it were not the case, I feel that the base of businesses that will use the international flight is shrinking, not growing. Also, these businesses are letting fewer employees travel. After two years and the incentives run out, what happens then?

    I am curious if there are other examples of a group of businesses getting together and essentially subsidizing air travel so that that could have a particular route? Did Toyota did this for the UA west-coast routes to Nagoya? Does Disney do this for the LAX-MCO flights? OK, so those are individual companies, but what about a confederation of regional businesses?

  26. I appreciate all the interest generated by the PIT-CDG route, but it’s clear that most of the comments are from folks who are unfamiliar with the PIT market. It is the largest market in the U.S. (outside of San Diego) without non-stop service to Europe. Because of the strength of the business market, it has disproportionately high revenue. And it is no longer US territory. US is down to about 33% of ops at PIT, still the single biggest carrier but not dominant by any stretch.

    John from RDU explained exactly why the PIT flight will be successful with business flyers. Trying to get to an East Coast gateway, especially with the ATC ground holds that PIT suffers from, is always a crapshoot. And if you miss the connection on this side of the pond, you lose 24 hours. Our business travelers are leaving a half day early so they can be sure they’re on the ground in EWR or PHL or JFK in time. Getting on a plane and getting to Europe (even a single aisle) will make things much easier for our business passnegers.

  27. I dont fly the 757 / 76 but from a pilot perspective, I also am showing PIT-CDG at about 3435 NM (about 3950 statute miles), and the RDU-CDG run at 3550 NM (about 4085 miles). Whenever you cross the pond the distance might vary depending which track is being used according to the upper level winds. Sometimes (especially in the winter) these flights get wicked tailwinds = faster groundspeed = sooner to see the Eiffel Tower! Crossing the other way and you could see strong headwinds = slower groundspeed = stopping to pick up fuel once over land.

    I don’t know much about DL’s 757 equipment and engine specs, but I’m actually showing the 752 on average has a range of 3900 NM (roughly 4490 miles). Add another 200 NM (about 230 miles) if winglets are installed. This should be well within the envelop for ETOW ops for most days. On some days with strong winds, and a full house onboard, fuel stops probably wouldn’t be uncommon. If the route does well, they could upgrade the equipment. To start off though, it’ll get the job done.

    As for passenger comfort…well…that’s another story! (But hey, it’s the marginal cost of a direct flight verses a connecting flight out of PHL or NY or wherever.)

  28. Ken PIT – While PIT may be the largest market without flights to Europe, someone will always have to have that title. It doesn’t mean they should have service. I’d like to think this would work, but US Airways didn’t downsize PIT because they didn’t like the city. They downsized because the demand wasn’t there to support all the flights they had. And they had European flights, so clearly someone decided it couldn’t work. What this new opportunity has, of course, is feed in Paris so it can probably do better than US Airways. We’ll see how it goes.

  29. RDU to CDG is an interesting flight option. Maybe they are partnering with AF as a feeder or a very valuable corporate client has asked DL to create this flight similar to AA from RDU to LHR (formerly LGW). The PIT to CDG may be interesting for WN customers. I don’t know of too many companies that are based at PIT with french operations but they may have passengers from WN or US that might make it worthwhile. Perhaps DL wants to steal US traffic out of PHL. The more sustainable options for customers, the better!

  30. Hello,

    This is a welcome move by Delta.
    Now any traveller from Pittsburgh has to fly/drive minimum of 400 miles to board any international flight to fly to Europe/Middle east/Asia.

    This direct flight eliminates that travel time which is beneficial for the whole region (particularly the small town near and around pittsburgh)


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