Delta Channels Pan Am, Decides to Fly to Every Airport on Earth

Delta, Northwest, Schedule Changes

Delta released early details of its summer 2009 schedule, and all I can say is . . . wow. They are moving a lot of airplanes around, and they’re flying to a bunch of cities that you’ve probably never heard of. They’re clearly enjoying having a brand new fleet of Northwest airplanes to schedule, but a lot of these seem like risky moves. Then again, you know what they say. No risk, no return.

The details are all available in the press release, so I won’t bother going over them all. But here are a few thoughts.

  • They’re really starting to mix the fleets faster than I thought. A Northwest 747 will fly Atlanta to Tokyo and a Northwest A330 will fly Salt Lake to Tokyo. What I want to know is where these planes are coming from. I mean, it’s not like those aircraft are sitting on the ground right now. They’re flying other routes. So what else is being pulled down?

  • And speaking of Salt Lake to Tokyo, this one is very interesting in that the local market is pretty slim. Sure, they have plenty of feed from the Rockies into Salt Lake to send over to Tokyo, and now they have the Northwest hub on the other side in Tokyo as well. They might be able to pull it off through sheer connectivity, but it will be tough.

  • Delta is really pushing its 757 here a lot, but I’m trying to figure out where they’re all coming from. We already saw the Pittsburgh/Raleigh-Paris flights, but now we have a bunch of Africa flying as well as some smaller European cities (Gothenburg and Valencia).

  • What the heck is in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea to make that flight worthwhile? And I thought Liberia was odd.

  • Sal (Cape Verde Islands) has become a mini hub for these guys with flights to Liberia, Malabo, Luanda (Angola) and Abuja (Nigeria). I flew through Sal when I was flying South African from Atlanta to Johannesburg a few years back, and there’s not much there. Since then, SAA has stopped flying there completely, so it’s interesting to see Delta move in. Of course, these flights only operate once or twice a week at most. It’s more of a fuel stop/crew rest point out of convenience and nothing else. These flights won’t be cheap.

I’m really curious to see how this all works out for them. I mean, they could end up losing a lot of money if it doesn’t. But if they’ve figured something out, it could be huge. The Asian flying in particular really shows the power of the merger (if the flights are successful). Assuming they stick, Delta will be able to point to all the naysayers and say that the merger really did create many new route opportunities. My guess is that only some of these will stick, however, but that’s ok. As long as they act quickly to cut the ones that fail, then this will still be worthwhile.

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34 comments on “Delta Channels Pan Am, Decides to Fly to Every Airport on Earth

  1. Re Malabo, since it seems KLM/AF fly there, maybe Delta has done the analysis of how many people previously flew on NW/Delta through Europe to Malabo and found that it was sufficient to justify a more direct route.

    Still, kind of strange. According to Wikipedia, the city has a population of about 100,000. Is there enough oil industry to fill the flights?

  2. I wonder if Delta isn’t picking up 757s from defunct biz-only airlines. Also I have noticed that they have started putting 738 aircraft on routes previously served by 752 aircraft. Makes sense to focus the TATL capable airframes on routes that make the money and serve domestic mid-con with the 738.

  3. I wonder if it will be cheaper than the World Airways flights that many of the big petroleum companies semi-charter to the oil gateways in West Africa. I think World flies IAH-Luanda twice a week, and from what I’ve heard, there is some American business traffic between Luanda and places like Malabo. It would seem strange for DL to target such a narrow set of customers (oil company employees with business in W. Africa), but maybe they’re thinking that folks will prefer single-airline service to the smaller markets that aren’t currently served by U.S. airlines.

    But then, it seems really inconvenient for a businesssperson based in, say, Houston, to go IAH-ATL-Sal-Malabo (as opposed to IAH-Luanda on World/connecting to some obscure African carrier for Luanda-Malabo). Yeah, you could check your bags all the way through on DL, but otherwise, is there any advantage? Maybe DL’s service will be less expensive and more frequent than the semi-charter?

    Who knows? Weird. It will also be REALLY weird to see 744s in DL colors (what’s it been–25 years since the last time Delta flew 747s?).

    Thanks for the post. This is really interesting. I love reading about funky route structures like this.

  4. I think that SLC-Narita flight is the writing on the wall for the end of NWA’s PDX-Narita route. That might even be where the equipment is coming from.

  5. Good post, and I for one am glad about the increased coverage. Malabo and Luanda both make sense because of the huge offshore industries there. On some of those flights, Economy is half-empty and Business is completely full.

    As for Liberia, I lived there for a year recently. There are a huge number of Liberian Americans, mostly in the south, as well as lots of aid workers and U.N. staff who go back and forth. I think that route will “work” as well. As for SLC-NRT, etc. I have no clue!

    Thanks again for the info.

  6. A few months ago I had posed a private question asking why US based carriers, desperate for ANY non-Southwest market dollar weren’t exploring edge of the world wayposts such as Abuja, Conakry, Abidjan and so on. Seems DL has decided to stick a toe in considering they hit damn-near every airport in Europe with a runway greater than 3000 meters.

    Why? Oil. Off-shore interests around Nigeria and Eq. Guinea. Why not shuttle the people who make the oil they and every other airline need to the source of salvation? Nigeria may be an unstable country (Is LOS still on the no-go TSA list?) but oil is addictive, idn’t it? Add on the peace keepers, missionaries, locals shuttling between home and NYC, backpackers and adventure/eco-tourists trying to find the next chic place no one else has ever been to and the plane will fill up fairly quickly.

    Is there real money to be made? Well, DL has been in South Africa for three years, more than enough time to pull the plug on a loser to me. My question/challenge is why they still have the entire continent all to themselves.

    As for Tokyo, what a difference a decade makes. UA went the way of directs from the US and are down to four destinations beyond NRT. NW/DL will field 13 Intra-Asian routes supporting 10 nonstop US destinations, including SLC. Suddenly, intra-Asian flying, even six hours to Singapore doesn’t seem as expensive as 15 hours from the US with a 50% load factor.

    I’m NOT a fan of DL but it’s hard to ignore some very aggressive and uncharacteristically bold planning.

    After the A380 from QF and EK, UA must truly be on it’s knees internationally after this move.

  7. Answer to John M.

    DL will reportedly take three years to merge the two carriers. For the time being NW will be a subsidiary carrier and maintain its own identity.

    What the announcements and booking disclaimers sound and look like, though, I don’t know. “DL operated by NW” or just plain “NW….for now!”

  8. A good friend of mine works for an oil company and would fly from the states to Malabo, Equatorial Guinea so much that he had a zillion miles. He always had to connect in Paris, but he once told me that he expected an airline to eventually fly there directly.

    I always figured an airline would jump on that route. It’s one of the world’s hidden, profitable gems.

    Long story short: oil, oil, oil. There is a ton of oil off the coast of Africa, and it’s in the process of getting discovered.

  9. Zach:

    I don’t believe Delta has ever flown 747s. After the Lockheed 1011s were retired, they had some MD-11s that have also gone into obscurity.


  10. Hi Sunil,

    Believe it or not, DL flew 747-100s in the early ’70s, so I guess it’s been more like 35 years ( has a great collection of old memorabilia and photos of DL 747s and the advertising brochures that used to feature them). Who knows whether or not the -400s will be phased out by the time NW’s fleet is re-branded, though.


  11. Sunil, DL did have a fleet of about 10 747s in the early 70s when they were new, chic and the must-have glamour plane. I flew on one from Dallas to Atlanta if one can believe such an absolute WASTE of a flight. Open seating in every cabin. They dumped them right around the time they were awarded the ATL-LGW route.

    Cape Verde looks like a mini-hub on paper but I counted only six frequencies with the 757 needing a tech stop there. If they operate on different days of the week, DL has taken one airplane, two at the most, and deployed them across three new markets. All the pilots have to do is remember what day it is so they don’t wind up in the wrong place.

    If I were Bermuda, I’d also gear up for a few unplanned visits on the return legs to JFK, especially during hurricane season!

  12. The 747-400 and, I believe, the A330 days are numbered. DL got burned when it operated the type back in the 70s and to them the economics haven’t changed. Too big, too expensive, etc. No US carrier in its right mind would operate a fleet of 777s and A330s simultaneously, either.

    DL 86’d the A310s after the Pan Am merger in favor of TriStars and 767s. Notice they’re the ONE AND ONLY US carrier that does not operate Airbus equipment? They’re all Boeing so Seattle had better ramp up now that the strike is settled. I see an absolutely MASSIVE order for 777s and 787s and 738s to backfill the ETOPS 757s coming within the next year or so.

  13. Oops….I need to add Alaska, Continental and Southwest as non-Airbus outfits, too. Sorry if I offended.

  14. Shifting focus from Africa to the Middle East, I wonder what the added frequencies between JFK and TLV mean to the ATL-TLV route. ATL-TLV has been going successfully for 2 1/2 years, but historically the only stable routes between TLV and North America have been to New York and Toronto (which replaced Montreal). El-Al tried at various points to open up additional markets but with limited success, just this summer they pulled out of ORD and MIA and reduced frequencies to LAX.

    Right now it looks like the additional 4 weekly flights are just a summer beefing-up, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see the TLV-ATL route shift to JFK before long. It is clear that ATL is mostly for connecting flights; Delta is constantly tweaking the balance of routes between its two Atlantic gateways, and it could make sense to concentrate on the most important market for TLV and grab some share from El-Al and Continental. Also, El-Al has code-share and mileage agreements with American, and Continental moving to Star Alliance might create additional demand from SkyTeam loyalists for the Delta service on the NYC-TLV route.

  15. Cranky
    Delta has canceled some low performing routes and that must be where some of those jets are coming from. Air France will add some flights and upgauge aircraft on the Detroit-Paris route.

    Ends January 8

    My next bets for international service would be AMS and/or CDG to Hartford, Indianapolis, Orlando, Phoenix, Salt Lake City (could add AMS if the Paris flights work).
    Phoenix only has British Airways for intercontinental service so an AMS or CDG flight might work despite Delta having no network feed at the PHX end.
    Hartford was doing so well at least initially that Northwest kicked around using an A330 for some of the flights. I think Delta will bring a transatlantic flight back there. Plus, Delta has a significant presence there with a bunch of Florida flights.
    Indianapolis is sort of a Northwest focus city so they could get some network feed. It seems to be out of range for a 757 though.
    Orlando could work. London-Orlando flights do very well and the Aer Lingus flight I was on a few months ago was almost full. The same could be said for Las Vegas. With the economy doing what its doing, this type of flight might be a bit of a long shot.
    Also, some flights out of JFK to Lisbon, Geneva, Birmingham UK, Glasglow, Stuttgart, Copenhagen, Oslo, Stockholm, Helsinki, Rio de Janerio, Naples (Italy), Warsaw or Hamburg could yield a profit.
    Who knows? These guys seem to be pretty smart although this is the same airline the brought us Song.

  16. To answer cranky’s question, looks like the NW 744 for ATL-NRT will come from DTW-KIX and the A332 will come from SEA-LHR.

  17. I bet the NRT 757 fleet is based there. I’ve been in NRT and seen it operated to places like Busan and Kaoshiung. SGN will be interesting considering UA runs a 747 in from HKG.

  18. Keep in mind that NW has a goodly-sized fleet of 752s as well. Both DL and NW runs tons of 757s into Phoenix, for example. Some of those flights might consolidate, turn into 738s or A320s, etc. The 752s could come from there….

    Also, DL is now starting to get some 737-700s. What would be interesting would be to see DL run 737-700 extended range jets on some of the long, thinner intl routes (like latin america?, etc) to start them up and then transition to 757s once the market has been built. Their 738s probably can’t do the ranges needed, but the -700s might just be the startup ticket. Meanwhile, the 757s are elsewhere…

  19. Salt Lake to Tokyo?

    That’s like Palmdale to anywhere.

    Eqatorial Guinea has oil, its the next Baku, Azerbaijan. (oh, and your blind date is cute, never mind the glasses, the false teeth and the wooden leg)

  20. Maybe DL is counting on a lot of Mormon Missionary business SLC to Asia – Mondays may be busy when the newly trained graduates depart.

  21. DL must be getting planes from flights they will cancel from NW. DL really doesn’t need to have NW flying to Europe since they are pumping up JFK and ATL service. There is still the thought that CVG and/or MEM will take cuts no matter what DL is saying now.

    Look at past examples from AA and US. AA takes over Reno Air, Air Cal, and TWA and do away with their routes and only keeps the aircraft. US takes over PSA and wipes out their west coast service and just keeps the aircraft. Just becauase DL takes over NW doesn’t mean that the NW routes will survive except for Asia.

  22. I have to admit this is one of the most exciting news to have come out of the US airline industry of late.

    I am surprised though that there’s no non-stop flight ex-US to JNB??? There’s even a SYD-JNB, surprised to see this not served by any US airline. Or SA. Strange.

  23. Jason H – Not sure if they’re picking up 757s from guys like Eos, but they did get the old TWA 757s from American. So they’ve definitely been looking to grow the fleet. Of course, they did have that 757 flying Hartford – Amsterdam that I guess is being used domestically now? So they do have some slack, I suppose.

    Zach – If there’s a lot of government traffic on these routes, then they’re required to fly American carriers, so that could be a big advantage for them. But still, I’d much rather fly Delta with a stop than put my hands in some unknown African carrier. (Now, if a reputable African carrier flies it, that’s a different story.)

    Also, about the 747, Delta has said that a 747 will be the first plane to be repainted into the new colors, and it should be relatively soon. I don’t see why they’d bother if they didn’t think they had a place for them.

    Optimist – Yeah, it’s not really a hub since the flights all operate on different days. But I think the biggest benefit of the Sal operation is crew scheduling. Just think how long crews would have to sit in Sal if it was just for a Liberia flight. Now they can layover in Sal and fly out relatively soon afterwards since a flight goes through there most days of the week.

    Also, in the long run I think you’re right. The A330 will go away as 787s and 777s continue to roll in. But that won’t happen anytime soon, and they clearly have flights they want to be operating. Delta doesn’t have very many 777s, and the 767 can’t operate a flight like Salt Lake to Tokyo. So they’ll fill a niche until they start getting the next generation deliveries, I’d bet.

    Zack Rules – I can’t see them trying something like Phoenix. Not only does it require a relatively scarce widebody, but it requires more than one to operate the schedule on such a long haul. I just don’t see it. Indy, maybe, but only if they can get a 757 to do it. And Orlando is tough, because it’s mostly traffic from Europe. Those people are less likely to fly on a US carrier.

    Nicholas – Yes, Northwest has a subfleet of 757s that are based in Tokyo.

    Wonko – I think you’re definitely right about those 737-700s. They’re already pushing into Central America, and are they doing a Manaus flight?

    PF – I actually bet that’ll be a big piece of their business. Mormons travel a LOT.

    Albert – The problem with US to Jo’burg is that not many planes can make it. South African used to fly it with a 747, but it couldn’t make the westbound flight nonstop. I believe they tried to do it with the A340-600, but I don’t know how often that made it. It’s just a really long way to go.

  24. Hey guys – if you’ve ever seen MSP airport as a plane watcher, you’ll see that there are at least two 747-200s (I believe) done up in the old NWA livery that they use for mostly military runs. That, and the two Tokyo flights might end up pared down to just one. Maybe the Amsterdam flights to be pared down as well? MSP already lost its Paris flight… and Detroit the Dusseldorf route…

  25. To piggyback Sara’s comment, MSP is a great plane watching airport. One of the only places in the US where you can watch the 400’s take-off and land on a daily basis outside of JFK, LAX, ORD.

  26. Is distance alone the issue? According to Circle Mapper SIN-EWR clocks in at 9535 miles while SYD-JNB is at 6862 miles and JFK-JNB at 7969.

    And yet on the SIN-EWR route we’ve got SQ operating an A345 with an all-biz configuration.

  27. Albert – You’re correct in your assumption that there are other factors besides distance. At its most basic, any flight is a factor of total weight, fuel and weather conditions en route. Stress any one over the other two and you have range limitations or payload restrictions that attempt to recover the range capability of the aircraft in question.

    The A345 was purpose built for ultra-long flights like SIN-EWR yet even there the plane has restrictions. Their cabin mix allows the lightest possible payload on board that will allow the flight to operate nonstop and still generate some kind of profit for the operating carrier.

    Considering SIN and EWR serve two of the largest financial markets in the world JNB simply doesn’t have that kind of clout. I also do not know if north pole headwinds are as much a factor as equatorial headwinds, one reason northbound nonstops are extremely difficult to pull off.

    SYD-JNB is a walk in the park for Qantas. That run is shorter than Australia to California.

  28. A – You forgot SFO as an incredible place to watch overseas heavies hauling off to the far corners. Be anywhere near the San Bruno Road on the north end of the main runways between 11:30 and 5PM for a parade of Asian, European and United Airlines widebodies to go sailing past, low and loud enough to set off car alarms each and every time!

    Also DFW has recently opened a new observation area at the NW corner of the field. A bit monotonous with all the AA metal but they do pipe in tower signals so you can get play by play action on the west side of the airport.

    Finally, MIA has some good spots and particularly between 2PM and 6PM when the Europeans take leave, breaking up the AA parade for a little while.

  29. AA bought Air Cal, and USAirways bought PSA with an intention to expand into the west coast, not just for the planes. Once on an interview, the guy turned out to be a former planning VP for USAir in the late 80’s. As my dad was a pilot for PSA, I asked him if there was a strategy for the purchase and his simple answer was no, just a land rush in the west for airlines at the time. The reason both purchases failed can also be summed up in one word, Southwest. In one of the more amusing conversations I’ve had, Herb Kelleher and I were the first to a hospitality suite after an event at the San Diego Aerospace Museum many years ago. He was aggravated that glasses had not been delivered yet and simply started drinking Wild Turkey straight from the bottle. When I mentioned PSA, he had two comments. PSA taught Southwest everything in the beginning, even sending people to Texas to help. And the day USAir announced the purchase of PSA, he called Boeing and bought 40 more 737-300’s to expand into California. USAir had no clue how to compete in the west, as LAX-SFO is a bit more competitive than a monopoly high fare route such as LGA-BUF back in the day. As there had always been so much fare competition within California, a USAir exec griped that Californians would only be happy if USAir paid them to fly. San Jose never made a great hub as SFO had way more feed and size. Basically CVG and MEM are too close to DTW and ATL. Only a matter of time before they are downsized STL style, and Southwest, Air Tran, or Jet Blue, move in. Delta will certainly keep DTW and MSP, two large hubs with little low-fare competition, that fly to a lot of places with no low fare competition such as Saginaw and Fargo. They compliment ATL and SLC very well geographically.

  30. Hey Cranky, I called it — Starting next week, ATL-TLV goes down to 4x weekly, while JFK-TLV retains its daily flight (did the 2nd frequency really happen this past summer? I wasn’t paying attention). The only surprise is that it took Delta so long to realize that the strongest North American market for Tel Aviv is, surprise surprise, New York.

    What I also don’t understand is why Delta is operating its daily JFK-TLV flight with a 767 (ATL-TLV was, and still is with reduced frequency, a 777). In addition to Delta, the market sustains 2x daily 777 by Continental (from EWR, obviously), plus 15x weekly by El-Al (7×744 plus 2×777 to JFK and 6×777 to EWR). All with fairly high fares, which suggests that there is room for competition.

    I don’t see why Delta isn’t fighting for more of the New York–Tel Aviv market, especially now that it’s the only Sky Team carrier on the route. They should be able to sustain a daily 777, especially if they cut off what’s left of Atlanta and move the connections to JFK. I wonder if it’s operational issues — starting next week, the only 777 they fly out of JFK is a daily flight to NRT, plus a repositioning flight from ATL (also, no 747s or 330s from JFK).

    I also wonder if US Airways’ entry into the Tel Aviv market this past summer with a daily 332 from PHL is what’s hurting the Atlanta route. ATL and PHL are probably both more for connections than origin/destination, and perhaps they’re just making each other bleed. Maybe when the dust settles we’ll see once again that the market for flights to Tel Aviv is in New York.

  31. Ron wrote:

    What I also don’t understand is why Delta is operating its daily JFK-TLV flight with a 767

    Just look ahead and you’ll see that starting next June, the flight will operate with a 747!

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