Delta Looks Into Its Crystal Ball for Summer 2021


It is completely and ridiculously impossible to know what demand will look like for air travel in summer 2021 right now. That being said, airlines are selling tickets on the off chance someone actually wants to buy one. If the schedule is out there for sale, airlines might as well look into their crystal balls to try to put some semblance of a flyable schedule into place. This past weekend, Delta did just that. So, let’s take a look.

I have to reiterate that what Delta has out in the market right now is definitely not going to be what flies. But it’s still worth reviewing since it gives a sense of Delta’s current thinking. Here’s a chart that sums that up by comparing June 2021 to June 2019.

Data via Cirium

What’s worth nothing here? Well, Delta looks most bearish in Europe, even more than in Asia. That would be surprising on the surface, but keep in mind that Europe is Delta’s biggest international region, and it had been able to fly more thin routes due to the shorter distances across the Atlantic than the Pacific. We’ll get into Europe in more detail in a minute.

At the other end, you see South America. Not only is South America the only region that will be flying fewer seats per flight, but it also is growing more than any other. Why is that? I’ll give you a hint… it’s five letters… LATAM. Delta is banking on this blooming LATAM partnership to help it rev up its anemic Latin network. It has committed to supporting LATAM with flying, and so it is still planning on ramping things up next summer. Do keep in mind that South America is still very small for Delta. In June of next year, Delta still has more than six times the number of flights scheduled to Europe compared to South America.

Mexico is also growing year-over-year, but some of that is due to shifting service. Delta is taking over some flights from Aeromexico in a couple markets. Even in Mexico, however, you see Delta rallying around its hubs. Look no further than Cancun.

Next summer, Delta will serve Cancun from Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York/JFK, Salt Lake, and Seattle. Atlanta loses one flight per day, but Boston goes daily and both Minneapolis and Detroit see one or two more flights. Seattle is a flight that didn’t operate in June 2019. At the same time, routes that had service in June 2019 but won’t in June 2021 include Cancun to Cincinnati, Columbus, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Nashville, Orlando, Raleigh/Durham, and Tampa. Focus on the hubs.

A Closer Look at Europe Through the Eyes of New York

I said I’d get back to Europe, and that’s because it’s telling to dig into the details. To make it even more clear, I’m just focusing on Delta’s primary gateway, New York’s JFK. Sticking with Cirium schedule data, I again dove into the various routes to compare June 2021 to what was flown in June 2019. June of 2020 was obviously a wasted month to look at, so I ignored it.

Let’s start with the routes from JFK that will go away or lose frequency:

  • Flew in 2019 But Won’t in 2021:
    • Azores
    • Berlin
    • Copenhagen
    • Glasgow
    • Malaga
    • Prague
    • Shannon
  • Will Have Less Frequency in 2021 Than 2019:
    • Keflavik
    • Nice

Unsurprisingly, most of these are secondary markets in Europe or markets that have proven to be more challenging in the past. Some of these can be served well via alternates. For example, if you want to fly to Scotland, go to Edinburgh instead of Glasgow. Same with Dublin over Shannon in Ireland. And if you want to go to the rest of these markets, you can always connect via Air France/KLM hubs.

Then there are the markets that see no change in frequency at all:

  • Amsterdam
  • Athens
  • Barcelona
  • Brussels
  • Dublin
  • Edinburgh
  • Frankfurt
  • Lisbon
  • London/Heathrow
  • Madrid
  • Milan/Malpensa
  • Venice
  • Zurich

These are the big European cities that you’d expect to maintain service. Frankfurt is a business capital with strong cargo demand. Venice is probably more secondary, but it shows just how important Italy is in general. If demand falls off, I’d imagine that would be the first Italian airport to go. But overall, these are the bread-and-butter routes alongside some others with heavy tourist demand.

Lastly, yes, there are routes with growth. You can probably guess a couple of them.

  • Paris/CDG goes from 1.5 daily to 2
  • Rome goes from 1 daily to 2
  • Tel Aviv goes from 1.5 daily to 2

Paris shouldn’t surprise anyone. This is the Air France hub where Delta routes a lot of traffic. Having all these spokes go away means Delta wants more capacity to go between the hubs.

Tel Aviv is also obvious since it has been one of the strengths during the pandemic. And Rome, well, Delta must be betting on the mighty leisure traveler being so cooped up this year that they want to flock to the tourist mecca that is Rome next year.

This is an early look, but it’s one that at least shows us where Delta’s head is at.

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8 comments on “Delta Looks Into Its Crystal Ball for Summer 2021

  1. Wouldn’t the Rome increase also be related to no more partnership with Alitalia? But also add me to the list of people that can’t wait to travel again (next summer?) and spend a month in Tuscany :)

    1. Steve – That could play into it, but if we look broader than New York it tells more of a story. Detroit to Rome is gone and Atlanta to Rome goes from 2 to 1 daily, so this is probably just about flowing more via JFK, now that I look at it.

  2. First, I hope you enjoyed your time away, CF. I recently returned from a vacation in a location that required a rapid covid-19 test (or other type with results within 72 hours of arrival); it was an extra step I would have preferred not to take but the government there is using it to reopen and protect their people. Not sure if you have seen that Abbott has won approval for a non-lab administered 15 minute rapid test that they will make available for $5 per test. I truly hope this will be pushed heavily by airlines, cruise lines, resorts and amusement parks, and the concert industry to reopen the economy and get Americans interacting with each other and the world again. There is pent-up travel demand and many people are ready to get out and let someone else do the cooking and see things they have not been able to see this year.

    Second, once again, thanks for the great data-driven details that show where the airline industry is and is going. Your work deserves to be seen across the internet and I will do my part.

    Third, there are a number of trends that can be send here.
    a. Delta is taking the 757 off of the Atlantic in 2021 which is part of the reason some of those cities won’t be served. I suspect they are trying to match pilot staffing with needs and 757/767s can fly economically within the US but it is harder to use larger aircraft domestically.
    b. For the first time, the A330-300 becomes Delta’s most common aircraft by number of flights in 2021; that has been the case since the pandemic started since 60% of nearly 300 seats is about the size of a 763 – plus a whole lot more cargo capability – but the A330-300 is the most economical aircraft per seat across the Atlantic and that will be important as the industry recovers.
    c. Delta is shifting its Atlantic focus more to its joint venture hubs and to its proven large summer seasonal destinations, esp. cities like FCO and ATH.
    d. Delta sees alot of potential to Latin America including Mexico and it is certain they will continue to grow in the region.
    e. The Pacific will be a year of recovery in 2021 both as Delta is forced to deal with reduced allowable frequencies to China (for now) and as flights are concentrated around hubs that produce shorter flights (rather than routes like ATL-PVG) and, again, solid, long-proven markets.

    Lots more that I am sure others see but your article here provides the details that flesh out that Delta expects recovery in 2021 but they will stick to their strengths and take a system-wide approach to using their assets. American took a similar approach with the routes it intends to operate in 2021 and I expect UA will be releasing more realistic schedules in the near future.

    Given the rapidly declining disease counts in N. America and a number of vaccines, treatments and testing being rolled out and in the near-term pipeline, I expect alot of people will decide 2021 is the year to get out and see the world including the delayed Olympics in Japan.

  3. You likely know this already, but when these blogs post via Gmail, the charts never show up as a whole — the explanation of the chart line at the bottom usually gets cut off. It’s easy enough to click and see the post on this website, but it does seem odd. FWIW

    1. Margaret – Yeah, this is a weird quirk with the email program. There is a setting and I change it to fix. But then every so often it just decides to uncheck itself. I wish I knew what the heck the deal was, but I try to fix. Sorry about that.

  4. Before we get too carried away about next year, let’s look at Delta TODAY. This week: 1,941 pilots to be furloughed because Management refuses to enact paid short-term leaves (unlike Southwest and American). That would certainly mitigate most of those furlough numbers. The other piece of Delta news this week is that Brazilian airline Gol owes $300 million due very soon, which Delta will be liable for per the terms of their agreement. LATAM, Gol, AeroMexico…..the entire continent is littered with Delta failures. I was going to ask how much worse this can get for Delta until I saw the A4A report that Delta’s securities have now been lowered TWO ratings levels since the crisis began, deep into “junk” status. The only saving grace in all this is that they compete against United and American.

  5. SEA-CUN in the summer? God no….what are they thinking? No one goes to Mexico in the summer from Seattle. Why would you want to spend your vacation in 95 degrees and high humidity? You could just fly to Texas for that.

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