With the industry’s eyes closely watching the end of the trial where the Department of Justice is suing to stop the Northeast Alliance between American and JetBlue, something far more anti-competitive is actually happening in New York. Delta — still unable to generate enough demand to support its New York flights and feeling the pinch of a regional pilot shortage — has resorted to some extreme slot squatting efforts. This week, the airline added three new destinations to its New York portfolio, none of which anyone in New York City will care to visit by plane.
The new additions this week are actually flights that currently operate 1x daily to Detroit and will now move to New York instead starting on January 9, 2023, each flying 2x daily.
- Binghamton – LaGuardia
- Ithaca – JFK
- State College – LaGuardia
I asked Delta for comment, but it did not have a statement to share. The airline did point out that this is a doubling of frequency along with an upgauge from a CRJ-200 to CRJ-900, but I had expected it would want to put that out in a public statement. That’s still a tough argument to make.
The demand between New York and these cities is nearly nothing, at least for flights. A drive is between 3 and 4 hours on all these routes. Detroit, on the other hand, had at least some local demand from these cities. But more importantly, Detroit is a significant hub that allowed people to connect throughout the US. The only place that New York really improves connectivity is to the Northeast or abroad, neither of which have much demand at all.
None of these cities are Essential Air Service markets, so Delta doesn’t have to keep serving them. State College has ample service from American and United already. Ithaca only has flights to Newark on United, so this is now taking away any westbound options. And Binghamton would be left without any service if not for Avelo starting Orlando shortly. But then, Delta wouldn’t be able to squat on slots, so this is actually helpful for Delta to keep them flying.
This is really just Delta trying to find a place to park those slots while also juggling its regional fleet problems. After all, the flight from Detroit required aircraft time that can now be redeployed elsewhere. Instead, Delta can have Endeavor run these quick roundtrips instead of other frequencies in New York. The shorter flight time will help to minimize pilot needs while also sitting on slots. As an added bonus, one of the two daily flights in each market are late night flights that spend the night in the outstation instead of in New York.
This move to short-haul flying from New York has been a trend for some time now. Just take a look at this chart comparing this coming January’s service under 250 miles vs January 2020.
January 2023 vs January 2020 Flights from JFK/LGA < 250 Miles
Data via Cirium
Of course, the bulk of Delta’s service is in the important shuttle markets of Boston and Washington/National. Syracuse and Baltimore are the only other constants. Washington/Dulles used to be served from JFK as a Europe feeder. Now it’s from LaGuardia, a market Delta really has no business flying.
All those other markets have been added during the pandemic, mostly after the slot usage waivers expired and Delta had to start using everything or lose them. Of course, it had a shortage of regional pilots, so it had to find a way to fly those slots with the least aircraft time possible. That’s why it flies to all these cities now where there is no local demand.
New York remains a highly constrained market with plenty of airlines sitting on the outside looking for more slots. So seeing slot usage like this is incredibly frustrating since the people of New York City get almost no benefit. Just imagine how much more useful it would be if someone like Frontier, Southwest or even American/JetBlue were able to put these slots to better use. And that brings us to the DOJ.
The DOJ has been fighting the American/JetBlue Northeast Alliance in court, but American and JetBlue have been adding new service to a variety of markets that are now more competitive thanks to the partnership. Meanwhile, Delta is just parking slots.
Despite what the DOJ blindly believes, slot squatting is the most anti-competitive thing going on in New York today. Instead of trying to fight something that’s actually providing more service, the government should be looking at a smarter way to allocate slots.
If Delta has a good use for these slots, then great, use them. But what it’s doing now is just preventing other airlines with a better use from getting them, hoping that demand returns eventually. This is not how slots should work.