With American Freeing Up Space, Delta Makes a Different Kind of Move on Austin


Delta has called Austin a “focus city” for years now, but it doesn’t really have much to show for it. That appears to be changing as Delta has announced plans to grow its presence by 20 percent. Austin will get three new cities on Delta, including the bustling metropolises of McAllen and Midland/Odessa. That is not a misprint.

Up until now, Delta has done very little flying from Austin outside its hubs. Forgetting about one-off SXSW flights, the airline has 1x daily on weekdays to former hub Cincinnati and 2x daily to other focus(ish) city Raleigh/Durham. Starting in Oct, it added 1x daily to both Las Vegas and Orlando, hoping to capture some of that big leisure money.

But now, we have three new cities joining the Austin network from late-Apr and more flights being added to a couple existing spots.

  • new 3x daily to McAllen
  • new 3x daily to Midland/Odessa
  • new 3x daily to Nashville
  • add 1x daily to Cincinnati
  • add 1x daily to Raleigh/Durham

Nashville, ok, I get it. That’s a former focus city for Delta that is still a strategic location for the airline. Nashville is one of only 9 cities connected nonstop to every Delta hub (including both New York airports). It also has flights to Raleigh/Durham and Washington/National, so it’s not a surprise to see the Austin flight.

But… McAllen and Midland/Odessa? What the heck is that about? It could be some kind of corporate deal, but my guess is something different. McAllen and Midland are two of the eight most-trafficked US cities that Delta doesn’t serve at all today, and it wants to have some kind of presence in them.

Data via Cirium

I’ve purposefully put the red dots above in a different category, because those are secondary airports in a city where Delta serves the primary airport. (Call those “Allegiant airports,” if you prefer.) Delta may like serving secondary airports in important metro areas for the airline, but in pure leisure spots like these, it wouldn’t make much sense to serve them.

Excluding those red dots, the largest unserved market is Hilo, but that is a market with very little mainland demand, and it’s one that Delta would not benefit from serving. Second and third are Manchester (NH) and Islip, both cities which have easy drives to Delta hubs, so they probably aren’t a priority (the same goes for #7 Provo). After that we have Midland/Odessa in fourth place. Fifth is Lubbock — which you’d think might have received some service — while sixth is New Haven, an airport that’s currently full. Then after Provo in seventh is McAllen.

This is a long way of saying that of the largest markets in the US, it’s the smaller ones in Texas that Delta really can’t serve at all, even through alternate airports. A lot of that is because Delta just doesn’t have a hub in that vicinity. Midland is more than 800 miles away from the closest Delta hub, Salt Lake, while McAllen is almost 1,000 miles from Atlanta. That’s a long way to go, and it means connecting opportunities are limited as well because of the back-tracking involved to get to much of the country.

Short of reopening the DFW hub (heh), Delta seems to think its best plan is to serve these cities from Austin which is a short hop (or five hour drive) away. These do not have big local markets at all, though Southwest probably already squeezes out most of the local traffic with its Midland flight. This is a hub strategy in a place that you can’t really call a hub. 

Delta will serve these cities three times a day from Austin. It can then can connect people in those cities on to Delta hubs, but also to Mexico City and Amsterdam, as Delta points out in the press release. Then it’s double connections to the world, or something like that.

This gives Delta a presence in these cities for the first time in a long time. McAllen was last served in 2012 from Atlanta while Midland, well, I don’t see any service going back to 1990 and I don’t have details beyond that.

Will this work? I suppose it depends on your definition of “work,” but it seems like a real stretch. Unless people need to go to other Delta hubs/focus cities (or to Austin itself), this will require a double connection which is unlikely to draw people versus American through DFW or United through Houston. But maybe there is enough traffic in those Delta hubs/focus cities to support some level of service.

It’s also possible Delta doesn’t really need this to work. A spokesperson from Delta told me, “beyond [Delta’s] existing gate space, we’ve worked with the Austin airport to be able to accommodate our growth on airport common use gates, and we appreciate their partnership.”

With American pulling back in Austin, that opens up some space at the previously-full airport. Delta can slide into those common use gates, but I wonder if pandering to the state government by serving these two intra-state routes was helpful at all. At the very least, this seems like an easy way to squat on gate space while making a lot of friends in Texas in the process.

This is definitely a headscratcher from a pure profitability perspective, but there are a lot of ways I can see how Delta might justify this. I do wonder if they wanted to do something else but didn’t have the right aircraft availability for next summer. Maybe the easiest thing to do was plant a flag with some regional jets. Either way, I’d be surprised if this was the last change we saw in the lineup in Austin. It’s just nice to see that Delta is paying attention there again.

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53 comments on “With American Freeing Up Space, Delta Makes a Different Kind of Move on Austin

  1. I predict flights between AUS and BNA will have a lot of music industry people on them because both Austin and (duh) Nashville are important cities in that field. In fact, looking ahead for Cranky-award-appropriate flight number assignments I’d keep an eye on this route for musical references such as the 4/4 time signature traditionally used in country music. Flight 414, maybe? (I looked and a DL414 currently operates between PHX and ATL.)

    1. Guessing most of those folks are already using the existing AA and WN flights (I’m seeing 7 and 6 daily flights respectively). And frequent travelers such as these are the hardest to win over since they have existing loyalty and/or status which makes them “stickier” to their current carrier.

  2. The Delta ramp up at AUS reeks of coddling politicians when you look at the TX cities DL is adding from AUS, which make no sense. As to the rest of DL’s strategy in AUS, if one airline can make AUS work at a time when corporate demand from the tech sector has been soft for some time, it would be DL. The airline is also chasing leisure in AUS, which goes hand in hand with the performance of the tech sector. Austin has been a fast growing city, with an airport that isn’t designed to sustain its growth. American made some mistakes with AUS for sure, and also put resources in it to grow at an opportune time when traffic through Chicago and Philadelphia softened, putting planes and crews at the airline’s disposal for a restack. It also had the NEA in place, allowing it to shift some of its assets out of NY and put them in AUS. AA found itself selling itineraries with connections through AUS, as a way to bypass DFW. AA also, it seems, violated the pilot scope clause with what it was running in Austin.

    All that said, AA probably saw AUS for what it was. Potential, yes, but a mess of an airport and a lot of tough competition from Southwest, which is the largest carrier there. DL has no mid continent hub close to AUS, so there’s that, but absent strong corporate traffic demand in/out of AUS, DL will probably not find much profit there. Flying leisure travelers to Costa Rica and Cancun isn’t a way to make money. Just ask AA.

    1. Delta certainly has more reason to lose money in austin than aa given the huge network hole they have but it doesn’t seem too likely they’ll be able to do much there with the lack of gates.

      Despite the rah rah delta we see from some about delta, this expansion sure wasn’t happening when delta had to compete with aa and nearby dfw despite years of promises.

    2. “Flying leisure travelers to Costa Rica and Cancun isn’t a way to make money. Just ask AA.” Or some certain congress persons from TX, but they know when to escape when their state is in crisis do to an historic cold snap.

          1. JB might have been sarcastic there, I can see Ted “Fat Wolverine” Cruz throwing a hissy-fit being confused for a mere representative.

            1. Exactly. Try referring to your Senator as Congressman or Congresswoman and see how it goes over.

              Also, according to the House of Represenatives:
              What is a Representative?
              Also referred to as a congressman or congresswoman, each representative is elected to a two-year term serving the people of a specific congressional district.

  3. Overrated city with terrible traffic that has awful hot weather most of the year, in a state that is increasingly hostile to peoples’ rights. But yeah, it’s “cheaper”.
    Have fun.

    1. I guess Ken Paxton & Graig Abbitt have proven Austin’s motto… “keep Austin weird.” That they did.

  4. This is another DL. .WHAT? moment. Similar to their attempt to expand LGA to the west coast which failed, and try to expand in MIA (Good Luck). And a club in CLT. . .dump. This must be the Tom Brady effect. . . DL thinks very highly of themselves but other then being a few % points higher on-time, they are just more expensive than AA or SW.

  5. I live in Austin (transplant from Chicago). Austin’s population continues to explode. It is now the 10th largest city in the U.S. Some Fortune 500 company’s HQ’s have relocated here.

    Besides AUS, DFW will also be getting additional flights to BOS, LGA and new flights to SEA. DAL will also get additional flights to LAX and ATL.

    In response to Jason’s comment about traffic being bad here, no it’s not bad. It’s downright horrible. Only 1 commuter rail line. Politicians who are morons who think that the only way to fix the traffic issues is to build more roads.

    1. I know it’s popular and the population continues to explode and people have various reasons for moving there, but you’ll never find me doing it. Way too hot. Yeah it’s ‘cheaper’ but you pay for that ‘cheapness’ in other ways. Chicago isnt paradise and it does have its own traffic problems and other issues that are very legitimate, but I’d live there any day over pretty much anywhere in Texas. No thanks.

    2. And that is because in their minds (if they have minds at all) is public transit is communist. I’ve actually herd that from elected officials & it’s mindboggling. Of course the other line is… transit doesn’t make a profit & therefore we cant do it. Yet no mention of that for highway expansion.

    3. I like Austin but using the pure city population is a bit misleading. Austin is the 27th largest metro area which translates to air traffic more than the city size of Austin itself. I mean… Austin is #10 while Dallas is #10 but that wouldn’t explain the significant different in air service absent the metro area.


      Tad ironic you’d mention the city wanting to build more roads as a means to fix it. The issue with Austin traffic is that the city refused to build roads for decades because they were so scared of ending up like Dallas and Houston, Concrete jungles were, I believe, the preferred namecalling the Austin City Council used until their citizens sat in traffic all day. The Houston Chronicle and Texas Monthly have done plenty of tongue in cheek articles on the topic. But… coming from Chicago, I do have to wonder how you have the gall to complain about Austin traffic ;)
      At least MoPac and 35 have periods during the day when there is no traffic, The Kennedy and Eisenhower in Chicago have no such equivalent lapse in traffic and getting around any part of the city north of the Loop has no real infrastructure aside from a rusted out metro system full of homeless people defecating in it. Which is a completely separate topic from taking the L anywhere south of the Loop.

      1. MaxPower,
        In Chicago I have Metra and the CTA (gulp) that I can rely on at times. Both Houston and Dallas woke up by installing light rail.

        Sean, You’re spot-on. A bunch of mental midgets is running this state and city.

    4. As a transplant to Houston, I’m glad Austin exists because it’s a great reminder of how much worse things could be in Houston.

  6. Whenever I see a spoke, especially a new one, with service to only one city (in this case not even a hub), the recovering CPA in me thinks, “they are already incurring the costs of local operation, can they get some value out of flying to another stronghold?”

    In this case, as Cranky points out, geography is not helpful to Delta. But my brain nevertheless cogitates over 1x to ATL to tie into the international departure bank to Europe? And to a lesser extent maybe 1x to LAX to tie into the Asian bank? Figured flights to SLC don’t offer much in the way of connectivity.

    Most of the folks in these two spokes are already doing this over DFW or IAH, each of which has multiple daily flights so more connection opportunities than a single daily. But, all other things being equal, if it helped DL fill just a few more long haul seats per day, would either or both be worthwhile?

    1. Delta doesnt really need help filling long haul seats in Atlanta. Probably not much in LAX either. You really think that either of these cities generates enough long haul traffic at all to make opening two stations PLUS flying a few 1000 mile + stage lenght flights viable? Do you?

      1. No. But I don’t think 3x to AUS from either of these places makes sense either!

        1. There are a lot of people who go to AUS from MAF for the day…Southwest has one badly timed flight and everything else you have To change….AUS connections avoid DFW and IAH mega ports…I hope they do well in both markets. Delta sees something in both….

  7. Rail works pretty much ONLY when driving is too big a hassle. People won’t take the train when their car works fine.

    I went to high school and college in Austin in the 70s and 80s. The poster was right – the city intentionally resisted building roads for fear of becoming another Dallas or Houston. Guess what – you didn’t build it and they came anyway.

    But again, the reason rail works in other places is because roads are terrible already.

    WRT Delta, this is obvious gate squatting. McAllen and Midland? WN has one flight to HRL and used to have one to MAF. There isn’t enough traffic there to make it worthwhile.

    And I can’t see any significant connecting traffic. Why would you fly DL to Austin just to get to DL hub? When both cities have strong connections through IAH and DFW? Makes no sense.

    1. WN has had AUS-HRL 2x daily (1x Sat) for at least a couple years now. The MFE area is generally doing better economically than HRL/BRO, but I see lots of SpaceX/Tesla employees on HRL-AUS and would not expect them to drive an extra 35-40 minutes each way to fly DL out of MFE.

  8. If you’re gonna take on the cost of opening up the stations, why not toss-in a 1x daily to ATL (and maybe SLC)?

    1. The economics of flying 1000 miles in a CRJ or E175 don’t work, except on routes with a ton of business travelers.

      1. Agreed.

        It’s been years since I flew out of XNA (NW Arkansas, Bentonville/Fayetteville area), but that always seemed like the exception that proved the rule. Lots of RJs bringing Walmart supplier reps (or, more often, bringing in the managers of the supplier reps who lived in the area to more conveniently serve & sell to Walmart) into XNA, with fares that at one point were among the highest in the country.

        At times, a quick scan of brand logos on the polo shirts and briefcases of pax in the XNA terminal could almost serve as a “who’s who” of the top CPG companies.

  9. If this works, somehow, maybe DL adds in LBB on a similar schedule.

    I checked flight prices and these are dirt cheap: $39-49 for Main depending on the route. But they’re also short flights and MCO was $79 or so when it started.

    Of note, the flights overnight at the outstations. They probably fuel up there too, as AIS’s fuel situation is…not great.

  10. @Cranky Couldn’t ISP, HVN, and MHT fit in the category of secondary airports where DL serves the primary?

    1. Anthony – I see them as slightly different than the originals in that they are secondary cities outside a hub whereas the others aren’t hub-related.
      But yes, it’s basically the same thing that these markets are well served by nearby airport.

      1. Not sure I’d put ISP in this category – I’ve done the slog from East Hampton to JFK (no, I’m not rich, a friend worked at a restaurant out there), and NY 27 is a truly miserable experience. Most of the day, ISP takes half the time (one hour, maybe a bit more, instead of two-ish to JFK, and travel time to LGA is a random function) from the east end of LI. And ISP is a much more pleasant (or less unpleasant, at least) airport experience. (I loathe the DL facility at JFK T4.)

        I’m surprised DL hasn’t tried 1-2x a day from ISP to one of the north central hubs (MSP or DTW) to serve travelers going to the western US and Canada. With AA dropping the ISP-PHL route, there’s no global network carrier at ISP, although WN does offer a good domestic tie-in over BWI. Other than that it’s all Frontier and Southwest to Florida and a few oddball destinations Breeze randomly selected by throwing darts at a map. (Vero Beach might work out, perhaps?)

      2. Also, ISP, MHT and HVN are all on or near bus and train lines to NYC or Boston with multiple daily roundtrips. While not lightning fast, you can get to at least one of JFK, EWR or BOS without multiple transfers from these markets.

        1. LI to JFK is tedious at best, a slog at worst. You have to take the LIRR to Jamaica and transfer to the AirTrain (unless you live on the Port Washington branch, then you have to go to Woodside and backtrack to Jamaica. Not bad if you live in Nassau County, but the pain rises dramatically the further east you get. Buses are, IIRC, all off-airport pickup. The most common one for the south fork, the Hampton Jitney, requires taking a car service (or possibly a MTA local bus?) to Fresh Meadows, about 10 miles away.

          Even going to ISP requires a cab transfer at Ronkonkoma, although if you use the LIRR to get there you get a discounted cab fare. So most people drive, which is why I can’t help but think there’s an opportunity at ISP to bypass JFK and LGA. The old AA service ran, if I remember right, ERJs to Philly, expensive to run and most people find them unpleasant. (I kind of like them myself, but I used to fly Brazilias back in California all the time, so I was used to the 1-2 seating.

  11. Great writeup Brett, being AUS based I picked up on this story when it was first announced last week and was waiting on your take.

    I’m booked on the MAF inaugural and MFE a few weeks later. As of last night, I was still the only person that was booked on any of the 3 inaugural date flights to MAF.

    Also it is odd that, while the tickets are on sale, you can only purchase Economy and Comfort+. First Class is zeroed out on each flight.

  12. As with most things that get discussed about Delta, there are several truisms
    – Delta loves to make a big deal about fairly routine moves and their latest AUS buildup is no exception. People lap it up and wax on endlessly trying to decode it all
    – A whole lot of people have expectations for what DL will do that exceed what DL has announced – whether it be DL’s Pacific system, MIA flights or a dozen other topics. While not confined to DL among airline enthusiasts, DL does seem to draw far more debate than other airlines – perhaps because DL does everything unconventionally
    – DL is opportunistic and happens to find no shortage of opportunity to pick off what AA discards and make it work.
    DL’s AUS moves aren’t much. Really. Most of what they are doing is adding frequencies to its hubs and on routes that they already serve. More than anything else, they are just increasing their market share on routes which is part of what drives Delta’s higher average fares.

    It’s hard to find a difference between AUS and BNA. DL doesn’t call BNA a focus city but has just added DCA service and now AUS on top of service to all of the hubs which they can’t do from AUS (no LGA flights allowed) or IAH – a step or two behind DFW and now AUS will be just about the size of DL at DFW plus Love Field.
    Both AUS and BNA are fast-growing metros in growing states where WN is the dominant carrier. As much as some want to see DL as picking fights w/ every airline to compete, DL and WN are both rational competitors. DL and WN have different models and they both manage to coexist, with one stronger in some markets and the other in other markets.

    MFE and MAF are the real “interesting” additions; perhaps DL is gate-squatting but is that any different than what AA did with a bunch of leisure routes that ended up getting dropped? Surely AA didn’t think all they added would work. AUS has done a poor job of managing its airport and DL wants to ensure it has the ability to grow w/ the region. DL might have secured some corporate or state business to help and might connect passengers to their hubs via AUS but a small handful of RJ flights seems like a small downpayment on future growth.

    Every airline has a budget for developmental flying; as of right now, DL has the largest mainline fleet among US carriers and could well be the first to reach a fleet of 1000 mainline aircraft as they continue to add/re-add used aircraft on top of their new deliveries. They are relatively stable and in good positions in their hubs so can afford to throw a few routes into developmental markets like AUS. There will likely be a few more headscratcher non-hub routes coming from DL in 2024.

  13. After reading the above comments about the roads in Austin, Houston, Dallas, and Chicago I feel that I have learned at least as much if not more about the ground traffic in these cities than the air traffic.

    1. :)
      for an article about Delta’s expansion in Austin, there sure were a lot of commenters that don’t live there desperate to say how happy they are that they don’t… makes you wonder if they secretly wish they did live there ;)

  14. This does look like gate squatting until Delta figures what Austin routes they can generate more revenue out of.

  15. Kudos to Delta for trying but I don’t think either of these cities’ flights will last beyond Labor Day.

  16. Regarding Manchester (MHT)… Yes, it’s a secondary market to BOS, and only 54 miles away by car. Keep in mind, however, that with peak traffic, MHT to BOS can be 2+ hours.

    In my mind, the dividing line (in terms of convenience) for MHT vs BOS lies a few miles miles inside I-495 for the north/northwestern Boston surburbs. However, as others have noted, there are decent bus shuttles (sometimes combined with commuter shuttles) from the northern Boston suburbs and southern NH (all the way up to Dover, NH starting in Feb 2024) to Boston Logan. Those are popular in large part not just due to the headaches of Boston traffic, but also due to the cost of parking near Logan; on-airport economy parking runs $48/day, and off-airport parking is usually ~$20+ after taxes and fees.

    The biggest thing that I see holding back demand for flights out of MHT (and other secondary airports in the area) is the fares at BOS. BOS fares aren’t insanely low, but there’s enough competition to keep fares reasonable on many popular routes, and often lower than flights from MHT. Also, travelers are largely used to (“resigned to”?) dealing with the headaches of flying out of BOS (many of them deal with the traffic as part of their commute, or take the same commuter buses to get to work), especially if doing so saves them a connection or saves a few dollars on airfare.

  17. “Nashville is one of only 9 cities connected nonstop to every Delta hub (including both New York airports).”

    Curious. What are the other eight?

    1. Matthew – Other than Nashville, there’s Cincinnati, Denver, Fort Lauderdale, Kansas City, Orlando, Raleigh/Durham, and Tampa. I also included Dallas/Fort Worth since Seattle service starts next summer. Both Las Vegas and Phoenix recently lost their weekly LaGuardia flights, so they no longer count.

  18. I don’t get the why Delta is doing this in Austin. I don’t recall this as an airport that is conducive to connecting traffic. I also thought what AA was doing with point to point flights to some far-flung destinations was absolute insanity and then they had to pull back.

    I get that Austin is a sexy place for tech companies and that airlines want to serve them, but these ideas seem nutty to me.

  19. Maybe it’s worth DL rehubbing DFW. Or making it a focus city. DFW is an exploding metro area and will likely be in the top three in the next few years. That said, maybe it can stand two hubbers plus WN.

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