Delta Looks Into Its Crystal Ball for Summer 2021 – Cranky Flier

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.

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:

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
  • 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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