By Mitch Lipka
March 12 For those who fly in and out of
New York airports -- fasten your seat belts for one of the
biggest changes in recent memory.
Delta Air Lines Inc and US Airways Group are
making major alterations to their route maps, with most of the
changes effective March 25. Delta will increase the number of
its flights by 60 percent and add 100 new flights through New
York's La Guardia Airport. US Airways will reduce its service to
just its shuttles to Boston and Washington, D.C.
What's happening amounts to a concession of the valuable New
York market by US Airways, says Seth Kaplan, managing partner of
the trade journal Airline Weekly. "It's a big deal."
Airline experts say US Airways will be shutting
its competitive, and therefore less profitable, routes and will
focus on its dominant position at Washington, D.C.'s Reagan
The changes will allow some frequent flyers to better
consolidate miles and avoid layovers as well as get new
destinations to fly to from LaGuardia. But the overhaul could
also result in fare increases on some routes because fewer
carriers will be serving the routes. It could also inconvenience
customers who live in cities where US Airways is dropping routes
but Delta is not adding any.
Some other noticeable upgrades on the way: Wi-Fi and
first-class service on jets and a $160 million renovation of
Terminals C and D at LaGuardia, said Delta spokesman Joseph R.
Perone. A second phase of changes is scheduled to take effect
"This is a very significant change. It is a massive number
of slots changing hands, and it does remake the landscape," said
Brett Snyder, who runs the air passenger site Crankyflier.com.
"You lose one player in US Airways but you gain a stronger Delta
that's more competitive with United (owned by United Continental
Holdings Inc )."
WINNERS AND LOSERS
The winners: Cleveland, Ohio; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Dallas
and Houston, Texas; and the Canadian cities of Ottawa, Halifax
and Montreal. These locations will likely see a significant net
gain in flights.
Toronto flyers will benefit tangentially. To meet
regulatory requirements in the deal between Delta and US Airways
(US Airways gets Delta slots at Reagan National Airport),
JetBlue and Canadian carrier WestJet will add flights to
Canada's largest city.
The biggest losers in the change of destinations, according
to an analysis by Snyder: Albany, New York; Baltimore, Maryland;
Charlottesville, Virginia; Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Hartford,
Connecticut; Ithaca, New York; Providence, Rhode Island; and
Roanoke, Virginia -- all of which have lost US Airways flights
and will get far fewer or no Delta flights in return.
Other cities, including Portland, Maine; Portsmouth, New
Hampshire; and Charleston, South Carolina will also see a
significant percentage drop in flights to and from New York.
Travelers who will be most inconvenienced are those who are
heavily invested in US Airways' frequent flyer program. Air
travel experts say those customers should ask Delta to give them
the same status they had earned with US Airways.
Passengers can also leave from Newark Liberty International
Airport, where United has a huge presence and is part of the
Star Alliance frequent flyer miles group along with US Airways.
Kaplan notes that miles can also be earned or used on other
Star Alliance airlines, including Air Canada, but not all
benefits of high-mileage flyers are reciprocal in the program.
For example, you are not entitled to a complimentary upgrade of
your seat when flying on another Star Alliance airline.
Airline industry experts say the deal between US Airways and
Delta makes sense for both companies.
"The route swap between Delta and US Airways will add
efficiency and economy to both carriers," says Northeastern
University economist Harlan Platt. "This is especially true of
Delta whose major investment at LaGuardia needs passengers if it
is to make sense."
Platt and others noted that passengers could see higher
ticket prices in the markets where a single carrier -- whether
it be Delta or US Airways -- dominates an airport. For New York
business travelers like Glenn Haussman, the impending expansion
by Delta is all good news.
"I'm very excited. I'm sitting here right now waiting for a
flight," he says from his cell phone at the Delta terminal. "For
me as a passenger, it makes me very happy."
The changes mean convenience and the ability to stick with
one airline and build miles, he says.
"There will be so many more direct flights," says Haussman,
who is editor-in-chief of HotelInteractive.com and flies from
New York 25-30 times a year. "This means I won't have to go
through Minneapolis. I won't have to go through Atlanta.
Consumers really like to fly direct."