Delta Has a New Hub City: Boston

The last major airline to add a hub was Delta — at Seattle — in 2014. Now Delta, which has been building its presence in Boston and taking on JetBlue there, has declared that city to be a hub. Although with 150 peak day departures I see Boston more as a ‘hublet’.

Over the past five years the airline has doubled their domestic departures and grown their international operation to include Amsterdam, Dublin, Edinburgh, Lisbon, London Heathrow and Paris. Joint venture partners Virgin Atlantic and Alitalia serve Boston across the Atlantic and Korean Air now serves Boston as well, giving them a gateway to Asia. It’s being described as a relief hub for New York JFK, since they can’t grow operations there. Although the reliever hub concept isn’t one that’s generally worked for airlines.

Back in February Delta sent socks to their Boston-based elite frequent flyers promising to ‘knock their socks off’ claiming to be the number 1 ‘global carrier’ in the market (since JetBlue, which has substantially greater market share, doesn’t fly ‘globally’). Delta of course already flies Boston – London, something we expect from JetBlue in 2021.

According to Delta’s Managing Director of Domestic Network Planning, Amy Martin, Delta now considers Nashville, San Jose (California), Cincinnati, Raleigh-Durham, and Austin to be focus cities. I first broke news that Austin would become a Delta focus city last year and it’s home to their newest Sky Club, complete with outdoor deck.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Kind of interesting that two of Delta’s five focus cities are hubs that American dumped. RDU used to be a major AA hub, and BNA a lesser but still substantial hub.

  2. And don’t forget that Cincinnati used to be a Delta hub before the merger with Northwest. I would also note that Austin is prime American Airlines territory, so Delta getting aggressive in Texas.

  3. RE: “It’s being described as a relief hub for New York JFK, since they can’t grow operations there.”


    Delta hardly ever uses its largest capacity aircraft at JFK be it for its spokes/feeder routes that could easily be up-gauged from its various Bombardier and Embraer regional jet fleets to smaller mainline aircraft such as its existing robust fleet of Boeing 717s, to its rapidly expanding fleet of Airbus A220s (née Bombardier C-Series) which can even fly trans-cons (!); or from smaller mainline narrow body aircraft such as its large fleet of MD-88s, A319s and A320s to its fleet of 196-seat A321s; it’s fleet of Boeing 737-700s and -800s to -900s and/or the 196-seat A321s…

    …OR for its largest domestic transcon and international “trunk routes” which are most commonly operated with its Boeing 767-300ERs and -400ERs that could be up-gauged to larger widebodies it already has in its fleet; or that the airline could add via new orders, aircraft coming off lease and/or being sold by other airlines (as it often boasts that it does better than anyone else); and/or via sourcing from any one of the many global lessors that have substantial inventories of new and previously operated narrow and widebodies in their portfolios.

    And if Delta’s current largest capacity widebodies still are insufficient to meet its international operations needs at JFK, it could easily find larger capacity, long range aircraft such as Boeing 777-300ERs, the upcoming 777-8 and -9; Airbus’s A359-1000 – or even its pick of soon-to-be ex-Air France 2nd hand Airbus A380s if it really was THAT capacity constrained at its JFK gateway/hub!

    So, I’m finding it a bit disingenuous when the airline claims that it needs Boston as a “relief hub” because it’s out of options to grow at JFK – especially when its large and varied fleet of regional and mainline aircraft could easily be up-gauged from its smallest spoke cities to its largest domestic and international “trunk routes” – and there’s certainly NO SHORTAGE of gates between Terminal 4 and its vastly underutilized Terminal 2 (that it probably holds on to/squats at to better prevent the airport’s operator, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, from leasing out to other airlines were Delta to consolidate its operations at Terminal 4 and abandon Terminal 2).

    The only thing Delta could claim as limiting its operations at JFK is take-off and landing slot pairs between 3 and 9pm, which are the only hours when JFK is slot controlled, and all of its capacity is already spoken for – and whatever operations it has during those six hours could easily be up-gauged to larger aircraft from existing models if the objective was to expand capacity for its JFK operations to better allow for more connecting flows than it currently has.

    Now, if the intent is to take on JetBlue, or “punish it” for its recent announcement that it’s converting 13 options for Airbus A321neos into A321LRs to begin trans-Atlantic operations from Delta’s JFK turf and Boston in 2021 – or even to thwart some of its arch rivals among the big 3 Middle East airlines whom also have operations at Boston – that’s entirely plausible (and as healthy competition should be!).

    But to claim that it’s out of options to expand at JFK, and as such needs Boston as a “relief hub”, say the way American Airlines once claimed TWA’s hub in St. Louis would complement its own hub at Chicago’s O’Hare after it took-over that airline in 2001 is pure folly!

  4. That’s Airbus A350-1000 in the above – and NOT “A359-1000” as seen.

    With apologies for the (typo) error! 😉

  5. I look at this in (slightly) another way…Delta’s aggressive and predatory practices. Taking everything I say with a grain of salt — especially since I haven’t flown on DL in over a decade — it seems to me that somewhere in the depths of DL top-secret strategic planning headquarters, buried deep under Kennesaw Mountain, it was decided the #1 goal of DL was to eliminate, or perhaps acquire, all competition.

    Now, there was no point in taking on the three ULLC’s (Spirit, Allegiant, Frontier) because — well, they’re Spirit, Allegiant and Frontier! And — clearly! — they are already ahead of AA and UA, who seem content to be camp followers and copy whatever DL does…Good Lord, how many times has Delta been able to take advantage of American in the last few years? Seems like there have been dozens of articles in the past few years (OK, an obvious exaggeration) on how DL took advantage of AA.

    So who does that leave? Alaska and JetBlue. For a long time, DL was happy to be one of Alaska’s travel partners while they sat, biding their time. When the opportunity presented itself, DL pounced! After saying that Alaska was a great partner, and that passengers could take AS to SEA, then fly trans-Pacific on DL, not only did they cut their own ties to AS, but forced virtually every other SkyTeam member to do the same (given their ownership in other carriers, this didn’t require too much force). AND they declared SEA as a hub. Now, there are DL signs throughout SEA; they sponsor and proudly fly the Seattle Seahawks everywhere, etc., etc., etc. They have definitely hit Alaska in the pocketbook, which is already reeling after the takeover of Virgin America.

    Now they apparently feel it’s time to take on JetBlue…

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