Delta’s Big Move in Austin: Questionable New Flights as American Airlines Cedes Ground

American Airlines is scaling back its Austin experiment. Before the pandemic they flew to 8 hub cities from Austin. They grew to most recently 36 destinations and nearly 80 peak day flights.

The pullback included the elimination of mostly regional carrier flights to Albuquerque; Bozeman; Cincinnati; Cozumel; Aspen; El Paso; Washington Dulles; Jacksonville; Liberia, Costa Rica; Montego Bay; Kansas City; Memphis; Nassau; Oklahoma City; Punta Canada; Puerto Vallarta; Ft. Myers; Sacramento; Tampa; Tulsa; and Destin-Fort Walton Beach.

While American shed highly unprofitable flying, they had been using pretty much all available windows for swing gates, gates that could be used for flying by any carrier. And that blocked others from significant expansion.

With their recent moves opening up the field I speculated that could mean Delta making good on its promise to create a focus city in Austin. They’ve been willing to stick by unprofitable flying like Seattle, buoyed by strong performance of their interior hubs and their lucrative American Express deal, making a bet on long-term performance.

Unsurprisingly Delta has announced 11 new Austin flights starting in April.

Delta’s spring flying in Austin is currently scheduled for:

  • Atlanta: 9 peak daily departures.
  • Boston: 3 peak daily departures.
  • Cincinnati: 6 times weekly departures (daily except Saturdays)
  • Detroit: 4 peak daily departures.
  • New York JFK: 4 daily departures.
  • Las Vegas: 1 daily departure.
  • Los Angeles: 4 peak daily departures.
  • Minneapolis: 3 peak daily departures.
  • Orlando: 1 daily departure.
  • Seattle: 3 peak daily departures.
  • Salt Lake City: 4 peak daily departures.
  • Raleigh: 2 peak daily Delta connection flights

Delta Sky Club Austin

Delta Sky Club Austin

The airline has now announced they’re bringing on

  • Nashville: 3 daily departures (except 2 on Saturdays)
  • Midland-Odessa: 3 daily departures (except 2 on Saturdays)
  • McAllen: 3 daily departures (except 2 on Saturdays)
  • Cincinnati: Additional 6 times weekly departures (daily except Saturdays)
  • Raleigh-Durham: Additional 6 times weekly departures (daily except Saturdays)

Delta And International End Of The Austin Airport

This new service will be operated with two-cabin regional jets flown by Endeavor and SkyWest. They could have done limited expansion from current gates, but this appears to need use of some swing space that American is ceding.

In 2021 Delta shared that only Austin and Raleigh would remain focus cities, dropping Cincinnati, Nashville, and San Jose.

So what do I think of these flights? Bolstering hub flying may work out, but the new cities are questionable even with regional jets:

  • McAllen is a new station for Delta, and they won’t even be serving their hubs directly from McAllen. Getting to Atlanta even will require a connection, and to most of the world will require two connections.

    So presumably they think they can compete with current American (Dallas – Forth Worth) and United (Houston Intercontinental) one-stop service on partner international flights to Amsterdam and Mexico, plus to Las Vegas and Orlando in addition to hubs. This seems like it will be a poor performer?

  • Meanwhile, Southwest currently service Midland – Austin with a six-times weekly jet, as well as robus Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix service on Southwest, American and United. Surely if they wanted to compete in the Midland market a hub flight would perform better for Delta?

Delta Could Have Flown From Small Texas Cities To Its Hubs

With 50 peak day departures from Austin they’ll suddenly rival American is frequencies, and compete meaningfully for the number two spot in the city behind Southwest – however their strategy remains mostly flying to hubs, focus cities and former hubs (besides Las Vegas, Orlando, McAllen, and Midland) so they won’t be trying to take passengers to Caribbean and Mexico destinations (the latter is left to partner Aeromexico) or places like Reno and Tulsa.

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. Gary Leff, AA pulled back in AUS because of their mainline pilot scope clause with APA. I wish you would have mentioned this critical detail here. Most of the route cuts from AA were operated by their regional affiliate, Envoy. A scope clause limits the number of passengers a regional aircraft can carry. Currently, the hard cap is 76 passengers. Additionally, each major US airline’s union has a way of capping the number of regional jets which can operate on behalf of the mainline, such as a percentage of the mainline’s fleet or a specific number. I suspect that Delta ALPA will do the same, limiting their expansion.

  2. My first thought upon seeing the addition of the flights from Midland and McAllen was to think about how — in addition for the potential for travelers to/from these cities to connect in AUS to the JV flights to Europe — these flights enable the ability to connect onto Aeromexico over Austin to Mexico City (and from there to many of the smaller mexican cities that only Aeromexico serves, not AA via DFW or UA via IAH). Also curious if it’s worth it for people to drive from Reynosa, Matamoros, or even Monterrey to start their airline journeys at McAllen rather than have to clear customs at an airport? Who knows, I’m just talking.

  3. Delta did it ergo it is good and perfect, here read my wall of text comprised of barely-relevant anecdotes, egregious factual errors, and novice-level misapprehensions:

  4. Gary, the Midland flight might be subsidized by the state government. There is a lot of demand for MAF-AUS for state law makers and oil business folks (lobbyists etc).

  5. It is most notable that, while AA tried to match WN’s size in AUS, DL overtook AA at LAX and grew even more at LGA, JFK and BOS while AA tried to outsource even more of its network to B6, which a federal judge ruled with the DOJ was illegal.
    AA moved a bunch of regional jets from NYC to AUS to build their AUS operation in violation of the pilot contract and now has to return those aircraft to NYC to prevent loss of slots at LGA and JFK.
    Just like in multiple other cities, DL moves slowly and incrementally and ends up in first place while AA and others roll out massive expansions only to have to pull them back.
    It is classic turtle and hare stuff.

  6. So, your thought is that where AA failed because it didn’t want to subsidize money losing flights, Delta will? I’m wondering why AA would give up while Delta wants to try the same thing?

    All that said, AUS is a city with 2.5 million people just a stone’s throw from SAT that also is over 2 Million people. Yet neither has a hub because they are too close to IAH and DFW for continental purposes, and yet hub flying has become less about gaining efficiencies through filling non-stops with low yield connecting traffic and more about filling up flights with high yield non-stop fares. AUS wasn’t a good fit for AA, nor UA, but it might be for DL. After all, DL pulled out of DFW 15-20 years ago, and AUS fills that geographic hole in their network for connecting traffic without legacy competition and a growing market that AA just walked out of. I’d say DL is making a long term bet here. We will see. Airlines are now more careful about those investments.

  7. unionthat,
    how do you come up w/ the notion that Delta is doing anything that will require subsidies?
    AA flew to far more cities than DL is doing.
    The only new cities for DL from AUS are MFE and MAF which puzzle alot of people other than that DL doesn’t want to fly an RJ all the way from a hub. As above, DL might have won a corporate or state of TX contract.
    BNA is an existing city for DL and the rest of it is just DL increasing frequency on existing routes.

    I fail to see how what DL is doing is anything remotely close to what AA did.

    and Gary himself has noted that AA violated its pilot contract w/ all of the RJs it used out of AUS.

  8. So which cities comprise the 8 hubs you mention for American? They don’t have a west coast hub with the way they’ve abandoned International flights from the no man’s land in LAX, so that leaves PHX, DFW, ORD, MIA, PHL, and CLT. That’s 6 plus the debatable LAX. What am I missing?

  9. Gary,
    I know there’s lots of pressure to get blogs out quickly. There is already more than one on regarding the Delta expansion/American retreat in Austin, but please have someone give your posts the once-over for typos.
    I’m don’t know a verb from an adverb, so I am not a some frustrated English professor. Just a quick spellcheck should catch most of these.

    “ Meanwhile, Southwest currently service (SERVICES) Midland – Austin with a six-times weekly jet, as well as robus (ROBUST) Dallas, Houston, and Phoenix service on Southwest, American and United.”

    “With 50 peak day departures from Austin they’ll suddenly rival American is (IN) frequencies”

  10. @bhcompy, I guess that you aren’t familiar with Costa Rica, as Liberia is a major city there and an easier access point to the northwest part of the country than San Jose.

  11. Gary- you mention that American is stopping service to Punta Canada.

    Where is that? I’ve never heard of a place called Punta Canada.

  12. Honestly, starting some regional flights to smaller cities in Texas from AUS makes sense to me for Delta, though it would not for UA or AA. For UA or AA, it would make vastly more sense to serve those cities from IAH or DFW, respectively. For Delta, though, their next-best option would be to fly all the way from either SLC or ATL, either of which would cost a lot more to operate and would be dramatically out-of-the-way for passengers headed in the other direction (i.e. SLC is out-of-the-way for those heading East and ATL for those heading West.) While connecting through AUS on to a hub is not as useful as connecting through IAH or DFW to virtually anywhere, it does beat having to fly all the way to SLC to go East or all the way to ATL to go West. At the cost of an extra connection, it would save 4+ hours of flying time over going to ATL to get to the West Coast, for example. Serving those cities from both SLC and ATL probably wouldn’t be financially viable for Delta with current traffic levels, so this seems like the least bad option for Delta to get a foothold in smaller markets around Texas, given the Texas-sized hole in their route network.

  13. @Bill- Rutrow Bill, guess YOU should’ve checked for grammatical errors before you posted your critique of Gary’s errors…lol (sorry, I couldn’t resist

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