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Airport Ambush: Delta’s Stealthy Takeover of Austin’s Scarce Gates

by Staff

Airport Ambush: Delta’s Stealthy Takeover of Austin’s Scarce Gates

Delta Air Lines went big into Austin once American Airlines pulled back flights. Based on early sales and pricing it looks like Delta doesn’t expect these flights to do very well.

Austin is a unique market,

  • passenger traffic has been growing quickly, year-after-year among the fastest in the United States
  • airline capacity has grown at an even faster clip

Barbara Jordan Terminal, Austin

So why get into the market? The airport is full and likely will remain full for the rest of the decade. There aren’t available gates at the airport.

  • As part of planned expansion, they’re even getting rid of the low cost ‘South Terminal’ and will need to accommodate Frontier and Allegiant in the main terminal.
  • They’re building 3 new gates, to deliver in 2026, but that just makes it possible to take 3 gates offline for construction of a connector to a new midfield concourse.

Delta Sky Club Austin

It will be the 2030s before we see midfield concourse gates and greater capacity in Austin. Until then Delta has pretty clearly squatted on some gates by running flights they don’t expect to make money on. And they’ve done it in a low cost way: regional jet flying to Midland and McAllen, Texas. It won’t cost them that much, so they won’t lose that much, but they position themselves in the airport and block growth by other carriers.

While it seemed obvious that competing with Southwest Airlines on Midland to Austin made little sense – Southwest flies four times weekly, Delta will fly up to three times daily, and they won’t get much connecting traffic except at a deep discount into their own hubs (so potentially undercutting other fares they’re selling on those flights from Austin to their hubs), we now have a new reason to know that Delta doesn’t actually care about flying to Midland, Texas: they didn’t even tell the airport they were doing it until 48 hours before they announced it.

Airports hire consultants and make pitches to airlines. There were no active conversations between the Midland-Odessa airport and Delta. The Atlanta-based airline merely gave the airport a two day heads up that they’d be starting service.

  • Delta used to serve Dallas Fort Worth – Midland, signed a 5 year deal, and then “backed out after nine months.”
  • According to the airport there, even, Delta is adding Midland service “because they’re trying to make” Austin “a hub.” (In fact, a focus city.)

    They were supposed to stay five years last time … We did a five-year contract with them and we held them to it. But you know what? They say they’re planning to be here for the long haul. They’re trying to build up their traffic out of Austin. They’re trying to make it a hub, so they’re starting Midland and McAllen same day to kind of bring more passengers into Austin where they can make easy connections to get to the other places Delta flies.

  • They had had zero conversations about this service.

    Delta contacted the Midland airport about coming back on a Wednesday and said they were going to announce it that Friday that they were going to sell tickets out of Midland.

    “Usually, airports reach out to airlines, or the airline will reach out and say, hey, we’re looking into expanding to your area. Do you have room for us and it leads to a negotiation, but not this time, which is okay,” Ruff said.

  • Nothing was even set up with the airport before announcing April 22 service start:

    Contract negotiations and logistics have to be settled and the airline will have to bring computers in.

    “They have to bring radios in to put on the roof to talk to the aircraft. It’s not physically talking, but it’s a communication method that they use. All the airlines have antennas up on the roof that they use. It’s just the logistics of getting it done. We’ll get it done,” Ruff said.

    The airport has some empty ticket space that they have called the Delta space for the last 20 years because that’s where they were before and Ruff said that’s the space Delta is returning to.

    They have shell ticket counters that look the same as everyone else’s and then the airlines put in their inserts.

    “We already have the shells, and they’ll just make an insert that fits in there,” Ruff said.

Delta And International End Of The Austin Airport

It sounds like Delta decided they needed to plant their flag in Austin, realized they needed a place to send planes in order to do so, and as an afterthought told Midland, Texas they’d be coming – only just before announcing it to the public.

(HT: Enilria)

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