Giant US carrier Delta Air Lines is piling the pressure on Air New Zealand with regard to the Auckland-Los Angeles route, expanding its summer service to be year-round and bringing in its flagship aircraft.
Atlanta-based Delta is entering this market for the first time from October 28 with daily services on the popular route, which Air New Zealand has dominated. Delta has now decided to extend its operation here.
When it first announced its entry to this country, it had planned to stop flights at the end of March.
However, it will now fly three times a week between April and October, providing another option for travellers between Los Angeles and Auckland, where customers have faced high fares - although these have shown signs of easing recently. More capacity will put more downward pressure on pricing, and travellers also have one-stop options for flying to Los Angeles with Hawaiian Airlines and Fiji Airlines.
Schedule data from analysts Cirium shows Air NZ flies between Auckland and Los Angeles 10 times a week and United Airlines will fly the route four times a week during summer.
Kelly Clive, Delta’s country manager for Australia and New Zealand, said this country had shown strong travel demand after the airline announced the new service between Auckland and Los Angeles.
“With our extended service through the year, more passengers will be able to enjoy our best-in-class travel experience anytime in the year.”
While the airline is using an ex-LATAM A350 for its summer service, the Delta flights from April will be operated by the airline’s flagship A350, with a four-class cabin featuring Delta One suites, Premium Select, Comfort+ and standard economy services.
Delta is the biggest carrier through Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), with more than 150 peak-day departures and more than 160,000 weekly seats, including on domestic flights. Customers on Delta’s Auckland-LAX flights can connect to nearly 60 cities in the US and Latin America.
It announced it was entering the New Zealand market in January when it saw a gap here this coming summer.
Before the pandemic, rival “big three” US carrier American Airlines flew a summer service between Auckland and Los Angeles but hasn’t returned to that route, instead opting to fly to Dallas-Fort Worth.
This left Air New Zealand as the only airline flying non-stop between Auckland and LA. It operated a skeleton service during the depths of the pandemic, but has rebuilt it strongly using Boeing 777-300s as border restrictions came off last year.
Delta is the world’s biggest airline by revenue, according to data published by Forbes, beating rival US carriers American and United to the top spot. In the latest year it had revenue of $US54 billion ($90b) with assets of $73.1b. The airline reported a profit of $1.9b on the recorded revenue. It has 950 aircraft and employs more than 95,000 people.
The arrival of Delta from late next month comes as international passenger congestion at Auckland Airport has spiked this month, leading to growing tension between the airport company and its airline customers.
Long queues have been blamed on slow Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) biosecurity processing, a new layout in the arrivals hall and aircraft running late with flights arriving at the same time.
Auckland-based Eagle Aviation Consulting works with international firm Cirium on scheduling data and warns the problem could get worse over summer with more flights.
Eagle chief executive Simon Russell said there would be 29 extra wide-body flights over summer, with most of the 24,000 extra seats sold during the Christmas period. Most of the additional flights would arrive during the morning peak, and more MPI staff would be needed to handle them.
“Schedule peaks should not be a surprise to anyone. Anyone who has ever worked at an airport on the front line knows this fact. That’s the daily reality for airlines globally,” he said.
“Somehow, this seems to have got lost somewhere.”