Last May Delta announced that they’d start flying to India as of 2019. They said they’d fly to Mumbai, though didn’t reveal out of which hub they’d operate the flight, and also didn’t give a more exact timeline of when the flight would start.
The timing of this announcement was significant
Usually when an airline announces a new destination they reveal a start date, the route they plan to operate, etc. In the case of Delta they basically just said “we’re flying to Mumbai” in 2019.
This was no coincidence. This announcement came just shortly after the US and UAE wrapped up negotiations related to their Open Skies agreement. The conclusion from these negotiations was that it was basically business as usual (which is a win for the Gulf carriers and a loss for the “big three” US airlines), but given how much money and effort Delta funneled into this, they wanted to make the resolution look like a win for them.
As Delta CEO Ed Bastian said at the time:
“It is exciting to be able to announce Delta’s return to India from the U.S. as part of our vision to expand Delta’s reach internationally. We are thankful to the president for taking real action to enforce our Open Skies trade deals, which made this new service possible. We are looking forward to providing customers in the U.S. and India with Delta’s famously reliable, customer-focused service operated by the best employees in the industry.”
The irony here is that absolutely nothing has changed when it comes to the service that Emirates, Etihad, and Qatar offered to the US. Nada.
Delta is in a better position to operate flights to India
While Delta claimed that this agreement between the US and UAE allowed them operate this route (keep in mind United has been flying to India all along), in reality there are two factors that put them in a better position to fly to India than before:
- The airline now flies fuel efficient A350s, which are the right type of plane to operate this route
- Delta has a fairly new partnership with Jet Airways, which means that they’ll have connections in Mumbai, which will help the performance of this flight
What’s the latest on Delta’s India route?
We’re now less than 11 months from the end of the year, so airline schedules are already open through early 2020. While airlines don’t always announce flights that far in advance, for a brand new and risky route Delta will want as much lead time as possible to make this route profitable.
So I reached out to Delta to ask what the latest is on this flight to India, and they pointed me to Ed Bastian’s Q&A from their 2019 Investor Day in December, and said that the statements there are still accurate.
An analyst asked the following:
And more recently I think it looks like that at least one of them seems to be at least violating the spirit of that agreement. Is that the reason why maybe you have put off the announcement of an India service? Would it work or not?
Ed Bastian responded with the following:
No. We’re anticipating the launch the latter part of 2019. So, it’d be premature to announce a year in advance of when we actually start physically flying it. So, it will be announced in the first part of 2019. So, it’s coming soon. And you’re right, one of the areas out of Qatar is cheating through Air Italy and we’ve drawn the full attention of our government officials as well as Alitalia which is one of our partners needing to look at it from a local level and then from the Italian regulatory’s perspective too. So, more to come on that as well.
So the most up to date information we have is that Delta will still launch flights to India in 2019, and the announcement will come in “the first part” of 2019.
I guess what “the first part” means depends on your perspective. Some might infer that to mean the first half of the year, while others might break up the year into quarters, in which case some might consider it to be the first quarter.
Delta says they’re still planning on launching flights to India in 2019, with the announcement coming in the first part of 2019, whatever that means.
It’s clear the timing of Delta’s announcement last year was intended purely to make a point regarding the Gulf carriers.
Personally I’d give Delta roughly 50/50 odds of launching this route, especially since I see the economy getting worse rather than better over the coming years. They can easily get out of this route and just claim it’s due to “market conditions.”
I’ll be curious to see what happens.
Do you think Delta will follow through with flights to Mumbai in 2019?