Wow: Delta Retiring Entire Boeing 777 Fleet

Filed Under: Delta

In light of the current pandemic a lot of airlines are planning to shrink, and that involves retiring existing aircraft. However, here’s an aircraft retirement I wasn’t expecting.

Delta retiring all Boeing 777s

It has today been announced that Delta will retire all Boeing 777s by the end of 2020, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is part of Delta’s strategy of simplifying and modernizing their fleet, while continuing to operate newer and more cost-efficient aircraft.

Delta has a fleet of 18 Boeing 777s, including eight 777-200ERs, and 10 Boeing 777-200LRs. The 777 first joined Delta’s fleet in 1999, and was a game changer, since the 777-200LR allowed Delta to operate flights like Atlanta to Johannesburg, which otherwise weren’t possible.

What’s especially crazy is that just a couple of months ago Delta completed the process of reconfiguring all 777s with new Delta One Suites, as well as with Premium Select, Delta’s premium economy product.

As Gil West, Delta’s Chief Operating Officer, describes the decision to retire the 777:

“We’re making strategic, cost-effective changes to our fleet to respond to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic while also ensuring Delta is well-positioned for the recovery on the backside of the crisis. The 777 has been a reliable part of Delta’s success since it joined the fleet in 1999 and because of its unique operating characteristics, opened new non-stop, ultra-long-haul markets that only it could fly at that time.”

Delta One Suites on A350-900

Delta’s future long haul fleet

With this move, Delta’s wide body fleet consists of the following aircraft:

  • 13 A350-900s, with a further 26 on order
  • Five A330-900neos, with a further 32 on order
  • 11 A330-200s
  • 31 A330-300s
  • 56 Boeing 767-300s
  • 21 Boeing 767-400s

In reality the only plane that can provide similar range and capacity to the 777-200 is the A350-900. Delta notes that the A350-900 has fuel burn that’s 21% lower per seat than the 777, so the operating costs are definitely better.

Also keep in mind that as part of Delta’s investment in LATAM, the airline agreed to take over several A350-900 orders. I’m sure the airline is regretting that deal at this point, but of course no one expected the industry would get this bad.

Delta hasn’t announced concrete plans to retire other long haul aircraft — the airline is considering retiring some of their 767s, though exact numbers haven’t yet been given. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see some A330-200s and A330-300s retired.

Delta A330-900neo

Is this the end of Atlanta to Johannesburg?

Update: Delta has revealed plans to modify this route, instead flying from Atlanta to Johannesburg to Cape Town to Atlanta.

Delta’s longest route is between Atlanta and Johannesburg, as the route covers a distance of about 8,500 miles. While that’s “only” the 10th longest flight in the world, the catch is that the flight has significant headwinds in the westbound direction, and Johannesburg Airport is also at a high altitude, limiting takeoff performance.

While the A350-900 is also incredibly long range, it’s my understanding that only the 777-200LR has been able to operate the route without a significant payload restriction.

If that’s the case, I wonder if the retirement of the 777 could also represent the end of South Africa service for Delta. That would be a shame, but also understandable.

Delta retiring all MD-88s & MD-90s

In April Delta had announced plans to retire all MD-88 and MD-90 aircraft by June. Delta has long taken the approach of flying older planes but maintaining them well, though as the airline looks at downsizing, that trend is also being reversed.

Delta had 47 MD-88s and 29 MD-90s operating as of February 2020, so those were among the first 75+ planes Delta retired due to the current situation.

Bottom line

For so long the Boeing 777 has been the workhorse of a countless number of airlines’ international fleets. This has been the case for all of the “big three” US carriers.

While Delta has a significantly smaller 777 fleet than American and United, it’s still pretty shocking to think that a major US airline won’t be flying these anymore. That’s especially true when you consider that Delta has just spent tens of millions of dollars fitting these planes with new interiors.

Are you surprised to see Delta retiring their 777 fleet?

  1. This is sad. I remember when delta used to fly JFK to TLV on the 777, it was always a great flight. But I do enjoy the a330 seating map, it is very nice.

    Will Delta fly to South Africa still, just on the a350?

  2. I wonder what % of their pilot base is 777 only certified for Delta? With only 18 planes probably only a handful would have to be retrained.

  3. M3 carriers, taking USA jobs, while Delta keeps buying and flying AIRBUS… the audacity!

  4. I wonder if this would also be the end of the ATL-JNB flight…..isn’t that out of range for A359?

  5. @Eric It technically could be flown? but they’d have to block off half of the economy cabin…. likely not economically viable.

  6. Retiring the 767s will be tough until they either go for the 321XLR or a Boeing NMA, especially in the next couple years as it allows them to run daily on int’l business routes that would be unprofitable with an A350/A330, once borders start opening again but traffic is not fully recovered.

  7. @ JSerra:

    Excellent argument for the M3 to make if and when Delta keeps spearheading the crusade against them, especially considering that they may end up buying these 777s at a dirt cheap price.

  8. I figured something was up. I was booked on PVG – ATL in August, hadn’t canceled it waiting to see how things unfolded. Received a cancellation email from DL last week, they rebooked on the A350 to Detroit.

  9. What do you mean when you say “I wonder if the retirement of the 777 could also represent the end of Africa service for Delta.”????
    Delta also flies to Nigeria, Ghana, and Senegal. My understanding is that those countries are in Africa too,and I dont see anything about those destinations being discontinued?

  10. @ Lucky:

    Assuming that Delta, like most airlines, will have purchased future fuel contracts for the next several years when oil was at “Zero” (and if they haven’t they do not deserve to live), I am not sure that the fuel burn per seat represents a major decision factor, at least for the short term.

    Another thing I am not sure of is how airlines still dare to justify their “Fuel surchages” applied on certain tickets (Hello BA, do you hear me?).

  11. Have to love Delta (not) the great american airline. Sorry meant to say un-american airline. They are slowly going to an all Airbus airline. Retiring the 777 and will soon follow the same with 767. All their new purchases are Airbus. 58 Airbus planes on order and 0 Boeing. Next time they ask for bailout money or start going after M3 again, I will personally make it my mission to expose these hypocrites

  12. Not surprised given the number of A350’s they have on order and DL is pretty much going all in with Airbus (A220/A320/A330/A350) with the 737 being the lone stand out. I might have retired some of the more tired A330-200/300 from the NWA days and kept the 777 around since they were just refit. What remains to be seen is how quickly the 767-300 and 757-200/300 get dropped. These birds are OLD and AA int’l fleet is now one of the best in the US with all planes now with Flagship Business/PE/MCE/MC and the move to ViaSat will make them the class of the US airlines flying over either pond.

    I think standardization is a good move, but all in with one manufacture is a mistake (ask SW how the MAX is working out for them). I think AA and UA’s mixed approach works better but glad to see DL simplifying their fleet.

  13. One wonders if their new JFK-BOM route, also featuring 777-200LR, can be flown with an A350-900 instead of will it have to be closed too.

  14. I wonder whether with decreased demand they would run an a350 to Johannesburg with a stop in Accra similar to what South African Airways was doing?

  15. In less than three years Delta has eliminated 747s and now 777s. Wow. Maybe Uncle Sam should think about this the next time Delta asks for taxpayer money since they aren’t buying American-made aircraft.

    And it Delta eliminated South Africa flights or Australia flights then this is a huge devaluation of global upgrade certificates since they are very difficult if not impossible to redeem on Virgin, Air France and KLM.

  16. Why would you say WOW? Aren’t we past the point where any of this is surprising? No one is flying, and they have brand new 350s.

  17. I kind of view this as Delta saying rather than growing out international destinations, we will be only end up where we were pre-Covid. Just with new a350s flying old 777 routes. They’re scheduled to get about a dozen more. Some 777 routes also weren’t that long (LAX and ATL to CDG) and can be flown by A330neo

  18. Maybe some of Delta’s new orders from LATAM will end up being the a350-900 ULR? Wonder whether they could do the longer routes like ATL-JNB or LAX-SYD?

  19. I have a DL flight booked on the 772 for LATE December this year. Still hopeful the flight is a go but real curious what happens now.

  20. @JSierra and FNT

    Amazing how protectionism works. When you and your kids buy sneakers and clothing made by a 13 year old kid in substandard conditions in Bangladesh or Vietnam, globalism is a great thing.

    Delta is making it’s decision based on best market principles for it’s company. That’s how the market mechanism works.

    So who’s really the hypocrite in this picture???

  21. @Pierre – I’m not sure you understand how fuel hedging works. When an airline hedges they don’t lock in today’s price for a number of future years, but rather they lock in the future price for a number of years. The future price is a different number entirely from today’s price. Because oil analysts understand that the current situation is not sustainable and won’t last that long the future price hasn’t actually gone all that low. So at this moment it’s actually far better NOT to hedge because airlines are paying the current rack rate for oil instead of the future price. So no, most of them, rightfully, have not hedged.

  22. This is too bad as Delta was the only airline to still have 9-across coach seating. Nonetheless, do many people actually enjoy flying on a 777? I’ll gladly take an A330 or A350, even in coach. I’m just surprised that they didn’t make any announcements regarding the 767s. Some of those are long in the tooth.

  23. The 777 does come at a surprise. But given between retiring some A330 or all of 777, the latter is probably much more cost effective.

    The worse part for flyers, there goes another rare 777 with 3-3-3.

    I don’t think there is much payload difference between the 772 and 359, and the 359 has the edge. So no, I don’t think they need to block off half of economy.


    That is not how oil future works. Nobody sells future oil at today’s price, they sell it at what should be a future price. Unless you stock up oil today (but pay for storage) you simply don’t get “zero” price.

  24. Do Airbus have a process in place to convert a standard A359 to an ULR model? I believe the fuel tanks are the same, but some of the systems are different? Maybe this would be a workaround to enabling the JNB route to continue?

  25. Richard Anderson must be very sad today. I think Ed Bastian made a bad decision picking a fight with Boeing over tariffs on the Embraer deal. I am confident Delta owns the 777 with no loans. But the A350’s I would be are financed. Richard guided the company with the mindset that owning older aircraft with new interior and higher fuel burn were better versus owning new aircraft you have to pay for. You can argue both ways. But right now I’d like to own my aircraft outright, fuel is low and not have to pay a bank. I doubt we’ll ever see LAX-SYD or ATL-JNB, both of which I have flown ever again. This is a sad day.

  26. Not sure what’s iconic about the 777 – it ushered in the generic widebody era at the expense of the DC10, L1011, 747.

    But it sure opened up a lot of routes.

  27. As Eskimo said “The worse part for flyers, there goes another rare 777 with 3-3-3.”

    Thats the real shame of losing the DL 777s, will be interesting to see what they fly LAXSYD in the future.

  28. So many people saying Delta shouldn’t be getting bailout money as they are buying Airbus planes?! What rubbish, Delta are still providing thousands and thousands of jobs to AMERICAN citizens.

  29. @Fernsie

    DAMN RIGHT! Why is Delta no longer supporting AMERICA and buying things from our colonizers?!

    What’s next? NASA flying a russian space craft to reach the International Space Station? Which is OWNED by AMERICA?

  30. Delta needs to get rid of the 767s and 757s that are Ripe for Retirement. They want to be a Premiere Carrier but Love hanging on to Old Aircraft (Updated but still Lipstick on a Pig) like they did with 30 and 40 year old DC9s. I fly All of the Majors and the Delta Fanboys really crack Me Up thinking they are Above Everyone else….Trust Me, They are Not….they Operate Just like the others, Only thing is Delta rarely Cancels,,,they Do Not Operate, Just Never Cancel….hmmmm.

  31. SQ flies SFO SIN with the regular A350 which is a wee bit further. Yes, JNB is 1600m above sea level but the runway is a whole kilometer longer than SFO. Shouldn’t be an issue

  32. @ Miguel

    You’re kidding right? Because NASA does use Russian rockets at times after the grounding of the space shuttle.

  33. Good on Delta to support Airbus. just look at the max, Boeing is DONE. those SAME problems have been reported in 767 and 787 but are being swept under the rug! Say NO to Boeing! What’s more important: american jobs or american lives?

  34. Lucky- what happened to your goal of not using “wow” in post headlines :)?

    It is a surprising move but would have been far more surprising if AA or UA were to do this.
    Delta hasn’t ever had a 777-heavy long-haul fleet, and with so many A330s, A350s there probably isn’t much loss of function.

    It’s funny how far we’ve come. I still remember the time when the 777 came on the market as the efficient replacement for the past generation.

  35. Yet SOMEHOW Emirates can fly around half empty 777s all over the world. Wonder how that is..

  36. With Buffett dumping airline stock and Delta dumping planes it sounds like one of the big three will go under as the CEO of Boeing predicts. So is it time to dump airline frequent flyer miles and airline travel credit cards with annual fees too?

  37. Overly protective nationalism is strong in the comment section.
    It displays a high level of ignorance and totally ignores the fact that many Airbus suppliers are US based. But that doesn’t fit into the twisted narratives of some users here.

  38. When Delta “retires” these planes – what will happen to those planes? Would any airline be in a position to buy them when all the airlines are shrinking?

  39. This might be a naive question- but unless they’re selling them for lots of money, why not just park them rather than officially get rid of them? Sure there are parking costs but the economy will one day perk up and these planes still have some life to them.

    I suppose 18 aircraft is too small a fleet to prioritize?

  40. ‘The actual fook?

    They just retrofitted their 777s, too! I mean, the A350 is great, but still… I would have thought the 757s and 767-300s would have bit it first.

    I won’t miss the DL 777 too bad, because most of its Skyteam partners still use them as their long-haul workhorse

  41. @Ray – I’m pretty sure Miguel is being sarcastic…

    Sarcasm seems to work well with our “patriots”, as most of the times it is well beyond their cognitive capacity.

    Which is also a good term as they don’t know what it means and can’t look it up since they traded their dictionaries for yet another gun.

    Which they now plan to use to shoot the Covid-19 virus, or the scientists who dare to infringe on their “god given freedom” to eat ice cream…depending on what faux news tells them to do today…

  42. @ Eskimo and dfw88:

    Just to clarify, I didn’t expect those purchases to be made at the then “Zero” price. I simply meant that any futures purchased, with or without hedging depending on policy and the trader’s confidence / latitude would obviously imply a much lower cost than when spot was at 100, 50 or even 40.

  43. I am perplexed regarding these decisions.
    I know we are comparing two different capabilities, but, does the 777 use that much more fuel than an older 767?

  44. Yeah, the reason oil prices went negative was that there was too much supply and no one wanted to pay to store it so companies were essentially paying people to take it off their hands and store it for them.

    There was one wealthy guy that did buy a bunch, drawing a blank on his name but he had tons of space to store it.

  45. I’m curious if DL would consider leasing the 10 LR models to AA and AA leasing 15 A332s to DL? This assumes that demand would warrant the transaction, which is yet to be known.

  46. Sd retire 767 and retain 777 767 are considered dated even after d checks and refurb and not flown by any European nor Asian carriers I thought they ceased producing them

  47. The 767s are long overdue for retirement, too – that’s surely coming soon.

    Looks like Delta has made the decision to be an all-Airbus company.

  48. Not sure how possible this is, but given that these are all retrofitted, will they use some of the updated seats to retrofit other planes? Or is all the money and hardware put into these a dead cost?

    Particularly, if Delta is keeping their old 767’s, maybe they can use the premium select seats to improve these.

  49. The patriots seem to forget, their A220’s and A321’s are being built in Mobile, Alabama.

  50. If this does require Delta to re-evaluate African routes and maybe cut some, would American have a leg up now that Air Maroc is OneWorld and AA can transfer anywhere in Africa without the costs? If they continue their flights they had planned from Philly to Morocco Next year, the Entire African continent is available to AA customers.

  51. Wonder what aircraft they will use to operate JFK-BOM too now. It’s not the outbound sector that’s tough, it’s that return segment. My Ewr-bom commutes are usually around 14.5 hours flying, but the Return is always around 16 hours with my most recent flight being 16.5 because of bad headwinds. I’m certain the A350 could do it but do they have 350s just sitting around? They definitely will need those to take over ATL-JNB, LAX-SYD, and now this in addition

  52. Maybe any airline would be more inclined to buy American if they didn’t continue to manufacturer planes that literally fall out of the sky and arrogantly believe they could force airlines to follow through with orders for fundamentally unsafe and poorly designed planes that regulators won’t approve and passengers refuse to fly on.

  53. I agree it’s a sad day with Delta retiring the 777. For those of you who are bashing Delta for buying Airbus, I will point out that Airbus does have plants in the U.S., thus employing American workers. With Boeing’s track record of late, no one should blames anyone for going to Airbus.

    I can see, however, once Boeing’s new 777X is being flown, Delta may purchase them. The fuel efficiency is comparable to the A350 and the range is longer. Delta has been doing things right over the last few years and is best situated out of the big 3 U.S. airlines to weather the current down turn. Lets wait and see how things sugar-off before striking them down.

  54. Perhaps AA and DL can do a plane swap – AA’s parked A330 fleet for DL’s soon to be retired 777 fleet?

  55. Ben: could we discuss this issue of major plane retirement at today’s Cocktail Hour? What use are all the points and credit crds if there are no planes and routes to fly international?

  56. Boeing is one of the few domestic heavy industry manufacturers that we have left. If they lose market share then Airbus can either raise prices, since there will be no competition in the long haul niche or, they can lower prices and slowly price Boeing out of business. Neither is good for our airlines.

    Boeing needs to get its act together quickly.

  57. This clearly indicates that Delta thinks things are not going to come back as a lot of people are saying that it will. It will take years for this to recover and god help us in case of a second wave. If a second wave hits hard all airlines could be in serious trouble.

  58. Loved the 777 and flew 150k miles on United’s 777’s a year for many years (same bulkhead window seat every time) until they switched to 10 across in coach. Now I either take the 787 or A350 in coach on a different airline or upgrade to premium economy or business on the 777 if I’m feeling spendy. 🙂

  59. I don’t get it. Why would they not get rid of the 767s first? Aren’t they more inefficient with fuel than the 777s, in addition to being really dated? It would’ve also been nice to upgrade Europe to the 777 if they got rid of the 767s.

  60. Wait didn’t South African operate the A350-900 on JNB-JFK January-March of this year? If South African can operate JNB-JFK then I would imagine DL should be able to do JNB-ATL with the same aircraft type no problem unless the additional ~500 miles to get to Atlanta makes a significant difference? Or worst case if ATL doesn’t work out DL can do JNB-JFK with the A350-900 (especially if SAA isn’t operating it)

  61. Tbh, another reason to fly Delta long haul. The A350 is so much more quiet than the 777. Good riddance to those dreadfully noisy planes.

  62. Someone will pick up these planes at a bargain price. in a few years Delta will regret this decision

  63. Can’t blame Delta for not so slowly moving to an all Airbus fleet. It makes commercial sense. Boeing is a mess, I can see why they don’t want to put all their eggs in that basket. From the A220 to the A350-1000 Airbus offers something for everyone. Sad to see the 777 go but let’s face it, the A330 and A350 are much nicer planes to be on.

  64. Buy American, buy Boeing?
    Uhm, Boeing’s suppliers are not exclusively located in the US.

    Follows Apple’s logic: Assembled in the PRC, designed in Cupertino, CA

    It’s all about labeling, isn’t it? Airbus is for some Trumpsters unacceptable despite them assembling planes in the US, contracting US-based suppliers, and employ thousands of Americans.

  65. So people want Delta to buy Boeing even though some of their planes have worse fuel consumption and higher costs than Airbus? The taxpayer support isn’t buying new planes anyway.

    That’s the very definition of protectionism. Pay for for a worse product that does not encourage Boeing to improve its product and that does not encourage international buyers.

    I assume that DL will remove the seats / suites from these scrapped planes and will retrofit them into others in the fleet so not all is wasted expense.

    BTW whoever said the US owns the international space station is wrong. It’s owned by the group of international partners of which the US is one.

  66. And for those that raised it ( though they could easily have checked themselves) the distances are as follows –

    JFK – JNB = 7969 miles

    ATL – JNB = 8439 miles

  67. Delta has a very small 777 subfleet with only 18 aircraft. By eliminating these planes, Delta is replacing them with far more fuel efficient aircraft. In addition, they will save on crew training costs and parts purchasing. The 757/767 fleet is much larger and has more commonality for training and parts purchasing.

    Delta is NOT an all Airbus carrier. It has a significant fleet of 717 and 737 aircraft. They are also very opportunistic with their purchasing and like the advantage of having 2 manufacturers to pick from.

    In case you didn’t know, Airbus has a plant in Mobile, AL and Delta has purchased A321s from this factory. Future deliveries of A220 planes will also come from this plant.

    Delta is also the only airline that owns a fuel refinery. It’s in Trainer, PA.

  68. Delta should have kept their 787-8 orders and deliveries back in 2016. It is one of the smallest widebody planes with a 8200nm range that can fly much further than a 767 and 330 can. I hope Delta is making the right decision on getting rid of their 777 fleet especially the Lr’s.

  69. I do not understand the economic sense of this, not assuming anything but Airbus are being investigated for what could easily be termed bribes with easyJet (see the latest Stelios headlines with his board members argument). And the 777 is a great freighter. Just like it’s bigger cousin the a380, the a350 has poor cargo capacity for its size. So I don’t believe this is just about economics, not in a world where air freight is becoming a serious revenue stream for the traditional passenger carriers.

  70. I wonder if there is any plan to take some of the A350s as ULR models which I think only SQ has to date. That would certainly solve the routes at the edge of A359 performance and not compromise any of the services DL want to offer.

    It’s always good to see older planes replaced with something more fuel efficient.

  71. @Phil Delta took over the LATAM 350 orders 8 of them are the 350-1000 model which has a 8700nm range that can handle any of the flights Delta makes but will Delta keep the 350-1000 or trade the order for more of the 350-900 they have now.

  72. Gosh ya think DL, the best and most profitable US carrier, might be voting no confidence in Boeing given the 737MAX disaster and long-standing 787 woes, lately with FOD inside the wings?

    777 is an old design. Time to move on, and the A350 is a better plane than the Screamliner. Deal with it and shove your nationalism where it belongs.

  73. @Aniro

    “And the 777 is a great freighter”.

    This is a great time to be selling them for exactly that reason. With air cargo at a premium these airframes should get a good price as freighter conversions. DL are not in the freight business and they badly need the cash (like all airlines). The A350 and A330neo are much better options for the long term when air travel eventually recovers given their lower operating costs. Not to mention passenger comfort in steerage. The 10-abreast configuration in the 777 is a crime against humanity.

  74. @Aniro. It’s certainly all about economics. Delta is doing everything it can to reduce it’s cash burn. The 777 is very small and has expensive training and maintenance requirements. DL TechOps doesn’t work on 777 engines, where it does work on A350s. So it’s able to keep all A350 work in house, and provide that service to other customers too. Delta will be using 777s for freight as long as it has them.

  75. @Fforty2 Delta certainly has confidence in Boeing! It just received the last of a 130 plane order for 737s.

    Delta is an opportunistic purchaser. Instead of buying 737MAX aircraft with a high price, Delta ordered new 737-900s, for which they received a substantial discount. No one else was buying them at the time, so Boeing gave them a great deal.

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