Is Delta Pulling Back From London – Or From LA?

Filed Under: Delta, Virgin Atlantic

It’s safe to say that Delta and Virgin Atlantic have had a special relationship since Delta purchased a 49% stake in the British airline in 2012.

In particular, in 2014 Delta and Virgin jointly announced an expanded partnership of sorts, whereby Delta would take over one of the twice-daily nonstops operated by Virgin Atlantic between Los Angeles and London, and Virgin would take over one of the 3 daily nonstops operated by Delta between Heathrow and Atlanta.

Delta's partnership with Virgin Atlantic was supposed to be game-changing
Delta’s partnership with Virgin Atlantic was supposed to be game-changing

Delta launched its London to Los Angeles service on October 26, 2014, operated on a Boeing 767-300ER.

The service seemed to dovetail nicely not only with Delta’s expanded Virgin Atlantic partnership, but with Delta’s commitment to building up its Los Angeles hub.

I’d had an award booking scheduled for next February which included a leg on Delta from Heathrow to Los Angeles in Delta One. On Monday I got a revised itinerary sent to me, with the LHR-LAX flight cancelled and a routing via Paris and Atlanta on Air France and Delta metal substituted instead.

Curious, I started looking at Delta’s schedule and noticed that its flights between London and Los Angeles had been discontinued starting around October 5, 2015.

Indeed, confirms that Delta has canceled not only its Heathrow-Los Angeles route, but also its Heathrow-Newark route, as of October 5.

On the one hand, it might appear Delta is scaling down its presence at Heathrow (though it will still serve Atlanta, JFK, Minneapolis and Detroit, of course, as well as Seattle, Boston and Philadelphia).

But Delta’s cancellation of its London to Newark route may well be a function of its gate swap with United more than anything else.

However, Delta’s cancellation of its London to Los Angeles route is very interesting. It seems the second daily nonstop service will be revived by Virgin Atlantic once the Delta flight disappears.

Considering the fanfare with which Delta launched its London to Los Angeles less than 8 months ago, it’s a bit surprising that Delta has already decided to close down the route, without even giving the route a full year.

Given that this route is Delta’s only transatlantic route from Los Angeles, Delta is effectively ceding European service at LAX to United and American. Both United and American will continue to fly from LAX to Heathrow.

Delta plane at LAX
What’s happening to Delta at LAX?

Granted, neither United or American operate flights to any European destination other than London from LAX, which leads me to think that while all of the “big three” legacy carriers are vying for a hub-like presence in Los Angeles, none of them see the profitability in actually building an expansive hub system. As it is, to fly from LAX to anywhere in Europe other than Heathrow, you’ll need to fly on a foreign carrier.

Obviously, Delta will still have a presence in London and in Los Angeles, but Delta seems to be acknowledging its “hub” at LAX is best utilized for a limited number of transpacific routes (Delta flies to Tokyo-Haneda and Tokyo-Narita, Sydney and soon will fly to Shanghai) and routes to Mexico and Central America.

Of course, United and American also fly from LAX to Tokyo, Sydney and Shanghai. So in context, Delta isn’t taking away a European flight to beef up its presence ex-LAX elsewhere. It’s simply reducing its international presence at LAX in absolute terms.

Bottom Line

There’s no doubt Delta’s recent announcement of the LAX-LHR route was intended to bolster the airline’s presence in Los Angeles and strengthen its ties with Virgin Atlantic.

Delta’s decision to cancel LHR-EWR may well be a function of Delta’s gate swap with United, although Delta will continue to serve Paris and Amsterdam from Newark (a tad bizarrely, in my opinion, since those should be more logically served by Delta partners Air France and KLM, but aren’t).

Delta’s sudden decision to discontinue the LAX-LHR route, though, seems to suggest that the airline didn’t see much of a future in operating a transatlantic route out of LAX.

Delta’s put some money into building a beautiful new terminal at LAX and a specially-outfitted check-in lounge for Delta One passengers. It seems a bit discordant for Delta to cancel one of its key international routes out of LAX just a few weeks later.

What do you think? Does Delta pulling out of LAX-LHR signal a retreat from its LAX hub, or is it simply more economical for Virgin Atlantic to fly the route?

  1. Given that DL and VS has a JV agreement, I don’t see this as a pull back. As for EWR to CDG and AMS that fits into the JV agreement that DL has with the AF/KL. Don’t see how this is odd at all.

  2. Why do you say that it is “tad bizarre that Delta partners Air France and KLM don’t serve Paris and Amsterdam from Newark”?

  3. Bearing in mind there’s a TATL JV between DL and VS, who in their right mind would choose DL metal over VS – or a DL lounge over the VS lounge in TBIT?

  4. @Jonathan Chen: I say that because EWR is a United fortress hub with a very small Delta presence. Because you could only connect in EWR to go on to Atlanta, MSP, and DTW, I’m not sure I understand the route, since Delta operates nonstops from CDG and AMS directly to those cities. KLM and AF can at least target New Jersey residents who want a convenient nonstop, but I’m confused as to who Delta is marketing these ex-EWR flights to, exactly, since if those aforementioned NJ residents prefer Newark, they’re probably United loyalists anyway.

  5. As an LAX flier, this is a bummer. Although I probably prefer VS metal, the real loss here is ability to through check baggage. I’ve had no luck getting Virgin to through check bags on connecting flights. They only do this if the connecting flight is on the same itinerary (which is not possible on an award flight and is complicated even on a revenue ticket). Delta, on the other hand, has always been happy to check bags to the final destination. AA is only slightly better now that they won’t through check bags on non One World carriers. Makes you wonder if UA is next!

  6. @liam: Good point. Given that Delta does not operate a LHR-SLC route, LAX was the logical connecting point for service to California (including SFO), the Southwest, and Hawaii. Its LHR-SEA route is Delta’s only service from London to anywhere west of Minneapolis.

  7. One assumes that AF and KL market the flights from EWR to their hubs, as well as corporate accounts from the West Side of Manhattan (whose employees, say, live in NJ)

    In any case, the economics JV makes the owner of metal less important.

  8. yeah like they would give up a slot at LHR… most likely they will start flying LHR-DOH to rub the salt in the wound of his excellency! 😉

  9. LAX is a hub for transpacific flights not for transatlantic flights.
    The location of LAX makes transatlantic routes originated there is not good for connecting traffics, same reason JFK cannot be a hub for transpacific flights. It simply diverts too much.
    Because of that, the demand of those routes are not enough to support too many flights. European are picky about airlines, so many of them choose to fly airlines of their countries, usually stands for higher service quality, better equipment, better food, better entertainment, simply better of everything, especially tickets of US airlines are usually more expensive.
    Trans-pacific traffics is different though. Because of bureaucracy in China, Chinese airlines entered the market too late. US airlines, especially United, took the oppturnities and dominated the market, makes it becomes hard for follower to catch up. (Lots of companies already signed contract and are not willing to switch to other airlines.Also,employees of those companies already have the FFP plan / status of United, make them unwilling to fly with other airlines )

  10. I don’t get why this is such a big deal. DL and VS are JV partners, so it isn’t as though Delta is giving up LAX/LHR entirely. Quite the contrary actually since VS is upgauging compared to Delta equipment. Better product and more seats = more money for Delta.

  11. I don’t find it all that odd that most of the TATL flying done out of LAX is done via the foreign carrier, given the JV partnerships that each of the major airlines have. Most of those operators who have the A380 operate service with it into LAX as well. Also, LAX is mostly an O&D market, save for a few connections to Hawaii and South Pacific. So it seems like capacity is where is should be. But, that is just my speculation.

  12. DL has been pulling out of LAX for years. All the TPAC traffic has been moved to SEA and my DL LatAm tickets have been replaced by options out of ATL or code shares with AS. AS is less interested in code sharing with the Battle In Seattle and I’m not interested in Italian-efficiency-and German-charm ATL. At ATL, the local cops hide in jetways waiting to pat me down for dope and cash whenever I leave the country. Ultimately, that’s what drove me to the dAArk side: Texas seems liberal and DFW seems cozy now by comparison.

    So DL is demoting LAX to a focus city and maybe even less than that. It makes sense. SLC and SEA are just cheaper and well run hubs that together cover the same area. DL is focused on operational efficiency and margins so Atlanta can see that a big LAX presence is throwing good money after bad.

    DL can move its LHR service to SLC along with the CDG service that already flies from SLC. Or it can go to SEA.

  13. Anyway, why would someone from LAX with the option of flying on quality airlines choose DL? The US3 should stick to their strengths, and that means the Logan Act. US3 profit centers are bilking passengers that need domestic connections to fly abroad. Foreign carriers are not allowed to compete by law except direct to a few coastal cities.

    Certain airlines must be just envious at the absurd advantages US3 carriers get from subsidy and regulation.

  14. Wait, so you have no recourse to losing a nonstop? I imagine they won’t spring for AA or BA, but what about Virgin?

  15. @ NB
    VS flies from Terminal 2, not TBIT. But that’s a good point, it seems like Delta isn’t willing to invest as much in their operations from LAX at the moment given American’s increasing presence as the leading carrier at LAX (launching new routes to JAC, MTJ, HND and SYD). Besides, American is best suited to add more flights to Europe from LAX besides LHR, given its transatlantic partnerships with AB, AY, BA and IB (as well as adding flights to AMS, CDG and FRA). Delta is probably making a smart decision and will focus on adding more European flights from SEA (they already operate flights to AMS, CDG and LHR from there).

  16. @Nick — Delta operates the Newark to Amsterdam and Paris routes because it has smaller aircraft at its disposal (i.e., 763ERs) than KLM and Air France, respectively. The European partners have nothing smaller than an A330 in their transatlantic fleets.

  17. @Nick

    You are forgetting one airline that have been adding flights to Lax from LON and Europe, Norwegian who is now up to 4 weekly on the Gatwick-Lax run plus the flights to Scandinavia and is planning a crew base on the West Coast.

    LCC or even ULCC with bad service, the passengers have to come from somewhere.

  18. The last 3 times I have flown in the DL VS combo from LAX the VS flights full – the DL LHR-LAX flights not even half full… Makes for great service from the FA’s but 2 of the three flights have had under 70 people on them. These were in March (announced as 62) and April (announced as 67)

    Even with such low numbers of PAX the planes are dirty and the AVOD not anywhere near the quality of VS

    Most likely the reason for the change is they are simply losing money on the route. People have voted with their wallets and DL has listened.

  19. I was confused by the earlier announcement that Delta was taking over one of Virgin’s 2 LAX/LHR flights, since Virgin appears to have resumed their 2nd daily frequency perhaps for the Summer schedule… so the partnership currently offers a total of 3 frequencies daily on this route.

    As someone who travels occasionally on this route for business, it would be difficult for me to justify flying DL’s product on their 763 over VS’s (especially the new 789), assuming pricing is roughly the same.

    Do you plan to have them adjust your itinerary to put you on the VS flight back to LAX, rather than this inferior multi-stop routing?

  20. I thought it was idiotic on DL’s part in the first place to take Virgin Atlantic metal out of a market where they are well established, have a loyal following, and have a presence by other Virgin-branded carriers (granted they are separate corporate entities with different partnerships granted). The Virgin brand has little to no following in Atlanta or certainly Detroit compared to Los Angeles. The Delta 767 product is sub par at best compared to the offerings of AA, BA, and NZ on the route.

  21. It’s a metal-neutral JV between VS and DL, so I don’t find this change noteworthy. Now if VS also pulled LAXLHR or EWRLHR, then we’d have something to talk about.

    Anyone familiar with DL’s JV with AF/KL/AZ knows that equipment and operators change constantly. The changes associated with VS are not any different.

  22. Maybe they wanted to get more use out of the brand-new VS lounge.

    Or maybe the LAX-LHR market is growing, and they wanted to use VS’s larger planes on the route instead of DL’s 767s (Delta has some larger planes, but they’re mostly tied up flying on longer routes). That’s the great thing (for the airlines) about these JVs; they give access to a broader set of aircraft can use the combined fleets of both airlines to target the exact right-sized plane for each route.

  23. I’m surprised premium cabin flyers prefer A380/B777 service instead of a rickety B767 kite. Plus bleed air issues Don’y reassure pax in a 12-hour flight.

  24. There is no reason for a Brit to take Delta ex London. The Virgin brand is better established and I assume Delta does not offer free chauffeur transfers in J, unlike Virgin. That cuts off the traffic ex-London sharply.

  25. Simple answer: Virgin’s new 787. Previously, VS operated two daily frequencies with the 744 and 346 on the LAX–LHR route, and those provided too much capacity for the winter months. So Delta took over one of the frequencies with the smaller 763. Now that Virgin has the 787, they can better match capacity to demand on their own metal, so they will operate both frequencies going forward. As JC noted above, this sort of switching planes between JV partners happens all the time.

  26. @Raffles — Delta does indeed offer free chauffeur transfers at LHR for full-fare business class passengers.

  27. Delta’s choice of 767 aircraft for the LAX-LHR route is very poor, compared to other carriers 777’s, 747’s and A-380’s. Maybe if Delta put up one of their new A-330’s or 350’s or even a newly refurbished 777 on this route, then they may have had some better success.

  28. I believe this is the answer: Delta is inaugurating Nonstop 767 Service from SLC to LHR April 23rd. SLC makes much better sense for a DL transatlantic flight as it is a much bigger DL Hub and offers significant feed for the route.

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