Why people should care about Delta’s new A220

If you pay much attention to frequent flyer blogs (like the fine blogs you’ll find at BoardingArea.com, for example), no doubt you probably felt like you were Delta A220’d right in the face last Thursday.  Including this blog, actually.  Why did I go to the effort of leaving my regular job to go freeze my butt off next to runway 35R at DFW to watch a small new jet land?

I’ll tell you why…

The Delta A220 represents something domestic airlines haven’t seen in years: competition.

Why the A220 is a game-changer for the US domestic market

Remember my oft-made claims that American and United executives are guilty of Leadership By Copying Delta?  Things like waiting for Delta to introduce Basic Economy, Award Miles based on ticket price instead of distance, etc.?  Well, it looks like Delta is pulling a fast one on them, particularly American.

Delta’s configuration of the A220 is the exact opposite of everything that American is doing.

Density

The Airbus A220 is a cute little jet, roughly the size of a large regional jet, but operated by mainline carriers.  The A220 can hold up to 133 passengers in a super-dense configuration.  Delta instead chose a configuration of 12 First Class seats, 15 Comfort+ (Main Cabin Extra) seats, and 82 Main Cabin seats, 109 total.

American, on the other hand, has increased the number of seats on their Boeing 737s from 150 (when they merged with US Airways) to a cramped 172 today.  Heck, their new A321neos will have more seats than the legacy 757s they’re replacing!  Delta’s more spacious configuration allowed them to put seats into the A220 that are the widest in their domestic fleet.

What this represents: Delta can say they have more relaxed cabins.  American is forced to hope their customers won’t notice that 10-15% more people are boarding the 737 they just boarded.

Entertainment

Seatback screens are heavy, require more maintenance, and are more expensive.  Delta bet big when they announced that they would be keeping seatback screens for in-flight entertainment.  The A220 has seatback screens at every seat, including the largest screens in Delta’s domestic fleet in the First Class cabin.

A220 Main Cabin. Image courtesy of Delta.

American, on the other hand, as part of Project Oasis announced that they would invest millions of dollars in ripping out seatback screens on the majority of their domestic fleet, opting instead for plastic holders for their passengers’ mobile devices, to which they could stream in-flight entertainment.  While this is definitely cheaper for American, since they no longer need the added weight of the screens, many passengers have “complained” that they would, shockingly, prefer a larger seatback screen to their tiny phone screen.  Likewise, friends of mine with multiple kids really miss their kids watching their own seatback screens instead of fighting over the one iPad the family owns.

What this represents: Delta bet big on providing seatback screens.  American bet big on customers providing their own screens.  One seems like a great customer experience, the other seems a little presumptuous.

Route Selection

Delta’s first A220 routes (Boston, DFW, and LGA) should tell you everything you need to know.  The Delta A220 is the tip of the spear into competitors’ “fortress hubs”.  Are you an American frequent flyer frustrated about the screens going away and the sardine-like densification project they hubristically named Project Oasis?  How about a smaller jet with big oversize bins, power at every seat, and screens at every seat that flies out of the same hub?

The same goes for Boston.  Are you tired of regional jets on the shuttle between LGA and Boston?  How about a small jet with a mainline flight experience?

Man it’s great to see competition again

My sincere hope is that this is the end of the collusion between the Delta, American, and United.  I would love to see them start competing against each other again and try to set themselves apart from each other.  They’re all making tons of money (due to low fuel prices, not because of good management decisions) so they can afford to snipe at each other a bit in the name of customer satisfaction.

So, yes, you’re right.  Delta’s A220 doesn’t have First Class Suites with closing doors and showers up front.  It’s a small jet with a quirky past, having been caught in a trade dispute between Boeing and Bombardier before 51% was sold to Airbus.  It’s not the jet that is so significant (although we plane geeks always will love new jet types coming into the market), it’s Delta’s use of it that is the real story.

2 Comments

  1. I haven’t flown Delta Airlines in probably 25-30 years, but am jazzed about the prospect of flying their A220 in the next few years. The only thing holding me back is my current inventory of airline points and travel reward credit cards, none of which are with [or affiliated with] Delta.

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  2. P.S. Aside from the impact of the A220 among the Big 3 U.S. carriers, let’s not forget the faceplant Boeing did after stirring up a big brouhaha with Bombardier (over its then-named C Series) jet. That move backfired and bit Boeing in the butt in the worst way possible when Airbus stepped in to buy a majority stake in the C Series program.

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