MIAMI – Speaking at a Raymond James conference on Monday, Delta Air Lines (DL) president, Glen Hauenstein, announced the airline will drop Cincinnati, Nashville, and San Jose as focus cities.

The news comes as DL, along with most all other airlines, trim routes as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The carrier will, however, maintain Austin (AUS) and Raleigh-Durham (RDU) as focus cities.

Cincinnati used to be a full-fledged DL hub. But over the past dozen years or so, it has declined in importance. The CEO of the Cincinnati airport, Candace S. McGraw, says that CVG “remains a top 20 airport on the Delta network.” However, Delta no longer operates a pilot base there and has only a satellite base for cabin crew.

Delta Air Lines N839MH Boeing 767-400. Photo: Otto Kirchof/Airways

What Is a Focus City?


Delta has operated focus cities that are separate from its hub locations. According to flightgloball.com, Delta has three levels of classifications for the cities it serves.

Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis/St Paul and Salt Lake City are its “core hubs” where it focuses on driving connectivity, said Amy Martin, managing director of domestic network planning at Delta, in June 2019.

One rung lower are Boston (BOS), Los Angeles (LAX), New York John F Kennedy (JFK) and LaGuardia (LGA), and Seattle Tacoma (SEA) which are called “coastal hubs.” These are top 10 markets where the airline, before the pandemic, operated more than 150 peak day flights and offered some level of connectivity.

Then come “focus cities.” Here, the airline sees a lot of youthful presence, strong corporate standing, and above average growth for the industry. At these cities, Delta offered a certain number of point-to-point flights based on the needs of the business community.

CVG Airport Concrouse B food court. Photo: EEJCC, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

What Does It Mean for CVG?


At Cincinnati, dropping the focus city ranking means that instead of serving the top 25 markets from the airport they’ll serve “the top 10 or top 15. It’s going to be the destinations that are relevant” and this ultimately depends on the return of business traffic, according to Joe Esposito, Delta’s senior vice president of network planning.

“Raleigh and Austin are both important (to Delta) because they’re not dominated by another network carrier, and they’re fast, fast growing metro areas with vibrant economies,” said Brad DiFiore, a managing director at air service development advisers Ailevon Pacific Aviation Consulting.

Airlineweekly.com comments that Delta will likely see new competition at its remaining focus cities where it returns. In December, JetBlue (B6) unveiled seven new routes from Raleigh-Durham. The airline sees that city as a “standout in a successful region.” It’s not clear yet whether B6 will open its own base in Raleigh-Durham, though it might fit well geographically between its concentrations in the Northeast and Florida.

Austin similarly continues to attract air service during the pandemic. Alaska Airlines (AS), Allegiant Air (G4), Hawaiian Airlines (HA), and JetBlue (B6) have all unveiled new routes from the city in 2021.


Featured image: Delta Air Lines N303DU Airbus A220-300. Photo: Mateo Skinner/Airways