MIAMI — Delta turned up the heat today on the already super competitive Los Angeles – San Francisco route by starting its first official west coast shuttle service between the two cities. A replication of the popular east coast shuttles the carrier has run since the early 90s, the service caters to the business travelers expected to frequent the route. The first of fourteen daily roundtrips – operated by Compass Airlines Embraer 175 jets dba Delta – starts at 0700 sharp and continues on the hour through the day. Delta flight 5830, the first shuttle from LAX, landed in SFO at 8:19AM local time.

The new service will be in good company in the skies above the California Corridor route, joining competitors American, Southwest, United, and Virgin America. While none of DLs competitors have a ‘Shuttle’ branding a few might as well. United and Southwest presently run between ten and fifteen daily roundtrips between the two cities, while Virgin America and American run nine and six respectively.  Delta’s guaranteed fourteen daily departures operated by regional affiliate Compass Airlines, which replace the eleven DL previously split between SkyWest and mainline operations, will place the carrier solidly at the upper end of daily frequencies.

The main cabin and economy comfort on board the new Delta Shuttle, operated by Compass Embraer 175 aircraft
The main cabin and economy comfort on board the new Delta Shuttle, operated by Compass Embraer 175 aircraft

All five carriers are all jockeying hard for market share on one of the most highly trafficked routes in the country. An estimated 1.65 million people flew the route in the past calendar year (DOT), many of whom are frequent business fliers. Delta is betting that the extra perks of the shuttle will begin to earn them the business of both individual travelers and new corporate business accounts. The service, following in the footsteps of the popular east coasts routes out of NY LaGuardia, adds an extra touch of special for everyone on board.

The extra-special specialness begins right at check in with a dedicated ticket counter. Not long after it saves folks time by placing gates near to security. Once airborne all aboard can partake of complimentary food, drink, and top shelf newspapers. Considering that no matter where someone sits on the Shuttle they’re going to get free food/drink and a hopefully less chaotic in-terminal experience for the same price, Delta bets the new option is one intra-California road warriors will both appreciate and pay for.

The shuttle offers these wonderful snack trays to everyone on board.
The shuttle offers these wonderful snack trays to everyone on board.

The shuttle, however, is only one of several route changes the carrier launches out of Los Angeles International today. Portland, Oregon will see four new daily flights while nearby Seattle gets two. Expanding their reach to Bay Area markets even further, Oakland, CA will see two new flights while nearby San Jose, CA will see one.

Elsewhere in the country New Orleans, Kansas City, Indianapolis, and Columbus Ohio all receive one flight each. These additional flights come on top of an already impressive expansion that Delta has been building at LAX through the year. Twelve cities saw either new routes, added service, or both since April of this year (though BOS, ANC, and BZN are seasonal). Plus the carrier is deep into their terminal five renovation project, part of a nationwide upgrade of terminals.

The changes reflect Delta’s growing ambitions for Los Angeles that, when placed in a wider context, clearly demonstrate the carriers long term ‘four corners’ growth strategy. Focusing on the west coast, Delta has been – as we pointed out above – steadily adding capacity out of LAX through the year.

The majority (DL did launch three Mexico/Latin American routes) are domestic routes, taking advantage of the carrier’s comparatively weak international presence in Los Angeles – they run approximately three near-international routes and three long-haul (including Tokyo Narita and Sydney, Australia) from the airport, all thanks to the Northwest merger in ‘08 – while capitalizing on their strong international code shares to feed domestic connecting traffic on their own metal.

Meanwhile up in the Pacific Northwest Delta has been employing the opposite strategy. Capitalizing on Seattle’s proximity to Asia along with their strong domestic code share partnership with Alaska (never mind their fairly robust SEA-other DL hub traffic) DL has been building up their international footprint. In just the past month the carrier announced new service to both Seoul and Hong Kong, pushing their list of international destinations (planned and present) to eight.

Even with all the changes, however, Delta still lags in the competition to be LA’s hometown airline. For the foreseeable future United and American continue to dominate the lion’s share of the traffic with both enjoying about 8.8million en/deplanings each per year.

Delta presently sits closer to five million and some change annually. American stands to gain even more should the now faltering merger with Phoenix based US Airways go through. But even if it doesn’t American has been building up their presence LAX right alongside Delta, providing for another great airline turf war. In fact it was only last week that American launched five new routes of its own in addition to three launched earlier in the summer and several more planned for the end of the year.

All this jockeying should translate into lower fares into and out of LAX as Delta and American duke it out and others are forced to lower prices to stay competitive. As someone who enjoys a trip to sunny LA from typically dreary Seattle, it’s a trend I can get behind.

Those with a mind for history will remember this isn’t the first go Delta has had at LAX over the years either. The carrier first seriously got into the LA game back in 1987, after merging with LA-based Western Airlines.  After spending the better part twenty years more or less making their way, Delta began an ill-fated expansion plan in the mid-2000s that culminated in LA becoming a major focus city. The status was short lived, however, as Delta scaled back operations significantly up through the Northwest merger in 2008.

We will have a full photo gallery and review of the in-flight experience later this week.

In the not too distant future, Airchive Senior Business Correspodnet Vinay Bhaskara will publish his piece on the hotly contested LAX-SFO market, “The Shuttle Wars: West Coast Edition”.