SEATTLE — Delta Air Lines dedicated a brand new Boeing 737-900ER to the City of Seattle on Thursday. The airplane, adorned with a “Spirit of Seattle” painted on the nose, is the latest installment in Delta’s (DL) crusade to capture Seattle.
Dozens of DL employees turned out for the delivery, which took place in a giant Boeing hangar at Boeing Field. Most would wind up flying back to Atlanta on the company’s ninth Boeing 737-900 to join the fleet. It will be joined by 91 more by the end of 2018.
Yet this one will remain unique. Delta is not especially big on special paint jobs or additions. “We don’t alter our livery unless it’s something very, very special.” said DL’s Vice President of Seattle, Mike Medeiros. Indeed, the only other city to receive such an honor is DL’s longtime hub and home base of Atlanta, GA. The natural conclusion is that Seattle is a very special city to Delta.
Not that this is a big surprise. The airline has been on a very public crusade to capture the hearts, minds, and wallets of the Emerald City over the past several months. From buying the entire club level at CenturyLink Field, home to the red-hot NFL team the Seattle Seahawks, to making appearances in the city’s annual Pride Parade and Aids Walk – never mind tons of ad buys and airtime touting a global reach – the carrier has been out to show Seattle that they’re here and ready to serve.
To bolster their position and appeal the carrier has been expanding and improving facilities at SeaTac over the past eighteen months. A shiny new SkyClub for the frequent and premium fliers was completed in 2012. Meanwhile, a new, swanky ticket counter completed dedicated SkyPriority check-in zone (which we detailed earlier this week) was installed recently. Those flying out of New York to Seattle in Business Elite (DL’s domestic first class) are now receiving the same level of service afforded to the ultra-premium NYC-LAX routes.
The facility changes have been put into motion to support the dearth of new flights that Delta has unleashed on the city as it works to turn SeaTac into its next hub. By summer of next year international routes will double from five to eleven, serving the top international destinations in eastern Asia and Europe. To support the extra flights the carrier has aggressively expanded their domestic traffic as well. New flights have been planned or added from Seattle to Fairbanks, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Portland, and Vancouver BC. Most will see multiple daily frequencies, resulting in 70-75 peak day departures by the summer of 2014 (compared to 36 now, according to the airline).
Many of the new destinations will be served on significantly larger aircraft than competitors. Specifically regional routes to Portland and Vancouver will be flown with two class Bombardier CRJ-900 jet aircraft. Alaska and Air Canada Jazz both utilize single class turboprop aircraft, the smaller Q400 and Dash-8-300, respectively.
Speaking of Alaska, the latest route additions (never mind the new “Spirit of Seattle” airplane) pit Delta squarely against long-time Seattle hometown favorite, Alaska Airlines. The two will be competing on almost every new domestic route Delta announced, but competition could become especially fierce on routes to Portland and Los Angeles. The former is a secondary hub for Alaska (AS), while Los Angeles is a substantial focus city; consequently both are trunk routes for Seattle-based AS.
Making it all the more fun, Delta maintains a feeder partnership with Alaska (which is really the only thing preventing this from being a straight-up turf war – and even then). The arrangement was initially created to support DL’s international operations, but questions over how effectively AS was able to support DL’s capacity have grown (particularly in light of Delta’s recent expansions on dually served routes). As Delta works to ensure demand will be available to meet capacity, further questions arise over whether there is sufficient demand on many of these new domestic routes to support two big players.
What is not questionable, however, is that Delta is in Seattle to win. And considering the type of changes they’ve made and the tone of their marketing – it is specifically targeting the passengers riding up front.
Otherwise, the airplane honors 80 years of the carrier in Seattle, taking into account Northwest Airlines who was absorbed into Delta in 2010 following the 2008 merger. According to the company, their first flight took to Seattle took place in 1933 with service to Spokane. Later DL opened the first international nonstop transpacific service from the Puget Sound area to Tokyo.