Delta doubles down on Boston as new route to Iceland prepares to launch


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With air travel on the upswing, Boston is back in the spotlight.

Before COVID-19, Delta had singled out Boston Logan (BOS) as one of the hottest air markets in the country. Now, as travel picks back up, the Altlanta-based carrier says it’s eager to capture a bigger share as it shifts into post-pandemic growth mode.

Before the pandemic, Boston Logan was one of the fastest growing air travel markets in the U.S., and among the hottest markets for new international routes — the airport was on track to become the third-biggest transatlantic gateway on the East Coast in 2020, behind New York JFK and Newark.

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Part of that growth was driven by Delta, which designated Boston as a hub airport in 2019 and aggressively promoted both short-haul and long-haul service from the New England city. The carrier took over an entire terminal at Logan that same year — just before air travel shut down globally.

Now, as domestic travel resumes in earnest and international travel begins to start back up for the first time since the pandemic, Delta is reviving its Boston ambitions.

“We’re really just pulling that old playbook back out to continue to reestablish the footprint that this building was designed for,” Henry Kuykendall, Delta’s senior vice president of East Coast airport operations, told TPG at Logan Airport on Thursday. “Boston was one of our fastest growing hubs.”

“We were growing a few others, but Boston was on a fast pace to grow,” he added.

Pre-pandemic: Europe via Boston? Logan set to pass Miami and D.C. for transatlantic traffic

The growth plan comes at a crucial time. JetBlue — arguably Delta’s fiercest domestic competitor at Boston — and American Airlines announced a new Northeast-focused partnership and code-sharing agreement last year, allowing the airlines to compete more effectively at Logan, effectively combining their networks across a variety of strategic routes. That partnership kicked into effect earlier this year.

Now, as international travel resumes, Delta is eager to capture market share and push back against the competition.

Delta plans to hire about 200 customer service and below-wing employees at Logan, Kuykendhall said — on top of all of the employees previously on voluntary leaves or furloughs during the pandemic, who have already been recalled.

The airline is also adding new routes to meet growing demand. Delta last week announced new routes from Boston to Charlotte (CLT) and Dallas-Fort Worth (DFW) — both of which are American Airlines hubs — as well as Toronto (YYZ).

Then there’s long-haul. Delta will launch a brand-new route to Reykjavik, Iceland (KEF), on Thursday (May 20), and will begin flying to Rome, Italy (FCO) later this summer — both countries recently reopened to vaccinated tourists.

“And we’ve already had Amsterdam and London,” Kuykendall said. “What we’re really doing is building out our international portfolio, it’s no different to how we built out JFK and our other hubs around the country. The market can support it, it’s the right mix of business for this market.”

International demand has been steadily picking up as places reopen, Kuykendall said, and domestic travel is back to about 85% of pre-pandemic levels — including some early returns of business travel.

Related: Can Delta and JetBlue make Boston the next dual-hub city?

“We’re seeing local corporations unlock domestic travel,” he said. Business travel demand is especially showing glimmers of recovery in to New York, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C., he added.

Ultimately, Kuykendall said, Delta thinks that it can capture more of the Boston market simply by treating the airport as a full-fledged hub.

“There are several [U.S.] carriers here, but it’s really a domestic operation,” he said. “We’re the only true international airline that’s here that can fly you globally.”

Kristen Clary, a Boston-based flight attendant, said that she was excited to see the continued growth.

More: Europe reopening may come too late to save the summer for airlines and travelers

Clary said that she often flew on trips to Europe before the pandemic, and although she’s mostly worked transcontinental flights over the past year, is excited to get back across the Atlantic.

“I’d love to get back on Europe,” she said. “We have the Iceland flight, I’m hoping to get on the Rome one, I would love to do that coming up in August. And then, fingers crossed for more destinations: Amsterdam, Dublin, Paris. I love them all.”

Featured photo by David Slotnick/The Points Guy

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