Another week, another round of cuts at a major U.S. airline.
This time, it’s Delta Air Lines’ turn. The Atlanta-based carrier will exit two regional markets in June, as first seen by TPG in Cirium schedules and later confirmed by a carrier spokesperson.
Specifically, the airline will pull out of La Crosse, Wisconsin, and State College, Pennsylvania, effective June 5. The airline currently offers once-daily flights between Minneapolis-Saint Paul International Airport (MSP) and La Crosse Regional Airport (LSE) and twice-daily service from LaGuardia Airport (LGA) to University Park Airport (SCE) near State College.
Wholly owned Delta Connection regional partner Endeavor Air operates flights to both cities using the CRJ-900 aircraft.
“Delta will temporarily suspend Delta Connection service in La Crosse, Wis. (LSE), and State College, Penn. (SCE),” carrier spokesperson Drake Castañeda shared. “Delta continues to evaluate the regional market, monitoring regional carrier pilot availability and customer demand. Affected customers will be proactively notified by Delta and re-accommodated accordingly. We apologize to customers for any inconvenience these changes may cause.”
Despite describing these cuts as temporary, the airline hasn’t provided a timeline for when it might reenter La Crosse or State College. Delta is no longer selling any flights to either city beyond June 5.
Fortunately for flyers, La Crosse and State College will remain connected to major aviation hubs. American Eagle flies between Chicago and La Crosse as well as Philadelphia and State College. United Express offers flights to State College from Chicago and Newark. Travelers booked on Delta’s canceled flights will receive offers for alternative options from nearby airports or full refunds.
Interestingly, Delta recently shuffled around service in the two affected cities. Delta Connection affiliate SkyWest previously served both airports, but the airline switched over to Endeavor service late last year. Previously, La Crosse had service from both Detroit and Minneapolis-St. Paul, while State College exclusively had service from Detroit.
Delta moved the State College flights to New York late last year as part of a broader shift in regional focus to the East Coast — a move that many aviation observers called “slot squatting.”
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To operate at the capacity-constrained LGA and John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), airlines must hold takeoff and landing permissions from the Federal Aviation Administration. These permissions, known as slots, are usually use-it-or-lose-it. This means that if Delta couldn’t fill its entire slot schedule, it would risk losing a valuable slot to one of its competitors.
To avoid that, industry insiders believed that these short regional routes were intended to “slot squat,” filling the schedule with lower-cost regional operations without giving up a valuable slot to a competitor.
While airlines received slot waivers earlier in the pandemic that allowed them to cut flights without the risk of losing these valuable assets, this temporary relief is basically over.
The FAA is allowing airlines to reduce the number of flights they operate from the busiest New York airports this summer without permanently surrendering their slots; this is an effort to clear up airspace congestion in one of the nation’s most congested markets. However, this limited waiver is expected to expire once the peak summer season ends.
Delta isn’t alone in making cuts to its regional network. Last week, United dropped two more pins from its route map: Erie, Pennsylvania, and Springfield, Illinois.
Since the pandemic began, American, Delta and United have all pulled out of a whopping 71 U.S. cities, according to network analysis conducted by aviation consulting firm Ailevon Pacific. Of the “Big Three” U.S. airlines, United has garnered the most headlines for what’s been a major pullback in regional connectivity — now at 38 markets nationwide.
Delta isn’t that far behind, having dropped 17 cities since the pandemic began (with the full list available below). American cut 18 domestic markets from its network during the pandemic.
The pandemic and its effects have caused many major airlines to experience staffing shortages, particularly in their pilot ranks. The pilot shortage has been especially challenging for regional affiliates that have historically served as stepping stones for budding aviators looking to jump-start their careers and eventually work at major U.S. carriers.
Airlines are working hard to develop a pipeline of future pilots, but the shortage isn’t something they can fix overnight. Carriers are left with no choice but to pull out of small cities.
Delta cut 17 cities during the pandemic
Below is a list of all the U.S. cities Delta has exited during the pandemic, according to Cirium and Ailevon Pacific data.
- Akron, Ohio.
- Cody, Wyoming.
- Durango, Colorado.
- Erie, Pennsylvania.
- Flint, Michigan.
- Fort Smith, Arkansas.
- Grand Junction, Colorado.
- La Crosse, Wisconsin.
- Lincoln, Nebraska.
- Manchester, New Hampshire.
- New Bern, North Carolina.
- Newburgh, New York.
- Newport News, Virginia.
- Peoria, Illinois.
- Santa Barbara, California.
- State College, Pennsylvania.
- Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania.