Atlanta-based Delta Air Lines plans this year to operate its largest trans-Atlantic flight schedule on record, with expectations for a strong rebound three years after the COVID-19 pandemic first decimated international travel.
“We’re seeing very strong consumer demand” for international travel, Amy Martin, Delta vice president of network planning, said in an interview. The strength is buoyed by enthusiasm for a resumption of trips and a strong U.S. dollar.
“That’s really prompting us to be able to stand back up the international network in particular,” she said.
Trans-Atlantic routes are among the most-lucrative and most-traveled international flights from the U.S., and Delta has said international service will be a key factor in what it expects to be a year of strong growth. Delta says its trans-Atlantic schedule from Atlanta and across its network is up 10% this year from 2019 levels. That includes increased capacity with larger planes and some additional flights.
This year, Delta is launching flights from Atlanta to Edinburgh, Nice and Tel Aviv. The airline is also resuming flights to Dusseldorf and Stuttgart, which are key markets for the growing Southeast auto industry, including the headquarters of Porsche North America and Mercedes-Benz USA in metro Atlanta.
Elsewhere in the country, Delta is launching flights from Los Angeles to Auckland, New Zealand. The airline is also adding more flights from its international hub at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, including a new route to Geneva.
Next month, Delta restarts flights to Havana from Miami, but has not yet announced when it might resume flights from Atlanta to Havana.
Delta is also adding new flights from Atlanta to Cozumel. And the airline says its holiday schedule to Latin America from mid-December through early January will be its largest on record, with more seasonal flights to the Caribbean, Mexico and other Latin American destination.
Other airlines are also looking to Atlanta for international growth. Ethiopian Airlines in May plans to launch flights from its hub in Addis Ababa to Atlanta, with a stop in Dublin, Ireland for refueling.
Last year, Hartsfield-Jackson handled about 9.97 million international passengers, up nearly 75% from 2021 levels but still below the 12.66 million international passengers seen in 2019.
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Delta operates the majority of flights at Hartsfield-Jackson, and its international growth would fuel a healthy recovery. But its ambitious rebound is not without its challenges.
A key international hub for Delta and its joint venture partner KLM — Amsterdam Schiphol — was so understaffed last summer that airlines had to slash their flight schedules, travelers waited in line for hours to be processed and lost baggage piled up in the terminal.
Then, the Dutch government announced plans to cut the number of flights per year from Schiphol to reduce the impact on residents and the environment. Delta this month announced it has joined KLM and other airlines in a lawsuit against the Dutch government over its plans to reduce flights.
The Amsterdam challenges complicate Delta’s international planning because of its reliance on the hub to connect to KLM flights reaching many other points in Europe and beyond.
“Last year was a tough year, particularly in Amsterdam, where we had a lot of cancellations. We had a lot of reductions in service,” and it affected customers’ experience, said Delta President Glen Hauenstein during an investor presentation this month. “We’ve been working very, very hard with KLM and the Dutch authorities to make sure that that is not a repeat this year, and we feel very confident as we move into spring and summer.”
Elsewhere in Europe, labor unrest has led to flight cancellations in Germany and France this year.
China, the last major travel market to recover from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, has opened back up and the U.S. this month announced that it is lifting requirements for COVID tests for travelers from China to the U.S. Delta this month resumed flights from Seattle and Detroit to Shanghai, but it’s yet to be seen if it will resume its Atlanta-Shanghai route operated before the pandemic.
“China is really the remaining question mark,” Martin said.
And, global economic turmoil throws a blanket of uncertainty over this year’s expectations. Still, Delta executives remain optimistic.
Earlier in the pandemic travel was limited, but within the U.S. “we could still get around somehow or we didn’t feel as confined,” said Delta CEO Ed Bastian. “But people meaningfully lost time internationally in terms of trips, adventures, business, family — a host of reasons. And we see in that component of our business probably the strongest demand we have, period.”
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