Should Delta Air Lines Invest In Keeping Its Boeing 717 Fleet Flying?

Plenty of airlines are retiring their older aircraft in favor of newer, more fuel-efficient planes. This helps the carriers to keep maintenance and fuel-related costs at a minimum while, sometimes, providing a better experience on board too. Although Delta seems to buck that trend, it has recently been retiring older aircraft. However, there is one aircraft in Delta’s fleet that is both aging and could use an upgrade: the Boeing 717.

Delta 717
Delta will keep their 717s for the next ten years with a little upgrade. Photo: Delta

Simple Flying reached out to Delta amid reports that Delta would retain its 717s and upgrade the interiors. However, Delta denied the claims and offered Simple Flying the following statement:

While we’re always evaluating how we can enhance the experience for our customers and employees across our fleet, no decisions have been made about adding 717 aircraft in-flight entertainment seatback screens nor extending or shortening the length of time they will remain in operation in our fleet.


The history of Delta’s 717s

These planes first went to AirTran before Southwest acquired that carrier. Southwest found that operating a single type of aircraft worked well for them, and that type was the Boeing 737. So, they decided not to operate the 717s and, instead, Delta leased them.

AirTran 717 and Southwest
Delta’s 717 came from AirTran after Southwest acquired them. Photo: redlegsfan21 via Wikimedia Commons

The 717 is a good short-haul workhorse. With over 90 in service, these aircraft work well as air shuttles between major cities, without causing overcapacity. Delta outfits their 717s with only 110 seats spread across 12 First Class, 20 Comfort+, and 78 Main Cabin seats.

Should Delta fly the 717 for a longer time?

These 717s are aging. Most of them were delivered in the late 1990s and early 2000s, so most are in the 20-year range in terms of operational age. This is a significant age for a short-haul aircraft. Although there are Boeing 737s and Airbus A320s that are also around this age, some of them are being cycled through replacement.

Delta’s 717s are getting pretty old. Photo: formulanone via Wikimedia Commons

Boeing does not have a true 717 replacement. The 737 MAX, aside from being grounded, is too big. However, Bombardier (and later Airbus) did have a solution. Delta decided to order Airbus A220s which are the perfect size to replace the 717.  

But, if Delta were to operate the 717 for a longer period of time, there is one feature that would likely be a worthwhile investment that gets passengers onboard.

An upgrade on the inside

Delta has been a fan of seatback screens on its planes, and this tactic has helped it to win over passengers. Most of Delta’s newer aircraft have seatback screens, however, the 717s do not.

Delta has made a big push in seatback entertainment for passengers. It is an amenity that many travelers, including myself, value. During meal services, it is nice to have some entertainment without shuffling around to fit the meal tray and a tablet or laptop on the same tray table.

Delta 717 interior
Delta’s 717s currently do not have seatback screens. Photo: Beyond My Ken via Wikimedia Commons

If Delta were to keep its 717s, it would serve them well to retrofit them with a more modern interior. If possible, larger overhead bins and seatback entertainment would go a long way. In fact, these aircraft could then be a better choice for passengers over some newer aircraft that lack these amenities.

Do you think Delta should keep their 717s? Are you a fan of the Boeing 717? Let us know in the comments!


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I can see Delta flying this plane for another 6 to 7 years on the short routes. On a replacement Delta will do some shuffling around the A220’s are going to stay in the northern and western hubs putting the true replacement on the 717’s and MD’s with the A319 and A320 on the short routes. I asked this same question last week to a 21 year veteran captain with delta last week about the replacements of MD88’s and 717’s on the short routes to Atlanta.


Any day better than rickety rackety no space MD88. Yes no entertainment. Some has WiFi. If it works. Delta needs serious upgrade. A220/221 are good. But their pitch in turbulence annoying. But have features. Lucky Max was not sourced. May be need to look beyond Boeing and AirBus


According to One Mile at a Time this is not officially confirmed. I wouldn’t be surprised if they improved some of the newer 717s. It’s going to take a while for Airbus to crank out enough A220s to cover both Delta’s expansion efforts and to replace existing 717s. I can’t imagine they are planning on using these for longer than they have to.


With Delta winding down MD80 & 90 operations, it will use the 717s as a backstop on capacity. Delta is known for extending the life cycle of an airframe (ie: 757, 767, MD80) and the 717 is no exception. I doubt the flight deck will complain since the airframe has a reputation as a pocket rocket. It should be noted that Delta has 3 of its 717s in storage as per Airfleets. Therefore, I doubt it will spend the money on IFES systems. The true replacement is the A220 which is a perfect fit for hub & spoke and shuttle… Read more »


IFE upgrade on an ageing fleet that typically serves routes 1-2 hours long seems rather pointless. Essentially the 717 fills in the void between regional jet operations and the usual 737 / A320 operations, whereas the A220 can be used for routes of 1-5 hours duration, hence why that aircraft needs IFE to keep the passengers happy. Delta will most likely run these aircraft until they are completely knackered and no longer profitable, then replace them like-for-like with the more flexible A220 once they are all delivered. Most likely to be phased out in the 2022-2026 timeframe.

Matthew in PDX

I think that if Delta is going to refurbish any of these shorthaul airplanes, they’d be better off investing in seats with a tablet holder and USB charging port, such as Alaska Airlines employs coupled with its IFE app that can be downloaded prior to flying. Most air travelers seem to have the tablets now and on my most recent flights were ignoring the airline offerings in favor of their own. The tablet holders on Alaska Airlines can be used with the tray table up or down.

Sunny leveson-jones

Why not just put an IFE display in anyway, DPS has a solution that cuts the install price by 2/3rds.

Steve Alhart

I hope to see Delta operating these for several years to come, all the while those dreaded CRJ200’s rot in the Arizona desert. When WN took over AT, I was elated that DL took over the leases or down right bought the 717’s. The 717 makes my 28 minute flights to/from AVL/ATL very tolerable. On a short flight, who needs IFE? Bose headphones and an iPad are all I need. If there was WiFi onboard, I could track my flight, but that’s not a deal breaker. I would rather see DL spend serious money cleaning up & upgrading those tired… Read more »


I like the Angry Puppies! They’re cute! And fun. It would be nice to have IFE on a 717, but my tablet doesn’t take up too much space. And I do love a Boeing. The cool thing about Delta is, they keep their planes up so well, you can never be quite certain exactly how old the plane really is. And that’s a good thing. It means they care about your flying experience.

Brody Cyr

I personally think Boeing should make 717X or 717MAX what ever you want to call it. It would be cool to see Delta continue flying these planes.