Delta Plans Last 777 Flight For The Fall

In Delta’s annual shareholder meeting on June 18th, CEO Ed Bastian highlighted the airline’s plan to retire the Boeing 777. Currently, the final flight of the 777 is expected to occur this fall. Earlier this year, the airline announced that all 18 of the type would exit the carrier’s fleet by the end of 2020.

Delta Shanghai
Delta will fly its last 777 flight this fall. Photo: Getty Images

Retiring the 777s this fall

On May 14th, the carrier announced it would retire all Boeing 777s this year. While a specific date was not announced at the time, the airline indicated that they would be leaving in the second half of the year.

Today, June 18th, Ed Bastian officially indicated that the 777 would not fly for Delta beyond the fall. Delta has not released a hard date for the 777 retirements. However, this last flight will likely occur by November at the latest.

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Delta 777
The 777 served some of Delta’s key long-haul routes. Photo: Getty Images

A fall date makes sense

The busiest times for US airlines are the summer months. Airlines usually see a record number of passengers per day between June and August, with monthly load factors getting closer to 100% than almost any other time in the year. Then comes the fall and aside from a few holidays such as Labor Day and Thanksgiving, travel demand begins to slip. People and families settle in for school, and the temperature cools at major vacation hotspots.

The winter is one of the hardest for airlines. During this time, flying is suspended to many leisure destinations – save for a few core markets. And, especially for Delta, the carrier relies on flying passengers through partner hubs rather than operating its own nonstop services to destinations like Rome and Athens, among others.

Boeing 777
Delta’s 777-200LRs enabled the launch of flights to Sydney, Johannesburg, and Mumbai. Photo: Delta Air Lines

With demand already at its lowest point in recent years and a recovery looking a few years away, Delta does not need all of that capacity, which makes retiring the 777s before the winter a cost-effective move.

Traditionally, the 777s have flown some of Delta’s longest routes to Shanghai, Johannesburg, Mumbai, and Sydney. The one common theme with all of those routes is that low demand coupled with international travel restrictions makes daily services on those routes unviable for the next few months– if not longer. With fewer international destinations the carrier wants to fly to, Delta has an excess of widebody aircraft.

Replacing the 777s

The Airbus A350 will replace the 777s on most routes. Although, there will be some changes as it appears that Delta is looking at adding Cape Town to its route network to continue to serve Johannesburg. The airline previously received support from the US Department of Transportation on June 3rd to add Cape Town via Johannesburg service.

Delta A350
The A350, with some modifications, will be able to fly Delta’s 777 routes. Photo: Delta Air Lines

While the A350s are a great aircraft equipped with Delta One Suites and Premium Select, the aircraft is not as friendly to elite members. While the 777s have Comfort+ seating, which is an extra-legroom economy section, the A350s lack this, and Delta has not revealed any plans to add Comfort+ onboard any A350s as of yet. For lucky elite members, getting complimentary upgrades to Comfort+ was a nice relief on long-haul flights.

Will other aircraft exit the fleet?

Ed Bastian indicated that the airline was examining options to retire other types:

“We will continue to look at other fleet types, as well as planes within subfleets, within our larger fleet family for retirement decisions. There will probably be a few more made before the end of this year.”

Delta 717 getty
The 717s fly primarily short-haul missions under two hours in flight time. Photo: Getty Images

Of the types to go, Delta could wave goodbye to the 717 fleet, older 757s, and 767-300s. The 717s are majority leased, and Delta could reduce its cost by sending those into the sunset. And, for a replacement, the airline has A220s entering the fleet that could easily cover most of those routes. Or else, the airline could consolidate 717 frequencies with larger aircraft like the A320 family fleet.

Delta 757
The 757 operates in a few different configurations for Delta. Photo: Getty Images

As for the 757s and 767s, there are no ideal replacement for those planes. Delta does have 100 A321neos on order that could start to replace the aging 757s on domestic legs while the airline retains its premium 757s until an ideal replacement comes through. For the 767s, Some of the 30+ A330neos on order could cover that capacity lost in the future. In the short-term, this will reduce the airline’s overall capacity; however, that would be in line with current demand.

Are you going to miss the Boeing 777 flying in Delta colors? What other aircraft do you think Delta could retire? Let us know in the comments!