Why Did Deltas’ Low-Cost Carrier ‘Song’ Fail?

Delta Air Lines once operated a short-lived low-cost carrier. Called “Song,” the airline flew all-economy Boeing 757s on leisure destinations, primarily in Florida. However, the airline made its first flight on April 15th, 2003, and shut down in 2006 as Delta restructured through bankruptcy.

Song was once a low-cost carrier brand within Delta. Photo: Getty Images

What was Song?

In the early 2000s, Delta was under threat. JetBlue had just started operations and was winning over a sizable number of passengers flying between New York and the vacation hubs in Florida. A University of Pennsylvania analysis of the low-fare airline noted that the Song 757 would be quite luxurious for its time, with leather seats, seatback screens and MP3 music. It would sell branded food items onboard its aircraft while also offering low fares, similar to JetBlue.

Song would focus on the leisure travelers between New York and Florida. Later, it would expand to more Northeastern US and West Coast destinations.

Song 757
A Song Boeing 757 at New York’s La-Guardia Airport. Photo: Aero Icarus via Flickr

Delta notes that, at its height in 2005, Song had over 48 Boeing 757-200s flying to 16 destinations across the United States. In total, those aircraft flew over 200 flights per day.

Delta shut Song down in 2006

In late-2005, Delta announced that it was discontinuing Song just weeks after filing for bankruptcy, according to the New York Times. The airline just could not become as successful as it hoped.

For one, the airline-within-an-airline concept is difficult to master. Between pilot and flight attendant agreements, keeping costs down is hard. This is one place where JetBlue had a significant competitive advantage. In addition, Song also ended up flying some lucrative routes, including transcontinental service.

Song LAX
Song was flying to critical cities like Los Angeles. Photo: BriYYZ via Flickr

While airlines coming out of bankruptcy usually emerge smaller, Delta couldn’t trim the Song network. Song flew to many lucrative cities so, even after being wound down, Delta did not pull down any destinations.

What happened to Song’s planes?

In 2006, Delta announced that the Song 757s would undergo retrofits. The 48 757-200s would reenter Delta’s mainline system with a “new two-class domestic long-haul product.”

These aircraft flew out of important airports, including JFK, Boston, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Orlando, San Francisco, Tampa, and more. Meanwhile, the 757s also started to make their way to Atlanta, Cancun, Miami, Phoenix, and more.

Delta 757
Delta re-configured Song 757s with a premium product. Photo: Getty Images

The return of First Class on lucrative transcontinental routes meant that Delta could target its staple passengers: loyal business travelers that want a premium product.

Why Song was not a complete failure

Song, itself, was not a complete failure. Delta used the airline brand as a way to test out new ideas. This included zone boarding, new aircraft turnaround times, all-leather seats, designer uniforms, improved snack choices, simplified fare structure, and an upgraded online presence.

The biggest thing, however, that Delta learned was how to build a strong brand. In the years after Song, Delta has continued to make advances in the flying experience. It introduced new long-haul economy-class dining, has continued to maintain on-demand seatback screens on its planes, and retained leisure travel services.

In fact, while American has pulled its Orlando to New York-JFK services– one of Song’s key routes– Delta continues to serve the market and expand to more destinations in Florida.

Comfort +
Delta continues to maintain on-demand seatback entertainment onboard its Boeing 757-200s. Photo: Jay Singh – Simple Flying

And, Song ultimately pushed Delta towards a premium transcontinental product. In recent years, the airline has put flatbed seats on key 757 routes and upgraded Los Angeles to New York services to premium Boeing 767 services.

Did you ever fly Song? Do you have memories from Song? Let us know in the comments!