Delta Air Lines Bulks Up Minneapolis As Sun Country Grows

Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport (MSP) is a hub for two airlines. The giant Delta Air Lines has the lion’s share of traffic through the airport, bolstered heavily by its connecting hub inherited after the merger with Northwest Airlines. However, local airline Sun Country also claims the airport as home and captures its fair share of travelers departing Minneapolis. As Sun Country has planned its growth, Delta Air Lines has filed its response with a recent schedule update.

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Delta Air Lines has added more flying out of Minneapolis as Sun Country has grown. Photo: Getty Images

Delta loads new cities

Next summer, Delta Air Lines has loaded new cities into its schedules. As seen in Cirium, the airline is adding the following new routes:

  • Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport (SAV) three times per week using an Airbus A320
  • Portland International Jetport (PWM) daily using an Airbus A320
  • Providence’s T.F. Green International Airport (PVD) daily using an Airbus A320
  • Myrtle Beach International Airport (MYR) three times per week using an Airbus A320
  • Jackson Hole Airport (JAC) on Saturdays using an Airbus A319
  • Burlington International Airport (BTV) three times per week using an Airbus A320
  • Asheville Regional Airport (AVL) once per week on Saturdays using an Airbus A319

Schedule data from Cirium shows that Delta has historically flown nonstop between Minneapolis and Savannah seasonally during the summer months. However, 2022 will be the largest schedule the airline has offered between the two cities.

Delta Air Lines Bulks Up Minneapolis As Sun Country Grows
Delta added seven more destinations to its MSP network for summer 2022. Rendering created at Great Circle Mapper

Delta also served Portland, Maine, in 2021. Like Savannah, it is also growing to fly its largest schedule between MSP and PWM. It first started flights between Portland and Minneapolis in June of 2021.  Minneapolis to Myrtle Beach was a new addition for Delta Air Lines this summer, with only a handful of flights on peak days. However, in 2022, Delta is significantly boosting its schedule.

Burlington is a new destination from Minneapolis for Delta Air Lines, as is Asheville. However, this will not be the first time both cities will see nonstop flights to Minneapolis. Northwest Airlines, which was formerly based in Minneapolis, flew most of these routes pre-merger.

Jackson Hole is a bit of an outlier. It has historically been a part of Delta’s schedule, but the airline’s schedule to JAC from MSP will be relatively slim next year compared to its historical summertime flying.

Delta grows other cities

Delta Air Lines has also upgauged flights to other destinations from Minneapolis. This includes Charleston International Airport (CHS) and Jacksonville International Airport (JAX). Delta flew Charleston to Minneapolis during the summer 2019 season, though its schedule next summer will be much larger by schedule and aircraft gauge.

Next year, to Charleston, Delta has upgauged its flights to Airbus A320s from Minneapolis. This flight was previously scheduled on 76-seat regional jets. Charleston will be served daily. Jacksonville, on the other hand, will be upgauged to a Boeing 737-900ER. This is a sizable upgauge from the Airbus A319 previously scheduled to fly the route. Delta will fly from Minneapolis to Jacksonville daily.

Delta Air Lines Bulks Up Minneapolis As Sun Country Grows
Delta is also leveraging its large connecting network to help support the expanded capacity. Photo: Getty Images

Delta will also be adding flights to Williston Basin International Airport (XWA). In North Dakota, Delta will go from one daily to two daily flights on a 50-seat CRJ200. This flight will operate under its regional banner, Delta Connection.

Sun Country’s growth

Sun Country Airlines has been on a growth trajectory. Next summer, the airline will be resuming operations to Savannah (SAV) after a hiatus due to the crisis. It will also be adding several cities from Minneapolis next summer, namely:

  • Asheville (AVL) (extension from winter flying)
  • Charleston (CHS)
  • Jacksonville (JAX)
  • Burlington (BTV)

Sun Country also flies to Providence, Myrtle Beach, and Jackson Hole. The airline first launched flights to Providence in summer 2019. Myrtle Beach joined the network in summer 2018. Jackson Hole is more recent and only joined the Sun Country network in May of this year, according to data from Cirium.

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Sun Country has been steadily adding new flights and is working on expanding its u. Photo: Getty Images.

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Sun Country and Delta

Sun Country and Delta have different missions in Minneapolis. Delta inherited its hub from Northwest Airlines, and it now serves an important role as a connecting hub. Sun Country, meanwhile, focuses its flights around the Minnesota-origination market. It flies to destinations that are popular for local travelers and orients its network around peak-day flying, whereas Delta typically flies a more consistent schedule.

Sun Country has been able to hold up its own against Delta in recent years. After transitioning to an ultra-low-cost carrier, its leisure-oriented pivot, and diversified model has helped it become a profitable carrier that has grown organically without targeting connecting travelers. While it will sell connecting itineraries if they appear organically, it is not focused on creating the hub waves that Delta has set up in Minneapolis.

Delta Air Lines Bulks Up Minneapolis As Sun Country Grows
Sun Country has focused much of its growth on the Midwest-origination traveler, as seen in the carrier’s route network. Photo: Sun Country

While Delta will be able to sell connecting itineraries, the routes will also be available for purchase for local travelers in Minnesota. While Delta does offer some routes that cater more to point-to-point travel from the Minneapolis/St. Paul area that is not its primary focus, though it also needs to offer those flights. It is not unusual for airlines to add their own flying from hubs where other carriers have entered. A recent example is at Miami, where American Airlines filed its own response to growth from Spirit Airlines.

Sun Country has also been adding more flights from other destinations in the upper Midwest. An example is XWA, a regional destination that lost Delta service during the crisis, but the airline brought back flights in summer 2021. XWA was a recent new airport for Sun Country, which launched flights to Las Vegas (LAS) in September, though it has not revealed plans in Williston for the future.

It is valuable for Delta to help protect some of its home turf and show the local market in Minnesota that it values them and offers the flights they need, especially when a competitor can offer it. While Delta will not be back to 2019 levels of flying in Minneapolis with its current schedule next summer, the airline is putting itself on the right track to grow its schedules and add new routes if demand warrants.