A Delta Air Lines Inc. Airbus 220 aircraft taxis for takeoff ahead of its first commercial flight at LaGuardia Airport (LGA) in the Queens borough of New York, U.S. (Photographer: Mark Kauzlarich/Bloomberg)

Delta Debuts Its Newest Jet in Rival Carrier Territory

(Bloomberg) -- When it comes to industry competition, executives at Delta Air Lines Inc. have never been accused of jabbing with soft elbows. That ferocity was on full display Thursday as the carrier launched its first Airbus SE A220 flights from Boston, Dallas and New York, deploying the technologically advanced aircraft in hotly contested business routes at large hubs that are critical to its rivals.

Delta will fly the new aircraft on all of its nonstop flights from New York’s LaGuardia and JFK airports to Dallas-Fort Worth—the largest and most profitable hub for American Airlines Group Inc. It’s also putting the A220 on nonstop flights from LaGuardia to Houston, a hub for United Continental Holdings Inc., and from LaGuardia to Boston—a JetBlue Airways Corp. “focus city.”

By July, Delta plans A220 flights from its Detroit, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City hubs into both of the major Texas cities. It also plans to deploy the A220 from Seattle to San Jose, California, a route trafficked heavily by tech executives and Alaska Air Group Inc.

But aside from the Boston and Seattle routes, all of Delta’s published A220 schedule involves flights from its hubs to Dallas and Houston.

Delta Debuts Its Newest Jet in Rival Carrier Territory

The new jet is startlingly quiet on takeoff. On Thursday morning’s departure from Dallas to New York, the runway acceleration that pushes passengers back into their seats wasn’t accompanied by the usual increase in engine noise. The A220 is “a great indicator of what the Delta fleet will look like in just a few years,” Helda Durham, a Delta field director, said Thursday at the 6 a.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony before the airplane’s customer debut in Dallas-Fort Worth.

Delta plans to take delivery of 25 A220s this year, with the remainder of its 90-jet order arriving through 2023. The aircraft’s U.S. debut was delayed by one week because of the recent government furlough of federal aviation regulators.

Delta’s message to American and United is clear: This quieter, roomier jet—with trans-continental range—is designed to be a corporate-contract winner. “Not only does it have far superior economics, but the customer experience is going to be amongst the best,” Delta President Glen Hauenstein told investors in December.

The Atlanta-based carrier is using the 109-seat A220 to replace older, less-efficient aircraft like the the smaller Embraer SA E175 and Bombardier Inc. CRJ900 regional jets. Over time, Delta is likely to fly A220s into other important U.S. business hubs, spokesman Morgan Durrant said. Delta is betting that business travelers will prefer new airplanes over older models and may well swap carriers for a nicer ride. 

Delta Debuts Its Newest Jet in Rival Carrier Territory

The A220 is certainly nicer than similarly-sized competitors. The design is only about a decade old, and the cabin offers LED lighting, generous legroom, headroom, oversize windows and bins—as well as broadband internet to entice passengers. Airbus acquired a controlling stake in the plane, formerly known as the C Series, in late 2017 after the ambitious $6 billion program nearly bankrupted Bombardier. The A220 was designed to offer the spacious feel of a wide-body aircraft with lower operating costs, due to weight-saving composite materials and a new, geared turbofan engine architecture.

Delta’s A220 features 18.6-inch wide seats in economy. By comparison, a Delta Boeing 737-800 seat is 17.2 inches wide; American flies the same plane with 16.9 to 17.3 inches, depending on the seat location, according to data compiled by Seatguru.com.

The A220 also has large seatback video screens developed by Delta Flight Products, a subsidiary launched three years ago, and Gogo Inc. high-speed satellite Wi-Fi. The wireless in-flight technology will migrate to other Delta planes.

Last but not least, the A220 has two rear lavatories—one of which has a window.

Delta Debuts Its Newest Jet in Rival Carrier Territory

This “loo with a view,” as some at Delta call it, isn’t unique to Bombardier, Airbus or Delta. Lufthansa has one in business class on its Airbus A340-600 fleet, and Qatar Airways offers a lavatory window on Boeing 777s and Airbus A350s with its newest business class.

“The lavatory window is not a key selling feature, but it’s nice to have,” said Souren Agopian, an Airbus marketing manager. “This is something that puts a smile on the faces of people. The lavatory is huge, and the window adds to the feeling of space.”

It also adds, according to two Delta flight attendants working the debut flight, a popular locale for selfies.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.