You can never be too early. That's the belief at Delta, which has applied for an international route right that won't come up for competition until late in the year. It's a route to China, and Delta, still steamed that it couldn't join in the competition for a China route that just ended with a successful bid by United, has already put its papers in at the Department of Transportation. Delta was shut out because the last competition, under terms of the last US/China open skies deal, was limited to only incumbents, the US-flag airlines already flying between to China. This is Delta's third try for a China route and access to the growing mainland. It lost earlier competitions to other airlines or to all-cargo carriers. This time it's determined to win, even if that means getting letters of support from every mayor, city council member, delegate, travel agent and peanut-farmer in the south.
Delta's argument that it deserves a route follows the lines of one made by American in the last case: a region of the country without a China gateway deserves the route. The argument that whole regions of the nation without service deserve service would seem to be a compelling one, and indeed it was in the China route case just decided. In that case, American Airlines was the front runner for a long time with its argument that its Dallas/Fort Worth hub had no non-stop China service and indeed the entire south-western region was without a link. Most people agreed. Right up until American ran into a problem with its pilot union and couldn't persuade them to change their work rules and fly the route non-stop; after that American said it would have to stop in Chicago on the way from Dallas to Beijing. And was promptly rejected by the DoT, which said it was looking for non-stop plans. United won with a plan to link Washington Dulles and Beijing, in a capital-to-capital route.
Delta is making its case very publicly: it has its workers and its state and city lined bigwigs up, with a news conference at city hall to announce the bid it has mayors, chamber of commerce types, airline employees, business leaders and the like. It also had another argument: it is the only mega-carrier without a route to China. United is already a major transpacific player, Northwest, once called Northwest Orient, is big into Asia, and American does have China routes from Chicago. Delta's plans to use Boeing 777s to Shanghai rests on the argument that with the recent United award, Beijing has more flights from the USA than Shanghai, seven versus five, even though Shanghai is the mainland's major business centre. Read some supporting rhetoric here.
The losing carriers will go after the routes too, and aggressively, it is expected, repeating the publicity stunts such as the fortune cookies that Continental handed out on Capitol Hill, the parade it organised in New York City's Chinatown or the special websites, letter-writing and congressional sponsorships other carriers used to make their cases. Northwest, stung by charges in the Detroit papers that it lost the route because it didn't gather enough congressional suport, is not going to be a stranger in Congress. We can expect all sorts of publicity stunts this time around, but Delta arguably is playing it smart starting so soon. Any bets on Georgia peaches finding their way onto Capitol Hill?