ANALYSIS: Delta enhances LaGuardia hub with Boston shuttle move

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Delta Air Lines will move its shuttle flights to Boston Logan International to terminal C at New York LaGuardia in November, enhancing its hub operations at the New York airport.

The 30 weekday flights will operate out of gates C31 and C32 – adjacent to the gates for the competing US Airways Shuttle to both Boston and Washington National – in terminal C from 2 November, the Atlanta-based SkyTeam alliance carrier says. They have operated from the Marine Air Terminal at LaGuardia since Delta acquired the shuttle operation from Pan Am in 1991.

“Customers will enjoy a great Delta Shuttle product with the frequency and amenities they've come to expect as well as being able to experience our most updated space at LaGuardia,” says Gail Grimmett, senior vice-president of New York at Delta, in a statement.

The move to terminal C at gate-tight LaGuardia is made possible by more efficient operations with fewer small regional jet flights and the completion of construction on upgrades to the facility, the airline says. It has invested $160 million in its facilities at the airport since 2011.

CONNECTIVITY

Connections are at the centre of the decision to move the flights, says Delta. It relocated the Boston-New York flights to the centre of its hub complex, which spans terminals C and D at LaGuardia, because the Boston-New York route has more potential to contribute to transfer traffic than do Delta's other shuttle routes, the airline says.

The other Delta Shuttle routes include LaGuardia to Chicago O’Hare and to Washington National.

Passengers from Boston will gain additional access and more direct routings to 64 cities from LaGuardia than previously, Delta adds. The Chicago O’Hare and Washington National shuttle flights do not benefit from the same boost in connectivity given their locations east of New York.

“It’s a move to use LaGuardia as the domestic hub that they’ve been trying to make it,” says Robert Mann, a former airline executive and New York-based airline industry analyst with RW Mann & Company. “[Boston] is a natural hub opportunity that they haven’t had available because flights terminated at the Marine Air Terminal.”

The Marine Air Terminal, while closer to Manhattan, is a roughly 10min bus ride without traffic from terminal D. In addition, passengers have to exit and re-enter security when transferring between the terminals.

Delta is quick to note that it will offer all of the amenities available to local shuttle passengers in the Marine Air Terminal to those on Boston flights in terminal C. These include minimum 15min check-in without bags, dedicated counters and complementary coffee and newspapers.

The carrier will upgauge flights to 110-seat Boeing 717-200s from 76-seat Embraer 175s to handle the expected bump in traffic with the move. It will also drop one weekday flight on the route.

Delta will operate 1,650 seats each weekday on from LaGuardia to Boston from November compared to 1,216 today, a Flightglobal analysis of Innovata schedules show. This represents a nearly 36% increase in seat capacity.

Comparatively, American Airlines-owned US Airways offers at least 1,485 seats every weekday on the LaGuardia-Boston route with 15 flights operated by 99-seat Embraer 190s, Innovata schedules show.

The shift towards transfer traffic on Boston-New York flights also comes as the share of origin and destination traffic flying the route continues to decline. Amtrak has said that its share of the air and rail market between Boston and New York increased 34 percentage points to 54% from 2000 to 2012, various reports show. Airlines have cut capacity and one, American, even pulled out of the route during the period.

CONGESTION

One concern with the move to terminal C is congestion on the ramp. The Marine Air Terminal is separated from the rest of the terminals at LaGuardia on the west side of runway 4/22, allowing aircraft to avoid the congestion of the central terminal area.

Flights arriving and departing from terminal C do not benefit from this advantageous location. They must interact with all other traffic in the central terminal area, except when departing on runway 31.

“Adding 30 [flights] a day to the ramp over at C is going to be interesting,” says Mann, who says that area of the ramp at LaGuardia is already very heavily trafficked.

Delta says that its operations team looked at the situation and is confident that they can maintain the operational performance of the shuttle flights when in terminal C.