After a year of downsizing, Delta Air Lines's hub in Salt Lake City is about to get busier, and its merger with Northwest Airlines is the reason.
By June, Delta will fly new nonstop runs to five cities from Salt Lake City, resume routes to three destinations and expand service to nine more -- and the likelihood of additional service to other locations is strong.
"We just merged with Northwest, and so we are taking advantage of that strength to enhance our portfolio throughout the whole region there. It's what we were looking for with the merger, to gain that type of strength," Bob Cortelyou, Delta's senior vice president of network planning, said Wednesday.
The new routes are Bismarck, N.D.; Fargo, N.D.; Indianapolis; Milwaukee; and Nashville, Tenn. Delta will fly to Milwaukee twice a day. The rest will get service once a day.
Delta will resume flying to Des Moines, Iowa; El Paso, Texas; and Sioux Falls, S.D. Service to those cities was eliminated last year as crude oil prices spiked toward $147 a barrel. Since July, oil has receded to under $40 a barrel.
Delta will add an additional daily round-trip between its Salt Lake City hub and Baltimore; Los Angeles; Memphis, Tenn.; Oakland, Calif.; Phoenix; Portland, Ore.; Spokane, Wash.; and St. Louis. Seattle will get two additional daily flights. The extra flights will be phased in, beginning in March.
"It makes sense," said Mike Boyd, an airline analyst in Evergreen, Colo. "All those wags said airlines needed to merge in order to squeeze out more seats. What Delta is doing is squeezing in more seats. They are looking at new opportunities."
The new and resumed routes will start June 4. They are timed to begin a day after Delta launches its new five-times-a-week service from Salt Lake City to Tokyo, where Northwest has a hub at Narita International Airport outside the Japanese capital.
"Obviously we want to have more ways of getting folks to Tokyo through Salt Lake City. That was definitely part of the timing," Cortelyou said.
Many of the new cities are in the Midwest, where Northwest has traditionally been strong. By merging with Northwest, Delta will be able to tap more of the passenger base in those markets.
"Take a market like Bismarck. Northwest just served Bismarck to the east over [its hub in] Minneapolis. Sixty percent of the traffic out of Bismarck was going east. But the other 40 percent going west was kind of going on [another] carrier via another hub, maybe Denver. And so Northwest really wasn't effectively tapping into that potential traffic base there.
"Now, with Delta's historical presence in Salt Lake City and the hub there, and you combine Salt Lake now with Minneapolis, you have service east and west out of Bismarck. We're kind of like a one-stop shopping now for customers out in North Dakota to go anywhere they want," Cortelyou said.
Cortelyou said Delta continues to see "good results" in Salt Lake City, even though the economy is tanking. Demand for travel is high enough to warrant more service for Delta's westernmost airport hub, he said.
"We are finalizing a couple more announcements. We're probably two or three weeks away from that," Cortelyou said.