Delta Air Lines will retire its Boeing 777s in latest coronavirus fallout

May 14, 2020

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The coronavirus pandemic has claimed another victim in the fleets of U.S. airlines with Delta Air Lines saying that it will retire its Boeing 777s.

The Atlanta-based carrier will remove its 18 777-200s by year-end on expectations of a long and slow recovery in international travel after the crisis, Delta CEO Ed Bastian told staff in a memo on Thursday.

The move will leave Delta with a wide-body fleet made up of primarily Airbus jets by next year. This includes its A350-900 flagship that features 32 of its Delta One business class suites, and the new A330-900 that the airline debuted last July.

Delta spokesperson Morgan Durrant told TPG that there is “no additional guidance” on the future of the airline’s Boeing 767 fleet.

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Delta Air Lines takes off on July 4, 2009 in Sydney, Australia. The worlds largest airline, Delta Air Lines, took off from Sydney's International airport with its Boeing 777 for its very first flight from Australia to the United States. The flight now means that Delta fly to every continent in the world and is now complete with its daily service from the States to Australia.
A Delta 777 takes off from Sydney. (Image via Getty Images)

 

“Retiring a fleet as iconic as the 777 is not an easy decision,” Bastian told staff. “The 777 played an important role with Delta since 1999, allowing us to open new long-haul markets and grow our international network as we transformed into a global airline.”

The move comes a day after the International Air Transport Association (IATA) forecast that it could be three to four years before international travel returns to pre-COVID levels.

“We would expect to see domestic air travel markets to be opening first and international markets much slower to open,” IATA chief economist Brian Pearce said on May 13. “International air travel is really dependent on a relaxation of travel restrictions.”

Related: Air travel travel won’t return to pre-coronvirus levels until 2023

Prior to the crisis, Delta flew the 777 on its longest routes around the world, according to Cirium schedules. These include its 8,433-mile nonstop between Atlanta (ATL) and Johannesburg (JNB), and 7,797-mile nonstop between New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Mumbai (BOM) that just began in December.

It is not clear whether the A350-900 can operate these routes without restrictions, for example limiting the number of passengers onboard. The A350’s range of 9,321 miles is about 1,500-miles shorter than that of the 777-200LR.

The wide-body jets also featured some of Delta’s newest cabins. The airline only recently finished retrofitting the 777s with Delta One suites, as well as its Premium Select premium economy seats. Delta was also the only U.S. airline to offer a spacious 3-3-3 economy layout on the planes; American Airlines and United Airlines both configure economy class on their 777s in a tighter 3-4-3 seating layout.

Related: The ultimate guide to Delta One Suites

(Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)
A Delta One suite on the 777. (Photo by Nick Ellis/The Points Guy)

 

Delta’s 777s are the latest casualty of the coronavirus. The crisis is claiming hundreds of jets from airline fleets, including six types at American Airlines — A330s, Boeing 757s and 767s, Bombardier CRJ200s and Embraer E190s. Delta is also saying goodbye to its McDonnell Douglas MD-88s and MD-90s.

The 777 decision is not a complete surprise. Evercore analyst Duane Pfennigwerth told TPG in April that Delta may retire some “oddball” aircraft in its fleet, or models that it has few of with no plans to add more. The 777s are the airline’s smallest standalone fleet.

Delta had parked 677 jets due to COVID-19 as of May 13, according to an update to staff. That includes 10 of its 18 777s as well as all of its Airbus A320s.

One jet that Delta continues to fly is the Airbus A220, a plane that is both comfortable or passengers and economic for airlines.

Related: Why the new Airbus A220 is popular with airlines during the coronavirus pandemic

Featured image by Alberto Riva/The Points Guy.

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