Delta pushes back against American Airlines on a key competitive route

Jun 21, 2021

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Delta Air Lines is putting up a fight on a very competitive 958-mile route.

Over the weekend, the Atlanta-based carrier filed a notable route update: service between Austin (AUS) and Cincinnati (CVG) will now resume on Sept. 8, 2021. That’s instead of the previously scheduled date of March 1, 2022, per Cirium schedules.

Delta last flew the route in April 2020, before suspending it due to the pandemic, citing low passenger demand and other external factors.

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So, what’s Delta’s motivation to move up the restart date by nearly six months?

Delta did not comment about the move, but the schedule tweak comes on the heels of a splashy announcement from one of its Big 3 rivals, American Airlines. The Fort Worth-based carrier announced a major Austin-focused expansion less than two weeks ago, with 14 new domestic and international routes, all commencing throughout the fall.

One of the 14 new routes is, you guessed it, Austin to Cincinnati. American is planning twice-daily service beginning on Sept. 8, the same day that Delta will now restart its flight.

Delta’s boosting its Austin to Cincinnati route (Photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy)

For Delta, resuming its Cincinnati flights to coincide with American’s launch could be an attempt to thwart one of its largest competitors on a key competitive route that really hits home for Delta in both the origin and destination markets.

Delta operated a hub In Cincinnati from the mid-1980s through much of the 2000s. However, after merging with Northwest in 2008, nearby Detroit started overshadowing CVG, with the company eventually downgrading the airport to focus city status.

The pandemic only exacerbated Delta’s cuts in CVG. The airline closed its Cincinnati pilot base in 2020, with plans to do the same for its flight attendant base, too. Additionally, the airport will lose its focus city status as a result of the pandemic.

Related: Delta unveils 39 new and expanded routes to 22 destinations

Despite the hub and focus city downgrade, Cincinnati-based flyers historically have had an allegiance to Delta and its predecessors. Delta likely recognizes that and — perhaps — feels the need to defend that population from a key competitor.

The story is a bit different in Austin. Delta has reaffirmed its commitment to keeping Austin as a focus city, one of the two that will survive the pandemic (the other being Raleigh-Durham). By restarting its CVG flight earlier, the carrier can boost its relevance in the Texas capital.

Though Delta hasn’t (yet) responded to much of AA’s expansion, the AUS to CVG route is a key competitive market for the airline and one it may have felt the need to respond to most urgently.

However, American will still offer more frequencies on the route. Though both airlines will operate 76-seat regional jets in the market, AA is planning two daily flights when service starts — one more than Delta will operate in the winter season.

This isn’t the first time that Delta has responded to its competitors. In the Northeast, the carrier recently beefed up its premium lie-flat service from Boston to Los Angeles, and will launch four new Boston and New York routes that go head-to-head against the Northeast Alliance between American Airlines and JetBlue.

Only time will tell how the competition plays out across the country, but Delta is not letting American’s latest expansion fly under the radar.

Featured photo by Zach Griff/The Points Guy

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