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Delta Air Lines

This Airline Has the Oldest Fleet of Any U.S. Carrier, but It’s Getting Younger in a Hurry

This Airline Has the Oldest Fleet of Any U.S. Carrier, but It’s Getting Younger in a Hurry
Jeff Edwards

By today’s standards, Delta Air Lines may have a relatively ancient fleet of planes, but the carrier is aggressively replacing older equipment with newer aircraft.

Delta Air Lines considers the brand-new Airbus A321 to be the carrier’s flagship aircraft. In the coming years, the airline expects to bring the number of A321s entering service to at least 122 new planes.

Delta officials have been busy touting the modern advantages of the shiny new aircraft. The A321 features over-sized overhead storage bins, in-seat charging outlets on every row in most cases, private suites and a state-of-the-art inflight entertainment system, as well as jet lag-reducing amenities such as full spectrum LED lighting, larger windows and better pressurization. The flagship aircraft also has less glamorous advantages, like wingtip sharklets that will increase fuel efficiency by as much as 4 percent.

“The A321 is fast becoming a favorite aircraft of our customers and employees alike,” Delta VP Greg May explained in a statement announcing that the carrier would increase its Airbus order by at least ten new jets. “Its excellent operating economics and customer capacity also make it a great fit for our U.S. domestic network.”

Meanwhile, the airline has announced that it will purchase at least 20 new Bombardier CRJ900 planes to replace older regional jet aircraft flown by its Delta Connection partners. The new regional jets will also feature amenities including larger overhead storage, bigger lavatories and exclusive Atmosphère Cabins.

Despite Delta’s aggressive plans to update its aging fleet, Yahoo Finance reports that the legacy carrier has one of the oldest fleets of any major U.S. airline. Only ultra-low-cost-carrier Allegiant Air has an older average fleet age.

Delta’s business model may allow the airline to fly older aircraft longer than many of its North American competitors. While airlines like Southwest and JetBlue depend on low fuel and maintenance costs in order to keep fares low, Delta is more able to attract customers with comfort and convenience (which the company can often accomplish just as easily with older planes as it can with newer aircraft).

In 2014, when Delta’s average plane was even older than the average aircraft in its fleet today, industry expert Richard Aboulafia, Vice President of Analysis at Washington-based Teal Group, told FlyerTalk that the hype surrounding the advantages of new aircraft might be somewhat overstated.

“I would urge everyone who follows the industry to ignore those statements.” Aboulafia noted that when an airline makes claims about the age of its fleet, it is more likely trying to woo investors rather than passengers. “If you’re an airline, you’re not selling your fleet, you’re selling your product. The last time I flew Delta long-haul, it was on an ex-Northwest 747, and I didn’t mind because my business class seat was gorgeous.”

Since then, Delta has retired its Boeing 747 planes from regularly scheduled service and has made a substantial investment in updating its fleet. While Delta’s fleet is getting younger, the competition certainly isn’t standing pat. Southwest Airlines which has historically had among the youngest average fleets of any U.S. airline, has agreed to purchase at least 40 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft in a deal valued at more than $4 billion.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

View Comments (5)

5 Comments

  1. JFKflyer26

    July 17, 2018 at 5:45 pm

    I think you mean the A350 not A321 as their flagship aircraft. The A321 is a narrow body used for domestic routes.

  2. SF1K

    July 17, 2018 at 6:13 pm

    The A321 is there flagship? I’m thinking that’s not correct. Are you sure you don’t mean the A350?

    The A321 does not have private suites.

  3. RoadDog89

    July 18, 2018 at 11:52 am

    The A321 will NOT have suites. This article is very clearly not correct. DL has in fact ordered 100 new A321, but its not a flagship. They do have 14 new A359 on order though.

  4. KRSW

    July 19, 2018 at 11:11 am

    Whoever wrote this obviously doesn’t fly much. As the others have noted, the A350 is their new flagship.

    Additionally, DL may have “ancient” planes, but they’re extremely well-maintained. Even the venerable Mad Dogs have had interior upgrades, including LED lighting. Other than the lack of IFE, the Mad Dogs have become one of my favorite aircraft to fly on. As long as you’re up front, it’s one of the quietest planes out there. DL knows that all passengers know/see is what the interior looks like. As long as the interior’s in good shape and kept updated, people think it’s new enough & safe.

    DL also has Delta TechOps, a repair/maintenance operation that is so good even other legacy carriers send their aircraft to them. When you can do all of your maintenance in-house and the aircraft are paid for, why bother retiring them? Sure, they’re not the most fuel-efficient, but why put the 2-hr flight wear & tear cycles on a brand new aircraft when you can beat these birds up before sending them out to the graveyard?

    Also, these are commercial aircraft, NOT cars. 20+ years old is still young for aircraft. I’ve been on many 40-60 year old aircraft with no worries about their safety.

  5. Roneill000

    July 22, 2018 at 10:43 am

    Flew Delta One earlier this year JFK-FCO on a 767-400 in row one. The bulkhead trim was pulled away from the panel as was the fabric. The seat wouldn’t recline and wasn’t attended to until after the meal service (2 hours). The IFE quit a few minutes in was out for an hour, quit again, then came back with most of the selections unavailable. Other than an over heated cabin and below average food, the rest was fine.

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