Delta Air Lines is bringing back its Mumbai service. Starting on December 22, 2019 the carrier will launch flights between New York City’s JFK Airport and India’s financial capital. The flight will operate daily on a 777-200LR aircraft featuring the Delta One suites for business class passengers and the Premium Select premium economy product, along with economy class seating.
The route represents a return of the service, previously operated from 2006 to 2009. When Delta suspended the route it blamed unfair competition from the ME3 carriers for unfairly altering the market. With the return of service Delta is choosing to highlight that claim again, calling it out several times in the press release. CEO Ed Bastian is one of two executives quoted on the topic, “This route would not be possible without the administration’s ongoing efforts to enforce fair competition in international travel, ensuring that consumers enjoy a wide range of choices as they travel the globe.”
It is unclear what impact that 2018 agreement has on the ME3 carriers’ operations to the United States or to India. All three carriers operate more flights and routes to the USA today than they did a decade ago when the service was suspended. Still, Delta believes the time is right to resume the operation.
When the resumption of Mumbai service was previously tipped Delta expected to have local feed from Jet Airways at that end of the route. That expectation no longer holds given the collapse of the Indian airline. Delta also faces significant competition in the market, despite highlighting its role as the “only nonstop service by a U.S. carrier” on the JFK-Mumbai route.
Air India flies twice daily between Mumbai and New York City, once each to Newark and JFK. While that airline’s finances remain less than stellar its role as India’s flag carrier makes it unlikely the government will allow it to fail anytime soon. United Airlines also operates a daily Newark-Mumbai flight and has since October 2007 when it was launched by Continental Airlines.
Delta’s selection of JFK for the gateway trumps its global hub in Atlanta, raising some further questions about how much politics plays into the route planning efforts. The airline had been teasing the route as a possible addition in Atlanta to the state government during recent debate over aviation fuel tax issues. Ultimately the State Assembly chose to nix the tax break, extending what is believed to be a feud around Delta’s decision to cut off a trivial fare discount to NRA members for travel to its annual conference. It is possible that the JFK choice was influenced by this decision.
JFK is also closer to Mumbai than Atlanta by some 700 miles, a not insignificant distance when it comes to ultra long-haul flying. The cost to carry the fuel for that extra bit of flying would potentially offset cargo revenue in some cases. Atlanta does offer more connection opportunities for the service – the carrier cites only 50 onward destinations from JFK – but the plans are set.