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TravelDelta confident Austin expansion will pay off, plug Texas gap in its...

Delta confident Austin expansion will pay off, plug Texas gap in its route map

Delta Air Lines is confident in the prospects for its growing Austin focus city, even as its competitor American Airlines has pulled back on some of its own post-coronavirus pandemic expansion in the Texas capital.

The Atlanta-based carrier is “quite pleased” with the performance of its flights at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) said Amy Martin, Delta’s vice president of North America network planning, at the Routes Americas conference in Bogota, Colombia, on Wednesday. Beyond its main hub cities, Austin sits alongside Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU) and Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG) as one of three focus cities in Delta’s network.

That pleasing performance is driving Delta’s expansion in Austin. It will add new intrastate nonstops to McAllen and Midland-Odessa — two Texas destinations that it will only serve from Austin — as well as a nonstop to Nashville on April 22. The airline will also add more flights to Cincinnati and Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina, the same day.

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The growth comes as competitor American Airlines culled 21 routes from Austin at the beginning of the year. The rapid growth of competition in the market, as well as pilot scope clause restrictions, contributed to American’s decision to pull back in the city.

Austin emerged from the pandemic as one of the fastest-growing airports in the U.S. Passenger numbers were up 16% to 20.1 million last year compared to 2019, airport data shows.

American remains the second-largest airline in Austin with a nearly 19% share of seats in the second quarter, according to Cirium Diio schedules. Southwest Airlines is the largest with a 44% share, and Delta is third with a nearly 15% share.

Austin is scheduled to see 0.5% more seats in the second quarter than it did a year ago, Cirium Diio schedules show. Seats will be up an impressive 35% on Delta and 9% on Southwest; seats on American will be down 19%.

“Austin is a growing, very dynamic market,” Martin said. “This is an opportunity we feel has a good local market — we see it getting stronger — and [we’re] trying to build our presence to make sure we can serve everybody in Austin and everybody that needs to get to Austin.”

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She acknowledged that Texas is a “hole” in Delta’s route map. That map includes four core hubs in Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis-St. Paul and Salt Lake City, plus four coastal hubs in Boston, Los Angeles, New York and Seattle-Tacoma. The airline has had a reduced presence in Texas since it closed its Dallas-Fort Worth hub in 2005.

Now, the expansion in Austin — in addition to serving the local market — aims to close that hole. While the local market is Delta’s top priority in Austin, Martin said the carrier does count on some connecting travelers to make its new routes work.

“[Austin] is well positioned in the middle of the country so that you can drive some good, strong connectivity,” she said.

From April, Delta will serve 15 destinations nonstop from the city. Delta partners Aeromexico and KLM also serve Austin.

Martin was mum on where Delta plans to fly to next from Austin. The main focus, she indicated, will continue to be catering to local travelers and where they want to go.

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