Airline Shuttle Service – Delta Adds New Shuttle – Why Don’t Others?

By | March 21, 2010

Delta Air Lines announced on Thursday that they would add a new business shuttle service between New York-LaGuardia and Chicago-O’Hare beginning June 10th. The service will replace existing service between LaGuardia and Chicago-Midway. That isn’t unique, it is the fact this will be the first addition to the Delta Shuttle product in years.

The new shuttle service, like the current service to Washington, will be operated with Embraer 175 regional jets equipped with 12 seats in First Class and 64 seats in Economy. The service will operate eleven daily roundtrips.  “Delta’s enhanced onboard Shuttle product will be offered in both classes, including meals in First Class, and, in economy, bagels on departures before 10 a.m. and complimentary wine and Sam Adams beer.” Delta will also set up a dedicated check-in area for the Shuttle in Terminal 2 at O’Hare.

Shuttle service doesn’t work in every market. But on markets requiring a regular frequency and with a high number of business travelers as well as point-to-point passengers, it can. The traditional characteristics of shuttle service are short routes of usually an hour or so, and frequent service, often hourly.

Horizon Air operates a Shuttle between Portland and Seattle. As this, and Delta and US Airways switching the size of their plane prove, shuttle service is about a different kind of service, not a full sized aircraft.

We are pleased Delta is trying a new shuttle service and hope that such simplified service with increased amenities proves beneficial in certain key markets. Delta’s offering of more amenities on the Shuttle has always been something of a point of annoyance for many economy travelers, but it may be key to snaring business travelers away from American and United, who have well-established hubs at O’Hare and dominate the route to LaGuardia.

For LaGuardia, it does show Delta’s commitment to the New York markets. It wishes to be top at both JFK and LaGuardia. Elsewhere, it is a shame that Midway is losing this service, but they do still have Southwest, even if its number of slots at the airport is limited.

Maybe this will spawn some new Shuttle opportunities elsewhere. Certainly the Los Angeles-San Francisco market could support a more shuttlesque service, although United’s failed attempt at that would seem to indicate otherwise. But we tend to think that the failure of Shuttle by United was due to the same problems any of these attempts by legacy carriers to start a new low-cost subdivision faced.

Creating a new sub-airline out of your airline is not a good idea, by the way. So, how do you operate a simplified shuttle service with the amenities business travelers demand with the economy pricing the current economic environment demands? And how do you do so without overly segmenting your brand, or creating too much of a divide between shuttle and non-shuttle amenities?

If there were an easy answer, certainly, there would be more shuttle services.