The Atlanta-based airline emerged from Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection last week, and unveiled an aggressive global expansion strategy. The company already serves 109 airports in 51 countries outside the United States.
In a briefing, Delta Chief Executive Gerry Grinstein told the Irish Echo he was delighted with last month’s “Open Skies” agreement between the U.S. and the European Union, predicting that the accord would mean his airline would be able to land more planes at London’s Heathrow airport.
“The other big thing is that it ends the Shannon stopover requirement — so we can get a better balance there,” Grinstein added.
The Shannon stopover rule, under which every second transatlantic flight must stop in the County Clare airport on its way to or from Dublin, has long been controversial. While people in the Southwest of Ireland regard it as a boon to local tourism and business, travelers using the far larger Dublin airport regard it as an unnecessary inconvenience.
Grinstein’s comments will be interpreted as evidence Delta intends to increase the number of flights to Dublin from both New York’s JFK airport and Atlanta.
Last month, Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary said he was considering starting a low-cost transatlantic airline, serving Dublin, Barcelona, London, Frankfurt, New York, San Francisco, San Diego, Boston, Dallas and Florida
Delta’s chief executive said was “skeptical” about the viability of such an airline, suggesting that Delta’s transatlantic economy fares were already very low, which would reduce the financial gains for a new entrant.
But he added: “Michael O’Leary is not someone you deal lightly with. It’s something you keep in your mind, you have to plan for it.”
Grinstein also unveiled Delta’s new reclining business class seats, which feature more leg room and a state-of-the-art digital personal video system. The move may tempt Irish and American business travelers away from Aer Lingus, which has not updated its business class for many years.
As well as transatlantic routes, the company also plans a rapid expansion of its routes to Latin America, especially out of Atlanta. As part of this, executives say, the airline will schedule these departures later in the day, to allow travelers from Ireland and elsewhere in Europe to connect through Atlanta.
Such connections through Atlanta are currently hampered by the fact that passengers transiting through the airport are forced to enter the United States as visitors, enduring long lines at Homeland Security, only to “leave” the U.S. minutes later to board their connecting flight. Delta and other airlines are lobbying the U.S. authorities to permit transit passengers to remain on the “air” side of the airport.