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Delta is the proud operator of 18 Boeing 777 aircraft and it has refitted each of these aircraft with its highly acclaimed “Delta One Suites” that have taken US airline premium cabins to a whole new level. With that in mind, it’s more than a little surprising to see Delta announce that it will be retiring all 18 of these aircraft by the end of this year.
In the press release to announce the retirement of the 777 fleet Delta acknowledges that the 777 fleet “has been the workhorse of Delta’s cargo, mail and U.S. citizen repatriation operations amid the pandemic” and it goes on to say that “[s]ince late April, the widebody jet has flown dozens of trips from Chicago and Los Angeles to Frankfurt to deliver mail to U.S. military troops abroad; operated between the U.S. and Asia to deliver thousands of pounds of critical, life-saving supplies to aid in the COVID-19 response; and carried thousands of U.S. citizens back to the U.S. from Sydney, Mumbai, Manila and other cities around the world.”
But none of that is enough to save the aircraft from retirement. Citing the current Covid-19 crisis as the reason for the move, Delta says that it needs to continue to “simplify and modernize” its fleet (the airline recently accelerated the retirement of its MD-88 & MD-90 fleets) and try to operate more cost-efficient aircraft.
I suspect that this decision comes as a result of the airline realizing that it will not be operating as many long-haul routes as it did in 2019 any time soon and that, as a result, it would have spare aircraft capacity that it couldn’t put to good use…but this is still a surprising decision.
Delta has said that going forward, it will be focusing on using aircraft like its Airbus A350s (and presumably its even newer A330-900s) which offer fuel savings of over 20% compared to the older 777s, but I’m a little surprised that the 777s are taking the hit before the airline’s 767s (a lot of which are far older than the 777s). Perhaps the airline cannot justify the capacity the 777s offer on routes that it currently operates with its antiquated 767s?
Considering Delta has just finished throwing money at the refurbishment of its 777 fleet it’s more than a little surprising to hear that all 18 of these aircraft are being retired. From a personal point of view I’ll be interested to see the retirement schedule when Delta finally publishes it as I’m scheduled to fly in a Delta 777-200 between Paris and Los Angeles right at the end of the year and I was looking forward to finally trying out the Suites. My flight booking doesn’t show an aircraft change just yet but, given that I’m set to fly just before Christmas, I’m not feeling confident that I’ll be sitting in a Delta 777 ever again.