By Marisa Garcia
July 2016 | The top 10 busiest air routes in the world are mostly business traveller-heavy short-haul routes. Think airport pairs such as Tokyo and Fukuoka, Sydney and Melbourne, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Toulouse and Paris, and Madrid and Barcelona.
The busiest air route in the USA is Chicago to New York with 4 million passengers in 2015, followed by Los Angeles to San Francisco (3.66 million) and Los Angeles to New York (3.4 million).
Airlines have responded to the needs of business travellers who frequently fly these trunk routes by offering high frequencies, introduce travel passes, and offer flexibility. For example, Vueling lets passengers rebook themselves on an earlier flight via their mobile app if there is a seat available.
While onboard service on short-haul routes is minimal on most carriers, Delta has reached back to the popularity of VIP shuttle services on Eastern Airlines and Pan Am by giving this profitable segment of frequent business travellers (a.k.a ‘air commuters’) extra services and privileges.
Delta Shuttle: Beyond frequencies
Delta Shuttle is the brand name for Delta’s hourly air shuttle service from NYC’s LaGuardia Airport to Boston Logan, Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport near Washington, D.C., and Chicago O’Hare. The shuttle also now operates between Los Angeles International Airport, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and San Francisco International Airport and consists of a mix of two-class Embraer E-175 regional jets flown by a Delta Connection regional partner, and Delta mainline Boeing 717 and Boeing 737-800 aircraft.
The airlines’ shuttle frequencies are marketed toward business travelers with schedules that allow same-day return trips. Elite fliers and those with certain business-oriented fares can catch earlier or later flights with no fee if their schedules change.
Delta Shuttle’s East Coast operation is a direct competitor to the American Airlines Shuttle, which also offers ‘enhanced’ shuttle-specific services and amenities.
The introduction of the Delta Shuttle service to Seattle-Tacoma International airport in May of this year has helped Delta intensify its competition with Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, which acquired San Francisco-based Virgin America earlier this year. Though Alaska Airlines still offers greater flight frequencies connecting Seattle to Los Angeles and San Francisco, Delta has made the special services and passenger experience offered onboard Delta Shuttle flights its prime differentiator.
Says Tim Mapes, Delta’s SVP Marketing: “Our new Delta Shuttle on the West Coast is designed to make doing business between Los Angeles and San Francisco easier. And with a product that’s tailored to California, we’re also making business travel more enjoyable and productive.”
On the ground: Speed and convenience
The Delta Shuttle product is tailored around the needs of business flyers rushing back from meetings. Delta Elite fliers and those paying business fares can fly an earlier flight on the return if their itinerary changes on the day.
Shuttle fliers get separate ticket counter and bag-drop areas. Passengers not checking a bag can check in as little as 20 minutes before a scheduled departure. All passengers can speed through security using the Sky Priority security line. The gates used by these flights are near the security clearance points making it easier to get to the flight in time.
In addition, in gate waiting areas at Shuttle airports, passengers are offered free newspapers and magazines, coffee, and juice.
Up in the air: Amenities
As a premium product, Delta Shuttle affords all passengers the following services and amenities not typically offered on mainline Delta flights.
On the East Coast, passengers are served a complimentary bagel on morning flights, while on West Coast routes Delta also makes up for the longer distances by offering passengers in Comfort+ a complimentary snack box from California-based lifestyle food brand Luvo, while passengers in the main cabin are offered complimentary onboard snacks provided by Nourish Snacks.
Complimentary in-flight beer, wine, spirits and other beverages are offered in all classes of service, including Starbucks coffee, wine from California’s Wente Vineyards, and craft beer from Lagunitas Brewing Company and Fremont Brewing (West Coast) and Sam Adams (East Coast).
All Shuttle flights also provide paid access to in-flight Wi-Fi and Delta SkyMiles members will earn a minimum of 500 miles for all Shuttle flights.