Delta Air Lines Inc. is expanding service to the Middle East from both of its East Coast hubs, reinforcing strong footholds in what the Atlanta-based carrier sees as one of the world’s hottest aviation markets.
Delta said May 19 that it will launch a new nonstop flight from Atlanta to Kuwait City, on Nov. 7 and extend its nonstop Atlanta-Dubai service from six-day to daily service beginning in October.
The announcement comes as nonstop routes from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport to Cairo, Egypt, and Amman, Jordan, are set to begin June 5 and 6, respectively.
“Traffic between the United States and the Middle East (makes it) one of the fastest-growing regions in aviation,” Glen Hauenstein, Delta’s executive vice president for network and revenue management, said in a statement.
With the expansion, Delta will have 37 daily frequencies to the region, more than any other U.S. carrier, Mr. Hauenstein said.
The new flight to Kuwait shows Delta’s faith in the resilience of the Middle East market, evidenced by the strong Dubai flight.
“Most definitely the success in the Dubai flight has led us to explore the Middle East further and identify underserved markets,” Susan Elliott, a Delta spokeswoman, told GlobalAtlanta.
This confidence comes at a time of uncertainty in the airline industry, as the decline of the U.S. dollar and a slow consumer economy have cast doubt on airlines’ ability to raise fares enough to combat rising fuel costs.
Record oil prices have triggered consolidation talks in the industry, the most notable result thus far being Delta’s agreement to merge with Northwest Airlines Corp., which currently serves the Middle East through a partnership with KLM Royal Dutch Airlines.
Ms. Elliott said that high fuel costs have led to some cutbacks in Delta’s domestic service, but the airline’s more profitable international routes continue to expand.
“When you’re dealing with climate we are with record fuel prices, international is still making money for us,” she said.
Delta has made branching out into new international routes a main component of its business strategy since 2005, a process that accelerated after it came out of bankruptcy in early 2007 and will continue to grow if the merger is confirmed.
Domestic capacity still makes up about 60 percent of Delta’s revenue, but Ms. Elliott said the ratio is moving toward an even split.
“The international profit potential is that with the global economy, there’s more business demand,” Lee Macenczak, Delta’s executive vice president for sales and marketing, told GlobalAtlanta in Shanghai, China, the day after Delta launched much-anticipated nonstop service there.
Fare structures are more stable international markets, and “obviously, the longer the routes, the more people are willing to pay for creature comforts,” Mr. Macenczak said at the time.
Amenities on the new routes will be similar to those found Delta’s on existing Middle East service–Arabic- or Hebrew-speaking flight attendants, halal or kosher food offerings, leather sleeper seats in business class, upgraded amenity kits in both classes and touch-screen entertainment systems.
Delta currently flies from Atlanta and New York to Tel Aviv, Israel, and from New York to Istanbul, Turkey.