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In bold move, Delta aims to be king in New York

In an aggressive expansion, Delta Air Lines announced plans to create a new domestic hub at New York’s LaGuardia Airport, and by next summer plans to offer 264 daily flights between the airport and over 60 cities.

Delta claims the move at LaGuardia will result in service that exceeds any other airline and will make it the top domestic carrier at the three New York area airports  — the other two are John F. Kennedy International and Newark Liberty International  — with over 400 daily domestic departures to destinations nationwide. 

According to data supplied by the U.S. Department of Transportation, in the first six months of this year, JFK ranked twelfth among all U.S. airports in the number of domestic and international departures. Newark was No. 13 and LaGuardia No. 15.

Delta’s expansion is the result of an agreement, which closed on December 13, between it and US Airways to exchange take-off and landing rights at LaGuardia and Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport. 

With travel beginning either in March or July of 2012, Delta’s new markets from LaGuardia will include top business destinations Miami, Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston, Charlotte, Denver, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee and Cleveland.  In addition, it will offer new, all-jet service to Buffalo, Rochester and Syracuse, N.Y., destinations previously served with turboprop aircraft by US Airways; new flights to Wilmington, N.C., Roanoke, Va., and Burlington, Vt.; and increased frequencies to Chicago, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham and Portland, Me., business destinations Delta already serves.

The airline is also investing $100 million to create an expanded main terminal in Terminals C and D at LaGuardia, building a 600-foot connector bridge to link the two. The carrier will continue to operate its hourly shuttle flights to Boston, Washington, D.C. and Chicago from LaGuardia’s Marine Air Terminal.

The move will put Delta "in nearly all of the top 50 domestic markets at LaGuardia, and that means it's more convenient because it is the businessman's airport of choice," said Delta's Gail Grimmett, senior vice president, New York, speaking at a press conference on Friday.

Henry Harteveldt, co-founder of the Atmosphere Research Group, said Delta’s expansion is designed to make the carrier “the preferred airline for New York business travelers. If you want to get someone’s travel to Dubai, you also need to be able to take them to Dallas and Detroit.”

He said the strategy presents a challenge to American, now operating under Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which already had scaled back its presence at LaGuardia, as well as to JetBlue, which has a large operation at JFK. “Many cities Delta will serve from LaGuardia are served by JetBlue out of JFK,” Harteveldt said.

“The convenience of LaGuardia really gives Delta a big, big advantage,” Harteveldt added. “It’s now going to be a dogfight between Delta at LaGuardia” and United at Newark, which has taken over Continental’s hub there, “for ownership of New York.”

Also on the plus side for travelers, according to Harteveldt, are the Wi-Fi service Delta offers on much of its fleet, and regional jet aircraft that offer both Wi-Fi and first-class services.

Michael Derchin, airline analyst for CRT Capital Group in Stamford, Conn., said travelers could expect improved schedules, but he predicted fares would not decline and could even go higher, “since it’s easier to raise fares if there’s less competition.”

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