Does Delta's West Coast shuttle make sense?

This week Delta announced they are launching a shuttle service on the west coast between Los Angeles (LAX) and San Francisco (SFO).   But a shuttle between these cities is nothing new, as a matter of fact it's been tried a number of times with the most aggressive being Shuttle by United which operated flights every 15 minutes between the two cities during the 90s on a mix of 737-300s and 737-500s. 

However, rather quickly, United learned how bad of an idea it was to run these flights.   Rarely were these flights on time, every time I flew these flights we would fly at less than 24,000 feet to minimize flight time (at the expense of fuel burn, but fuel was cheap back then), and coming out of SFO would always mean an extended hold on the tarmac waiting for a slot to take off.  Coming out of LAX was worse given the weather fluctuations that SFO experiences, it was a crap shoot.   To highlight how bad the operation would back up, it was a fairly regular occurence to see a 747-400 fly this route as much as a few times a day to play catch-up for all the delays and cancelations.  

Furthermore, there is a lot of competition from Southwest in this market.  For travelers who travel mostly within California, Southwest dominates (I still have yet to understand why).  But Delta also faces stiff competition from both United and American and United tends to dominate and protect its west coast markets. 

Let's also not forget that Delta abandoned LAX once as a hub and a lot of people who were loyal to Delta back then are still soured by that whole experience and make no secret about it.  LAX wasn't the only airport Delta did this to so they have a track record in the department.  

Lastly, LAX is a royal pain to deal with.  United and Southwest are able to drive a lot of connecting traffic through LAX as they have the feed, Delta doesn't currently use LAX as a big routing hub, so unles that changes, these flights won't be very full.   Additionally, United and Southwest both have operations at Orance County, Burbank, and Ontario that feed into SFO, giving travelers a lot more options and the ability to avoid LAX.

In my opinion, I doub this will last for the long haul, but it will be interesting to see how this fairs over time, but it's obvious the Delta Dartboard is running out of space.


Furthermore, there is a lot of competition from Southwest in this market. For travelers who travel mostly within California, Southwest dominates (I still have yet to understand why).

In my brother's case, it is because walk-ups are half the price and the whole process of changing tickets without change fees is much easier for him. Furthermore, no elite status when he's just flying up to the Bay Area from LA every other week, but with Southwest Business Select he'll get priority boarding and a free drink onboard. I tell him to use UA to save miles for our adventures in three-cabin F, but a r/t every other week is under 20K RDMs/EQMs each year (unless he buys Y or B, which are much pricier than Southwest).

James S. August 5, 2013 at 12:43 pm


You must not live in LA?

I fly United frequently and have hardly experienced delays flying into SFO. Flights are always pretty full. I'm happy for Delta... but really happy now that pricing will be even more competitive...

Amol (@PointsToPointB) August 6, 2013 at 03:19 pm

Southwest is popular in CA because try fly almost every city pair possible. Want to fly Burbank to San Jose and not deal with a CRJ? Done.

Fozz August 8, 2013 at 11:53 am

@Matthew: You're spot on with the convenience that Southwest brings that the legacies don't. The intra-California market is hard, a lot have tried it and very few have been able to survive (even Alaska has pretty much abandoned a lot of the intra-CA routes they once did).

@James: Not anymore, but I did spend a solid 18 months living in Pasadena. These days the delays aren't bad, but my points was that as they start stuffing more flights on that route (as they once used to do), the delays will add up very quickly and impact everyone.

@Amol: The full jets is a big deal as well, that combined with the flexibility it brings, makes it hard to beat for someone who is just traveling within California.

Alan August 16, 2014 at 12:00 am

Flights into and out of SFO are problematic in regard to delays (weather and the continual construction). Therefore OAK is the best option and not that much further in regard to time it takes to get there from downtown (and BART is an option for the AM / PM peak traffic congestion times.) At OAK you are limited. especially since UAL abandoned OAK (I was on the last flight which came in from Denver - there were several tears shed by the UAL staff as they had a minor celebration.) Southwest has the best schedule and frequency and if you get it down it's not bad, of course A-list plus status / business select helps. Also I have found Southwest much more transparent about delays and they have multiple flights that are rebooking options - at least in OAK, SNA and LAX. The downside for those flying into OAK is the long shuttle to the car rentals. Based in the Bay Area, I prefer BUR for most L.A. trips (unfortunately they just changed one of the great attributes of that airport - they just moved the rental cars out a country mile, they used to be right next to the terminal. It is walkable but a long hike.) If you want to stay with SFO - Jet Blue to LGB is a good way to go as is Virgin America to LAX. All that said I do miss the Alaska flights from OAK- Alaska went back to hub and spoke based in SEA and PDX and eliminated the direct inner CA flights a few years ago.