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Delta throttles up service at Austin airport after American cuts flights

A Delta Airlines plane taxis past the air traffic control tower at Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Nov. 13, 2023.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
Nonstop flights are down in Austin compared to last year, largely due to cuts by American Airlines. But Delta Airlines is growing capacity by 20% over last year.

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After years of booming growth, Austin-Bergstrom International Airport's (ABIA) flight activity is slowing down. Right now, the city-owned airport provides nonstop connections to 77 cities — a 9% dip from last April. Daily departures are down by 4% to 253 flights.

Compared to 2023, the first four months of the year have each seen a decline in the number of seats on flights, an industry metric that factors in both the number of flights and plane capacity.

City staff expect small increases in May, June and July, but this follows gains of 30% to 40% per year since the post-pandemic travel rebound. ABIA is still over-capacity — serving more than 20 million travelers a year in a facility built for 15 million — and working on a major expansion.

One jumbo factor in flight volumes is American Airlines' move to slash 21 routes, more than half its destinations from Austin. The last of those cuts took effect this month with service ending to holiday hotspots Liberia, Costa Rica, and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. Spirit Airlines cut some flights, too.

This year also saw Virgin Atlantic end direct flights to London, citing less interest from businesses, especially tech firms.

But as some airlines vacate gates, Delta Airlines is launching 11 new flights from Austin this month — destinations include McAllen, Midland/Odessa, Nashville, Cincinnati and Raleigh-Durham — representing a 20% increase in Delta's service over last year. It's the first time Delta is using Austin as a connecting point, requiring travelers worldwide to pass through ABIA to reach Midland and McAllen.

The departures board at ABIA showing Delta's new flight to Midland/Odessa.
Joseph McCulloch
Delta began flying from Austin to Midland/Odessa on April 22.

Southwest still has the biggest presence in Austin by far, accounting for about 45% of seats available out of Austin. American is in second place with 19% of seat capacity, but Delta has strengthened its third-place position to 14%.

"We don't create demand. We follow the demand, so we're always looking across the country at cities where we see outsized economic development, outsized demand for air travel, and especially cities that fit really well with the Delta brand," explained Delta's Eric Beck, who helps decide which cities the airline serves in the United States.

Delta tried to sear that brand in the brains of South by Southwest attendees this year by sponsoring the music and technology festival for the first time. The airline took over a three-story restaurant and bar — Estelle's at 400 Colorado St. — and dished out free food, drinks and swag to members of its Sky Miles reward program. A select few were invited to intimate events in the basement featuring stars like actor and writer Issa Rae of HBO's Insecure and Austin BBQ giant Aaron Franklin.

Hundreds of Delta SkyMiles members with SXSW Badge waiting in line on the last day of the Delta Lounge on March 12, 2024.
Patricia Lim
KUT News
Hundreds of people lined up outside Estelle's at 400 Colorado St. during South by Southwest to enter the "Delta Lounge," which offered free food and drink to people who signed up for the SkyMiles reward program. It was the first year Delta was an official sponsor of SXSW.

By splurging on marketing in Austin, Delta was trying to reach business travelers and grab the attention of Generation Z, a demographic the airline's top marketing executive defines as people between the ages of 12 and 26.

"This sense of building a savings and equity is not something that they're as invested in as the Boomer population was, so they're more in this notion of, 'As I get, I want to spend,'" said Delta's Alicia Tillman, whose marketing career included stints at American Express and the global software firm SAP.

"They work hard. They want to play hard," she said. "Travel experiences are at the top of the list in terms of where Gen Z wants to invest their money." Delta’s free onboard WiFi has attracted 2 million new SkyMiles sign-ups, Tillman said, predominantly from Gen Z.

Travel writer Joseph McCulloch, although slightly older than Gen Z, flies 50 to 100 times a year for work and leisure, chronicling his experiences on

McCulloch tried to catch the first Delta flight from Austin to McAllen last week for fun because he's "a little bit crazy" and tickets were "dirt cheap" at around $100. The evening flight was delayed, so he canceled the overnight trip. But he's planning to try again this Friday.

"I've been waiting for a few years to see what Delta's plan was with Austin," he said, pointing to Delta labeling Austin a "Focus City" in 2018, with plans to devote more resources to ABIA, and a 9,000 square foot Delta lounge that opened at the east end of the Barbara Jordan Terminal in 2019.

"But they didn't really seem to do anything other than run flights to their other hubs. So these [flights] now to Orlando, Vegas, Nashville, Midland or McAllen are really the first markets that don't touch a Delta hub or another Delta 'Focus City,'" he said.

Travelers standing in line with baggage waiting to go through security. The line is long, so it wraps around a corner and you can't see the end of it.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
Even though flight volumes have leveled off, ABIA is still serving more than 20 million passengers per year in a facility designed to handle 15 million. So the city is pushing ahead with an airport expansion worth at least $4 billion.

Delta is now the fastest-growing airline at ABIA, but it's not the only one adding flights this year.

New nonstop destinations include Air Canada’s flights to Montreal beginning May 3, Frontier’s route to Cleveland, Ohio, starting May 16, and Allegiant’s new connection to Eugene, Oregon, on May 31.

Southwest starts new service to Boston on June 6, joining Delta, American, and JetBlue in serving the route.

Other recent air service changes at ABIA:

  • West Jet will resume service to Calgary, Canada on April 28.
  • Alaska Airlines suspended seasonal service to Boise, Idaho.
  • Hawaiian Airlines will add a fourth weekly flight to Honolulu from May 25 to Sept. 2.
  • JetBlue is stopping service to Fort Lauderdale, Florida, after April 30.
  • Southwest began Saturday-only service to San Juan, Puerto Rico, in March and plans flights to Louisville, Kentucky, on May 2 and 5 for the Kentucky Derby.
  • VivaAerobus started new service to Monterrey, Mexico in March.
  • Aeromexico will run larger, 160-seat planes to Mexico City instead of 99-seat planes starting June 21.
Nathan Bernier is the transportation reporter at KUT. He covers the big projects that are reshaping how we get around Austin, like the I-35 overhaul, the airport's rapid growth and the multibillion-dollar transit expansion Project Connect. He also focuses on the daily changes that affect how we walk, bike and drive around the city. Got a tip? Email him at Follow him on X @KUTnathan.
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