Delta and Air France shrink on transatlantic; Belgium and Switzerland markets grow most

Growing the most of the big airlines flying across the North Atlantic is Swiss, which has grown capacity along with its Star Alliance partner US Airways. Meanwhile, the biggest airline in the market, Delta, and its transatlantic joint venture partner Air France have downsized their capacity considerably.

Traffic across the North Atlantic, here defined as between Europe and the US & Canada, may have seen capacity shrink by a percent since last summer in wake of the difficulties currently faced by many European economies, but the two markets remain the biggest long-haul destinations from Europe, with the US alone being served with 3.5 times more capacity from Europe than China.

Top 12 transatlantic airlines Weekly one-way seat capacity: S12 vs S11 (change)

Source: OAG Schedules iNET for w/c 13 August 2012 and 15 August 2011

The two biggest airlines in the transatlantic market, Delta and United, have both downsized capacity in the last year, making the #3 airline in the market, British Airways, the largest airline to grow. Delta’s 8% shrinkage is considerable and the only airline in the top 12 list to downsize more is its transatlantic joint venture partner Air France, which has reduced its capacity by almost 15%.

At the other end of the spectrum is Swiss from the competing immunised transatlantic joint venture of select Star Alliance partners. Swiss has grown by more than 14% in the transatlantic market in the last year, however, the airline’s offered capacity is so much lower than that of its parent Lufthansa that Swiss’ increase of some 2,100 weekly seats does not compensate for Lufthansa’s reduction of 3,500 seats.

Along with British Airways, a second British carrier has grown in the transatlantic market in the last year. Virgin Atlantic, which has increased capacity to North America by over 7% in the last year, is notable for ranking #8 in spite of being a relatively small airline overall. Although the airline’s 5.3 million passenger throughput last year puts it well behind a large number of airlines on both sides of the Atlantic, Virgin Atlantic’s (currently) all-long haul network has a strong transatlantic focus and puts the airline just behind Air France on the transatlantic top list, even though Air France overall transports more than ten times as many passengers as Virgin Atlantic.

Air Transat is another smaller carrier that sticks out. The Canadian leisure carrier’s transatlantic capacity is, however, highly seasonal and the airline’s November capacity across the Atlantic is only a tenth of what it offers in August.

US-UK dominates with a quarter of all capacity

Top 12 transatlantic country pairs Weekly one-way seat capacity: S12 vs S11 (change)

Source: OAG Schedules iNET for w/c 13 August 2012 and 15 August 2011

The dominant market across the North Atlantic is between the United States and the United Kingdom, which alone makes up a quarter of all European capacity out of North America. The second-largest market, the market between the US and Germany that has grown somewhat faster in the last year, is only 61% the size.

In spite of France riding through the European economic crisis somewhat better than many of Europe’s other large countries, the French market has seen the biggest reductions in the last year from both Canada and the US. Meanwhile, the smaller markets Belgium and Switzerland have seen considerable capacity increases from the US since last August.

Adding to the already biggest transatlantic market was United’s new route between Washington Dulles and Manchester in May, while the Belgian market’s growth was helped by Brussels Airlines’ entry to the transatlantic market with a New York JFK route from Brussels in June.

Although capacity changes have been made to already operating routes, has recorded some 20 new routes launching across the North Atlantic this summer scheduling season, as detailed in the table below.

Date Airline Origin Destination WF
10-May-12 airberlin Düsseldorf (DUS) Las Vegas, NV (LAS) 2
11-May-12 airberlin Berlin Tegel (TXL) Los Angeles, CA (LAX) 3
03-Apr-12 American Airlines Miami, FL (MIA) Barcelona (BCN) 7
07-Jun-12 Arkefly Amsterdam (AMS) Las Vegas, NV (LAS) 1
07-Jun-12 Arkefly Amsterdam (AMS) Oakland, CA (OAK) 2
10-Jun-12 Arkefly Amsterdam (AMS) Los Angeles, CA (LAX; via Oakland/OAK) 1
01-Jun-12 Brussels Airlines Brussels (BRU) New York JFK, NY (JFK) 7
22-Jun-12 Condor Frankfurt (FRA) Toronto (YYZ) 2
02-Jul-12 Condor Frankfurt (FRA) Baltimore/Washington, MD (BWI) 2
24-Mar-12 Delta Seattle, WA (SEA) Paris CDG (CDG) 7
02-Jun-12 Delta Detroit, MI (DTW) Paris CDG (CDG) 7
25-May-12 Edelweiss Air Zurich (ZRH) Tampa, FL (TPA) 2
10-May-12 Icelandair Reykjavik (KEF) Denver, CO (DEN) 4
13-Jun-12 Sunwing Airlines Toronto Pearson (YYZ) Glasgow (GLA) 2
16-Jun-12 Sunwing Airlines Toronto Pearson (YYZ) Barcelona (BCN) 1
29-Apr-12 Transaero Moscow Domodedovo (DME) Los Angeles, CA (LAX) 2
01-May-12 United Washington Dulles, VA (IAD) Manchester (MAN) 7
07-Jun-12 United Washington Dulles, VA (IAD) Dublin (DUB) 7
01-Jul-12 United New York Newark, NJ (EWR) Istanbul Atatürk (IST) 7
24-May-12 Virgin Atlantic London Heathrow (LHR) Vancouver (YVR) 4
26-May-12 XL Airways France Paris CDG (CDG) San Francisco, CA (SFO) 2
Source: new route database, OAG Schedules iNET

Although listed as a new route, Delta’s Seattle route was notably taken over from its partner Air France.

Among the announcements already made for the start of the next summer scheduling season are two San Francisco routes with two Star Alliance partners; United’s daily flights to Paris CDG and SAS’ six flights a week from Copenhagen. This is SAS’ return to the US West Coast after the airline dropped its long-running Seattle route in July 2009. The new service is presumed to result in the Scandinavian flag carrier reducing Asian capacity. Announced to launch at somewhat lower frequencies are Turkish Airlines’ four weekly flights between Istanbul Atatürk and Houston Intercontinental, where the Star Alliance airline connects with its partner United, and airberlin’s thrice-weekly operations from Berlin Tegel to Chicago O’Hare, hub for its oneworld partner American Airlines.


  1. Rigas Doganis says:

    The most interesting aspect of this analysis is the differential behaviour of the 3 global alliances. Skyteam cut weekly capacity by 18,600 seats while Star cut only around 7,500 . Surprisingly oneworld , that is mainly BA , offered 3,400 more seats.

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