The Boeing 777 has been a long haul workhorse for Delta since 1999, but it won’t make it past a 21st birthday. The airline, in a surprising twist, plans to retire the Boeing 777 by the end of the year, even after just completing entirely new retrofits across all cabins. For passengers, it’s a mix of good news and sadness, but for Delta, a big boost in cost savings.
The Boeing 777 is the largest plane in Delta’s fleet, and with passenger numbers down, it’s going to be the hardest to fill. Not only that, the plane came just before the new era of aircraft such as the Boeing 787 and Airbus A350 which use composite materials to create meaningful 20-30% reductions on fuel consumption.
When a return to travel begins, questions will remain about environmental impact, and it’s clearly something Delta is taking to heart. Gil West, Delta’s COO described the difficult decision in a release, stating…
“We’re making strategic, cost-effective changes to our fleet to respond to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic while also ensuring Delta is well-positioned for the recovery on the backside of the crisis. The 777 has been a reliable part of Delta’s success since it joined the fleet in 1999 and because of its unique operating characteristics, opened new non-stop, ultra-long-haul markets that only it could fly at that time.”
The Boeing 777 was one of two Delta types to feature the most spacious Delta One Suites in business class, as well as new Premium Select, Main Cabin and Economy seating. Those seeking the utmost seclusion in business class will now turn to the Airbus A350-900, and Airbus A330-900neo, with further modifications expected on the airlines remaining Boeing 767 fleet.
It’s unclear at this point which aircraft will fill Delta’s variety of Boeing 777 routes, including Los Angeles-Paris, and Los Angeles-Sydney, but the Airbus A350-900 is the only aircraft in Delta’s fleet with the capability to fill the 777’s shoes on the longest routes. For what it’s worth, a modified version of the Airbus A350-900 currently operates the world’s longest flight, between Singapore and New York’s Newark Airport.
Does this matter for Boeing? Not really. Delta didn’t have any new orders on the books for Boeing 777 aircraft, which means the airline will just rely greater on scheduled deliveries from Airbus of the A330 and A350 fleets. The A350 is arguably the best plane in the sky for passenger experience, with improved cabin pressure, noise and other elements which can reduce jet lag. It’s sad news for Boeing fans, but generally good news for travelers.