Recent profits at Delta Air Lines have been among the largest ever recorded by a commercial carrier, yet the U.S. major continues to operate one of the oldest fleets of any big airline.
Delta’s 832 aircraft have an average age of 17 years, which is about three times the average of the entire Chinese airline sector.
Among Delta’s most venerable aircraft are its 101 Boeing 757-200 narrowbodies, which average almost 20 years old.
In late 2015, however, Delta decided to refit 14 of these with new cabins, featuring lie-flat seats, noise-cancelling headphones and the latest IFE systems. In April some of those refitted 757-200s will begin daily nonstop services from Los Angeles to Washington, and from Boston to San Francisco.
Will passengers care that they are flying on aircraft that first saw service during Clinton’s presidency? Almost certainly not, reckons Delta, which has bet, probably correctly, that the average person would take a de Havilland Comet for a snazzy seat and free wi-fi (as well as, admittedly, a solid safety record).
Many low-cost carriers, in contrast, have pressed ahead with fleet renewal, although this is no guarantee that their aircraft are more comfortable.
Instead, better fuel efficiency should allow them to offer lower fares, enabling competition on price rather than customer experience, in which full-service carriers such as Delta have invested billions.
However, cheap fuel has eroded the former differential, allowing many airlines to put off fleet modernization for the time being.
In Delta’s case, the 757’s unique range and size combination provide an added draw. Some will ask, however, that if one of the world’s most successful airlines is forced to re-upholster seats in 20-year-old airframes, isn’t there space for a direct replacement?