Everyone who's written about Delta's announcement that it is adding a first-class section to the MD-88s it uses on its Shuttle operation -- myself included -- has overlooked one obvious reason for the move, pointed out to me today by Joe Brancatelli: Fleet flexibility as the Shuttle market shrinks.
"With a standard configuration of first/coach, the planes no longer have to be dedicated to the shuttle runs," he notes. Instead, they can be redeployed, as needed, on the regular fleet for longer-route service.
As I said on Friday, the roundtrip Shuttle fare between New York and Washington or Boston is nearly $700. Whoa. This, of course, is exactly what individual fliers and corporate travel departments have been saying as well, and Shuttle traffic has been softening. The Wall Street collapse will only add to that.
I don't think Delta's move had much if anything to do with the extra $100 to $200 it might theoretically wring out of Shuttle users for first-class seats, because the coach fare is already so daunting. As Delta made a big point of saying, the new first-class section will enable elite-status fliers to get free upgrades.
So it's a perk and a ploy.
As to the bus: Obviously, a cheap ride on one of those new bus shuttle boutique services is an option for business travelers, but it takes half the day on the bus, so it's not for someone who has to rush to Washington (or New York) at the last minute, which is where the core of the Shuttle market is -- or was.
Amtrak isn't a lot faster than the bus, but it's a lot cheaper than the Delta or US Air shuttles. And, of course, it's a lot greener than either.