Delta CEO Ed Bastian once surprised Boston with the news: His company would finally take full control of Logan Airport’s Terminal A, a long elusive prize.
Bastian returned to Boston this week, two years later, for a victory lap of sorts. The Atlanta-based airline’s peak daily departures will hit 141 this year at Logan, up from 115 last year. (The numbers go higher when you include Delta’s partners.) Delta soared beyond American last year, to take Logan’s No. 2 spot. New routes to Chicago O’Hare, Newark, Reagan National, and Cleveland are all on the way — making Logan its fastest-growing airport on a percentage basis this year.
And yes, Delta will take full control of the terminal that was originally planned for the company’s exclusive use.
More plans are queued up on the taxiway: Bastian told me he aims to get Delta’s peak daily departures at Logan up to 158 by the end of next year. (He’s keeping the newest destinations a secret for now.)
That means Delta will easily fly past the aggressive goal of 150 that Bastian had set in March 2017 when he stunned Massachusetts Port Authority officials with his pronouncement at the Boston College Chief Executives Club. Aviation director Ed Freni, Bastian says, nearly fell out of his chair that day.
Massport then proceeded to quietly accommodate Delta’s dreams. To make it happen, Delta needed its gates back. It’s a delicate dance, moving carriers around an airport. The final switch happens this summer when Southwest exits five gates at Terminal A, to take space opening up in Terminal B. (Delta will still sublease one of Terminal A’s 21 gates, to WestJet.)
Bastian’s latest trip to Boston included a meeting with Governor Charlie Baker and Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, an employee town hall, face-time with Delta investors, and an event sponsored by the Harvard Business School Association of Boston.
Bastian chatted about Terminal A at the Harvard Club on Tuesday night. It always bugged him, he said, that Delta “built this beautiful facility and we’ve given it to others to operate.” Massport had issued nearly $500 million in debt to construct it, with the promise that Delta’s rents would reimburse bondholders. But Delta filed for bankruptcy in 2005, the same year Terminal A opened. Delta needed to relinquish nearly half the terminal.
So why Boston, and why now? That shiny terminal beckoned. The biggest pinch point for the industry, Bastian says, is inadequate infrastructure. Here was a terminal built with today’s volume in mind. The building also represented some unfinished business.
Bastian likes the Boston market’s potent mix of corporate and leisure travel. It’s a plus that Logan is unusually close to the city’s downtown — assuming the harbor tunnels don’t get too jammed. Delta wants to be the airline that provides the necessary connections that keep this economy humming.
JetBlue, of course, may have a thing or two to say about that: Logan’s No. 1 airline is busy adding flights as well. Delta’s passenger count grew by 15.5 percent last year, compared to JetBlue’s 9.8 percent. But JetBlue added 1 million passengers, in total, compared with Delta’s additional 600,000. 150 daily flights? JetBlue is shooting for 200.
Then there’s the potential turbulence from an economic downturn. Bastian knows one is inevitable — an economy can’t keep climbing forever. But Bastian doesn’t expect it to happen within the next 12 months. And he remains confident that his company can navigate through such a storm.
Bastian likes to say Terminal A — in the works before the 9/11 attacks rattled the industry — was built for a world that didn’t end up arriving. Maybe not at the time. But now the terminal’s spaciousness has become a big asset for the high-flying airline, and no longer a liability.