Delta Air Lines, Air France-KLM and Alitalia will sharply reduce flights across the Atlantic starting this fall, after airlines added too much flying on those routes just as fuel prices shot up.
The change will leave travelers between the U.S. and Europe with fewer choices. Delta began adding more trans-Atlantic flying toward the end of 2010. In November it announced new flights from Boston and Miami to London, as well as additional flights from New York to Paris and Seattle to Amsterdam, among others.
Delta and its partners said they will cut flying capacity by seven percent to nine percent starting this fall. The reduction means that the amount of flying they do will drop about 15 percentage points compared to the growth they had planned previously, Delta President Ed Bastian said on Thursday.
Bastian said the changes would include eliminating some markets and reducing flights to others, although neither Delta nor Air France-KLM identified particular cities that would see flight cuts.
Delta and Air France-KLM are two of the world's biggest airlines by traffic. Air France executives said on a conference call on Thursday that they met with Delta CEO Richard Anderson in New York about two weeks ago to talk about the cuts, which one of the executives likened to "bargaining" as they worked out who would reduce flying, and where. Airlines that want to cut flying can either cut a route altogether, put a smaller plane on it, or reduce the number of trips each day. The joint venture between Delta and Air France-KLM currently uses 144 planes on 260 daily flights, Delta said.
Bastian said Delta alone would cut flying across the Atlantic 10 percent to 12 percent starting after Labor Day in early September.
Antitrust laws normally bar airlines from working together on routes and fares. But Delta, Air France-KLM and Alitalia won a government exemption that allows them to coordinate, and to share revenue from the flights. They still compete with other joint ventures that include the other two big U.S. airlines that fly to Europe, United and American.
"We're really moving our joint venture to be a single airline for purposes of planning" flying across the Atlantic, Anderson told Delta workers in a hot line message recorded Thursday.
Robert Mann, an airline consultant in Port Washington, N.Y., said he expects those other joint ventures to cut capacity to Europe, too. He said joint ventures now control about three-quarters of the flying across the Atlantic.
"This is the kind of capacity management you're going to get," he said. "It's going to be proactive, it's going to be abrupt, and it's going to be collective. And we've permitted it."
Fuel prices have risen almost 27 percent as of March compared with March 2010, according to the Air Transport Association.
Delta Air Lines Inc. is based in Atlanta. Air France KLM is based in Paris and Alitalia is headquartered in Rome. Delta shares rose 45 cents, or 4.1 percent, to close at $11.38.
Freed reported from Minneapolis. AP Airlines Writer Samantha Bomkamp in New York contributed to this report.