Delta plans terminal upgrades, new flights at JFK

By Philip Newman

Delta Air Lines plans to spend $300 million upgrading terminals, taking back furloughed flight attendants and removing jetliners from storage in a major Kennedy Airport expansion delayed by the World Trade Center attack.

Queens Borough President Helen Marshall said she was delighted at the news.

Under the expansion, which some observers see as a challenge to JetBlue at the Forest Hills-based carrier’s home airport, Delta plans to fly to eight new destinations from JFK, including Denver, Fort Myers, Fla. and San Juan, which JetBlue already serves.

Delta officials said it was a step toward fulfilling a commitment Delta made in October 2000 when it announced with fanfare that it would spend $1.6 billion, the greatest investment in Delta history, to vastly increase service at JFK.

The plan was sidelined less than a year later by the attack on the World Trade Center.

“New York is the world’s largest air travel market and is a major focus of Delta’s growth plans,” said Vickie Escarra, Delta executive vice president and chief marketing officer.

“New Yorkers may have to pardon our dust for a while, but the improved travel experience will be well worth it.”

Besides bringing back 200 flight attendants, Delta said it planned to bring in nearly 100 gate and ticket agents, some from furlough and others to be reassigned to JFK from other airports.

Delta also plans to return to the skies 16 jetliners sidelined by cutbacks in a business downturn.

It was uncertain how many cockpit crews would be involved in the new service. Delta is involved in labor negotiations with its pilots, who have steadfastly resisted demands for heavy pay cuts.

Gerald Grinstein, who took over as Delta chief executive office Jan. 1, said in Atlanta last week that the airline must reduce costs.

“There can’t be any sacred cows,” Grinstein said. “Everything is open.”

Delta, the nation's third largest airline, reported a $327 million net loss for the fourth quarter, bringing the loss for 2003 to $773 million. Delta lost $1.27 billion in 2002.

Although some analysts saw Delta’s plans at JFK as a challenge to JetBlue, neither airline said they saw it as such,

“Competition from Delta and other airlines is not new for JetBlue and four years after we began flying, we’re the largest airline at JFK,” said Gareth Edmondson-Jones of JetBlue. “The important goal for us is to just keep focusing on our customers.”

Delta said that rather than a challenge to JetBlue, the new plan amounted to a resumption of its grand plan for JFK announced only months before the attack on the World Trade Center.

“We are delighted at the news of Delta’s investment in JFK,” said Borough President Marshall. “This along with plans for expansion by JetBlue at LaGuardia and British Airways and American Airlines at JFK is good news for Queens.”

Delta said the first order would be to renovate the passenger check–in lobby of Terminal 3 and restrooms and air conditioning in Terminal 2, both projects to be completed this spring.

Delta said it planned to increase its total number of flights out of JFK from 69 to 103 daily using 16 now mothballed jetliners, including five 50-seat regional jets and 11 standard size jets.

Reach contributing writer Philip Newman by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 136.

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