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In New York, Delta bids for business travelers

Posting in Cities

During a recent conversation with a colleague, I compared the experience of traveling through New York's La Guardia airport to a rat scurrying through sewer pipes -- it's dark, it's dirty, it's crowded and altogether unpleasant. (Sure, it's no New York Penn Station, but still.)

More than 24 million passengers enjoyed the experience in 2011, owing to New York's position as the most populous metropolis in the U.S. Some 105 million people pass through New York's trio of major airports every year -- Newark and JFK round out the group -- and unsurprisingly, all three appear among the top 10 worst U.S. airports for delays. (This kind of congestion happens when there are too many planes using too few runways.)

A blessing and a curse, no doubt about it. But Delta Air Lines -- the world's largest airline by fleet size, and headquartered in Atlanta, Ga., whose airport also appears on the terrible 10 list mentioned above -- wants to win New York City, according to a Wall Street Journal report. To do so, the carrier is actually adding 100 additional daily flights to and from La Guardia in an attempt to make it a hub.

Scott McCartney has the scoop:

The strategy is simple: To gain greater market-share in New York, the biggest single aviation market in the world. And with careful scheduling, expanding terminals and experience in running overcrowded hubs, the world's second-biggest airline by traffic behind United Airlines Inc. says it can get away with it, even at cramped La Guardia.

"We're trying to win New York. That's really what this expansion is about,'' said Gail Grimmett, Delta's senior vice president in charge of New York.

What makes this decision curious is that a hub is particularly attractive for connecting flights. Delta expects 30 percent of folks flying out of LGA to originate outside the New York market, a big leap from the five percent usually seen at the airport. And that's in addition to the record number of passengers from the area proper.

But Delta wants a bite of the Big Apple, and "hub" status helps elbow others out of the way.

McCartney, again:

Historically, once an airline gets twice as many flights at an airport as its next-biggest competitor, it attracts the lion's share of high-dollar business travelers.

Today, Delta dominates Atlanta and Detroit; United controls San Francisco and Denver; American uses Dallas and Miami and US Airways owns Charlotte and Phoenix. In New York, Delta is going head to head with United.

Another variable: LGA largely offers domestic flights today, while JFK and Newark manage most international travel. Changing this balance won't be easy.

Will New York's business travelers bite? We'll soon find out.

Photo: Delta

— By on October 11, 2012, 12:13 AM PST

Andrew Nusca

Editor Emeritus

Andrew Nusca is editor of SmartPlanet and an associate editor for ZDNet. Previously, he worked at Money, Men's Vogue and Popular Mechanics magazines. He holds degrees from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and New York University. He is based in New York but resides in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure