By Taylor Michie, Photos by Author / Published October 25, 2013
NEWARK: Delta’s first Boeing 717 departed on its inaugural flight this morning, operating DL2343 between Atlanta and Newark. The arrival of the 717 sets the stage for a round of regional fleet changes.
This morning’s ride, N935AT (c/n 55069), was originally delivered to TWA in 2000 before joining the AirTran fleet in 2003. It is the first of 88 717-200 aircraft that Delta leased from AirTran in July 2012, primarily to replace the aging, gas-guzzling DC-9 fleet inherited from Northwest in 2008. After going through the “Delta treatment,” which included a complete interior refurbishment in Miami, N935AT was flown to Atlanta on October 10th.
Initially, it appeared that today’s inaugural was to go unnoticed, as there were no announcements made in the gate area about the introduction of the 717. However, not long after pushing back, the captain came over the PA and introduced Delta’s newest aircraft to us passengers. He kindly pointed out the passenger-friendly features, and thanked us for choosing Delta.
As we boarded the aircraft this morning, we got a good whiff of the “new plane smell.” It was clear from the very moment we took our seat that Delta has placed a huge emphasis on bringing the interiors of these 717s up to snuff with the rest of the fleet. The signature blue seats in both the first and economy cabins are of the latest generation. There’s an AC power outlet at every seat in first and in each row in economy; one outlet for each row of two seats, and two outlets for each row of three seats. Wi-Fi was the usual GoGo affair, though it was surprisingly speedy. There is no in-flight entertainment, but on a plane that tends to run short regional hops it isn’t really necessary.
Being a regional flight there was not much to it. Following a powerful take off from Atlanta Hartsfield we climbed to our cruising altitude of 33,000 feet and headed northeast. Our seat in economy comfort was pleasant, adding three inches of legroom over standard economy (34 inches of pitch vs 31″ in coach and 37″ in first). A drink and snack service offering the standard choices between Biscoff, pretzels, and peanuts was had. The flight whizzed by at only one hour and forty-four minutes long; before we knew it we were on the ground in Newark.
Delta’s 717s feature twelve first class seats in a 2-2 configuration, fifteen Economy Comfort seats (in 2-3), and eighty-three economy seats (also in 2-3), for a grand total of 110 seats. It appears that they will replace the DC-9 on a plane-for-plane basis until all DC-9s are phased out, which is expected sometime this January. Once that has taken place the CRJ-900 routes will see upgauges to 717s, freeing up the larger regional jets for service upgagues on routes currently flown by CRJ-200 aircraft, which are also being phased out.
The superior economics of the 717 make it a logical replacement for the DC-9s, while the comparable logistics in capacity will allow it to take the place of the aging ‘niners without too much fuss. New 717 pilots are all DC-9 crews that have been training on AirTran aircraft.
It’s a unique situation as far as inaugurals go as 717s are by no means new aircraft. Rather, they are of the “new to you” variety, having previously been operated by AirTran Airways. Though aviation enthusiasts had hoped to see AirTran’s 717s painted in the livery of new parent Southwest Airlines, they were instead scooped up by Delta, an airline that is now notorious for buying up used aircraft and returning them to service with the red widget emblazoned on the tail. The initial entry into service was delayed several times over the past two months, reportedly due to certification issues. Initially, these aircraft will operate Atlanta-Newark turns like ours today, but it is expected that the number of destinations will grow as more aircraft come online.
As of press time, Delta has only one 717 in service. About a dozen more are in various stages of preparation, and will be delivered at the rate of one per week for the rest of this year, beginning next week. Delta expects to have 16 717-200s by year’s end, with the remainder gradually entering service through 2015. The arrival of the jet makes Delta the only carrier to operate all major variations of the DC-9 simultaneously: DC-9, MD-88, MD-90, and the Boeing 717-200.