Wednesday, August 24, 2016

United to Compete With Delta for Automotive Tech Travelers in San Francisco-Detroit Market

United Airlines will resume daily service to Detroit Metro Airport from San Francisco International Airport on June 8, 2017 after a 25 year hiatus. United will operate the route on the 128 passenger A319 aircraft.   

Start Date
1x Daily
5:30 pm CT
7:50 pm PT
June 8, 2017
1x Daily
8:30 am CT
4:20 pm PT
June 8, 2017

Delta is currently the only airline flying nonstop between San Francisco and Detroit. Delta offers five daily flights operated on three different aircraft types (3x 737-9, 1x 757-200, 1x 757-300). Last year Delta carried around 350,000 passengers between the two cities. 

Automotive Tech Ties Deepen 
While a significant portion of the passenger traffic on Delta's DTW-SFO service consists of transiters, recent developments in the automobile industry are spurring O&D demand between the two cities.  

The big three automakers in Detroit (Fiat-Chrysler, Ford, and GM) are increasingly coming under pressure from Silicon Valley heavyweights who are intent on disrupting the industry either by, in the case of Google, developing a fully autonomous car or, in the case of Uber, creating a fully autonomous ride-share service 

These pressures have pushed automakers to forge alliances with tech companies, such as GM's partnership with the ride-sharing service Lyft, as a way to protect the future of their businesses. Automakers also have partnerships with silicon valley firms that help develop the software needed for the increasingly higher tech and connected cars that the auto manufacturer's are putting on the market today. 

The relationship between Detroit and Silicon Valley will only grow as technology becomes more integrated into automobiles. The important business relationship between Silicon Valley and Detroit provides airlines with a high growth domestic market with a strong passenger base of business travelers  

Delta's Turf   
United's entrance into the SFO-DTW market is a testament to the strong demand for travel between the two cities and the potential for future growth. However, United is timidly testing the waters of the market deciding to use the A319, which is the airline's smallest mainline narrow body aircraft, on the DTW-SFO route

Delta unquestionably holds the upper hand in the market. Delta has more frequencies on larger aircraft and a loyal base in Detroit. 

While Delta will continue to control the majority of the market share between the two cities, increased demand for travel between DTW and SFO should be able to support United's entrance into the market. 

Delta Upgrades Equipment on DTW-SFO Route 
According to, Delta will introduce its A330-200 aircraft into the DTW-SFO market beginning in March of 2017. Delta's use of wide body aircraft in the DTW-SFO market provides business passengers with an incentive to book with Delta due to the availability of the Delta One business class on a domestic flight. It also lowers the cost per seat which allows Delta to more aggressively price its fares in the face of competition 

United will face major competition from Delta as the airline ends Delta's virtual monopoly on the DTW-SFO market. Strong demand for travel between the two cities should provide enough of a buttress for UnitedAs the route matures for United, expect larger equipment and more frequencies as the airline tries to court automotive tech business travelers.This is certainly an interesting route to watch in the coming years.  


  1. Funny this article talks about Delta flying Delta One (International Biz Class) on several flights on the DTW-SFO route. I just pulled three days in early September and Delta is offering all 737/757s on the route.

    I'm curious if it happens one day a week when the international aircraft aren't needed for higher value travel but it is not a regular occurrence.

  2. Thank you for bringing this to my attention! On August 28th, Delta switched its two 767-300 frequencies on the DTW-SFO route with 1x 737-900 and 1x 757-200 (Source: Delta's current flight schedule, which is valid through October 15th, reflects this change as well (Link to Delta flight schedule (PDF): I have updated this post to reflect the change in equipment.