Delta offers fare cuts

ATLANTA – Delta Air Lines Inc. on Wednesday launched a new simpler and cheaper fare schedule and scrapped its unpopular Saturday-stay requirements in a move it hopes will lure back customers to an airline struggling to avoid bankruptcy.

Under the plan, the airline will reduce fares to cities in the continental United States by up to 50 percent. And the airline will not require a Saturday night stay to enjoy the reduced rate.

Other features include only charging $50 instead of $100 to change tickets and declaring that no one-way coach ticket will cost more than $499 and no one-way first class ticket will cost more than $599.

The changes wouldn’t mean cheaper flights for everybody. The main change would be a reduction in the sometimes-great fluctuations that different fliers pay.

Delta had been testing the lower fares since August in Cincinnati.

The move would make the company, America’s No. 3 airline, more like low-cost airlines such as Southwest Airlines Co. that have remained profitable in recent years while bigger, older airlines have struggled to survive.

It also comes as Delta continues to fight to stay out of bankruptcy.

The airline got a $1 billion concession from pilots, and a big loan from American Express, to avoid bankruptcy last October, but analysts have warned deep changes are needed to make Delta viable in the long term.

Last month, Delta started its wooing with frequent fliers, who’d complained that Delta was overcharging them. Delta got rid of some fees and made it easier to get upgrades.

Talking about those changes last month, chief executive Gerald Grinstein said Delta has to do a better job giving customers what they want low prices. “One of the goals we have is to gain that trust,” Grinstein said.

Delta’s action got a chilly reaction from at least one rival. Northwest Airlines Corp., the fourth-largest, said fare cuts of the type Delta is implementing will hurt the industry.

“Northwest believes that ‘fare simplifications’ of the sort being described are revenue negative,” the company said in a statement. Northwest expects that such an initiative, if it becomes general, would immediately adversely and significantly affect industry revenues.”

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