SALT LAKE CITY — As Salt Lake City International Airport undergoes a massive $3.6 billion redevelopment, the leader of the nation's second-largest air carrier is touting improved passenger experiences on the ground and in the air when the new facility comes online.
Speaking Friday to an audience of business leaders at the Salt Lake Chamber's annual Economic Outlook and Public Policy Summit in downtown Salt Lake City, Delta Airlines CEO Ed Bastian said the expansion of the international terminal and upgrading of other amenities will greatly enhance air travel for passengers.
"We believe at Delta, and we fight against the notion that air travel is just something that must be endured," he told the audience gathered in the main ballroom of the Salt Lake Marriott Downtown at City Creek. "It should be part of an experience that you look forward to along the journey."
He said the carrier is implementing plans to replace dozens of older aircraft with new jetliners that will provide more comfort and room for domestic passengers.
"It's coming to Salt Lake in May," he told moderator Natalie Gochnour with the Kem Gardner Policy Institute. "It's a 110-seat airplane that will be the most comfortable domestic product you fly."
The Airbus A220-100 will have the widest seats in the Delta system, he said.
"There is larger overhead bin space, there's Wi-Fi, live TV, even the lav(oratory) has a window," he added.
Bastian noted that the airliner is 25 percent more fuel-efficient than the planes that it is replacing, which will help the airline significantly impact operational expenses. The first replacement jets are expected to arrive in Utah in May, he said.
He mentioned plans for a potential direct flight to Asia once the first phase of the redevelopment of the Salt Lake airport is completed in fall 2020 with an enlarged and enhanced international terminal. He also said the airline's member-only passenger lounge at the airport, the Delta Sky Club, will triple in size to accommodate more patrons and increase customer comfort.
Delta is contributing millions of dollars to the redevelopment budget of the airport, and he said that money will help the airline sustain and grow its operation at its Utah hub.
"This is a multigenerational investment that we're building so we need to make certain we're building the airport not just of today, but for tomorrow as well," he said.
Headquartered in Atlanta, Delta operates a fleet of 800 aircraft and employs more than 80,000 workers globally. The airline carries approximately 180 million passengers annually operating 1,500 daily flights to more than 315 destinations worldwide.
The airline has U.S. hubs in Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York, Salt Lake City and Seattle, as well as Amsterdam, London, Mexico City, Paris, São Paulo, Seoul, South Korea, and Tokyo abroad.
The first phase of airport remodel will include a central terminal, the west end of two concourses and a parking garage. The initial phase is scheduled for completion in fall 2020, with the second phase scheduled to be finished in late 2024.
Bastian said the redevelopment will allow the airline and other carriers at the airport to maintain their high level of operational efficiency, as noted by recent reports.
Last November, the Air Travel Consumer Report from the U.S. Department of Transportation indicated that 90.4 percent of total flights at Salt Lake City International Airport arrived on time in September. Honolulu's Daniel K. Inouye International Airport was a close second at 90.2 percent.
The U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics reported that Honolulu, at 88 percent, and Salt Lake City, at 85.3 percent, had the highest on-time arrival performance of the 30 busiest airports for the nine-month, January-September period, while Newark, New Jersey, had the lowest at 66 percent.
Correction: An earlier version incorrectly identified the updated aircraft as the Airbus A330-200. It is actually the Airbus A220-100.