Delta Just Announced Something That Could Make Air Travel Much Less Awful

Delta Air Lines announced Tuesday that it is investing $60 million in electric air taxi startup Joby, part of a deal to transport passengers from their homes to the airport quickly and easily using “vertiports” spread throughout the cities it serves. The airline is promising up to $140 million in additional investment if Joby hits unspecified milestones. Service will first be available in New York City and Los Angeles, and that could possibly happen as soon as 2024.

Most of us would agree that air travel these days is a less-than-delightful experience. But we usually complain about things like flight delays and ever-decreasing leg room. We don’t often gripe about one of the worst aspects of flying–getting to the airport in the first place.

That’s the pain point Delta is hoping to solve with this investment. “The companies will work together to integrate a Joby-operated service into Delta’s customer-facing channels, providing customers who travel with Delta through New York and Los Angeles the opportunity to reserve a seat for seamless, zero-operating-emission, short-range journeys to and from city airports when booking Delta travel,” the airline said in a statement.

Here’s the plan: Passengers booking a Delta flight could book a Joby ride at the same time. They would travel from a Joby vertiport near them to the airport, landing somewhere near Delta gates. (Joby has also partnered with Uber, so that would be another way to book a ride.) Delta CEO Ed Bastion told CNBC that using Joby could cut travel time to the airport by 50 percent or more.

It could cut travel misery by a lot more than that. Let’s face it, getting to the airport can be the most tedious and dispiriting aspect of air travel. Whether you’re in your own car, a rideshare, an airport van or even a limousine, crawling through heavy urban traffic is never fun, and it’s usually unavoidable on airport trips. In some cities, light rail offers an alternative, but there’s still a long walk or bus ride from the light rail station to the ticket counters–especially off-putting if you’re dragging luggage.

Making air travel suck less

I myself didn’t realize how much of a difference this makes until Boeing opened Paine Field to commercial flights. The company used that airport for years to fly its own planes from the factory to customers, and in 2019, it also opened up to commercial flights. I live about 12 miles from there. So of course, when I can, I use Paine Field rather than Seattle-Tacoma International, 45 miles away. The first time I did it, I was astonished at how much less tiring the whole trip was and how energetic I felt when I got to my destination.

How soon will passengers get to experience electric air taxi flights? That’s a matter of some speculation. Joby has said it plans to launch its own commercial service (which would run in parallel to its Delta service) in 2024. It recently got one of several certifications it needs before it can start flying commercial flights, and it’s on track to get others. It’s already made more than 1,000 test flights. Started in 2009, Joby went public via a SPAC last year, raising $1.6 billion. That’s a lot of time and a lot of money for a company that hasn’t started selling its product yet, as some naysayers point out.

On the other hand, it seems clear that electric vehicle takeoff and landing technology, which goes by the acronym eVTOL, is the way of the future. Because they have no exhaust and are dramatically quieter, electric air taxis will be much more welcome in densely populated areas than helicopters are. Joby seems to be farther down this road than anyone else, and this Delta deal is one more big step in the right direction.

So maybe we’ll all be able to hop an air taxi to the airport sometime in the not-too-distant future. I sure hope so, because getting there any other way really is a drag.

The opinions expressed here by columnists are their own, not those of

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