Delta's JFK Jewel Pressures United at Newark

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NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Delta will open its new $1.4 billion John F. Kennedy terminal on Friday, strengthening its case to be considered New York's leading airline.

"We are and should be the preferred airline out of New York," said Gail Grimmett, Delta's senior vice president for New York. "We have a great hub out of LaGuardia, which is the preferred airport for local traffic, where we serve 48 of the top 50 business markets (all but Fayetteville and Oklahoma City) and now we have the international hub at JFK.

"But it's not just the breadth of network that's important," Grimmett added. "It's the customer service you get. It's the experience you get. It's the service on board that you get. One thing Delta has learned over the years is that you can never stop investing in the customer or the customer experience."

The expansion of Terminal 4, where Delta is the primary tenant, has added nine new widebody gates, bringing the total on Delta's B Concourse to 19, of which Delta controls 16. Additionally, Delta has built a 24,000-square-foot airport club, the largest club in its system, with an outdoor terrace, as well as a new ticketing area that includes two rows of counters, about 50 kiosks, and a special check-in area for premium customers.

Between late Thursday night and early Friday morning, Delta will move much of its operation from Terminal 3 to Terminal 4. Once the job is complete, the carrier will begin work on a smaller $200 million project, adding 11 smaller gates at Terminal 4, enabling it to move its regional jet operation from Terminal 2. "This will make the customer experience better because the majority of regional jet traffic flows to international," Grimmett said. Delta passengers can already connect between terminals "behind security," she noted.

New York is the world's biggest aviation travel market, producing $14 billion in annual airline revenue. The vast majority is split between three major airports. In recent years, Delta has moved to gain share and improve facilities at both LaGuardia and JFK. The key steps have been a 2011 deal with US Airways to trade Washington National slots for LaGuardia slots, and the JFK construction improvements, which have taken three years.

Delta's LaGuardia hub has 271 daily departures to 63 destinations while the JFK hub has 146 daily departures to 48 destinations. At JFK, JetBlue and American operate smaller hubs. The biggest New York hub is the United operation at Newark, with 404 daily departures to 160 destinations including 75 international destinations.

United on Wednesday celebrated the 25th anniversary of Newark's Terminal C, which enabled rapid expansion after it opened on May 22, 1988. Terminal C was built for People Express , which in 1986 was acquired by Continental, which merged with United in 2010.