The partial government shutdown has delayed the aviation event of the season.
Delta Air Lines planned to debut its long-awaited Airbus A220 jets, planes that boast bigger windows, wider seats and aisles, and brand-new entertainment systems, on Jan. 31. The shutdown, however, prevented the airline from getting the federal approvals it needed to start flying the planes at the end of the month as planned, the airline said Friday.
"Delta has made the decision to postpone the service debut of the Airbus A220 due to delays in certification processes that are required by the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration," Delta said. "No customer impact is expected as a result of this equipment change and no flights will be canceled because of A220 certification. The flights will be operated by other aircraft and changes are expected to be fully visible in schedules on Saturday."
Aviation geeks across social media let out a collective groan.
"It's very disappointing," said Eric Goldmann, a 40-year-old health-care technology salesman based in Delta's hometown of Atlanta. "This was a little notch on my belt to be on this aircraft we're going to be flying for the next 25 years and I thought it would be fun."
President Donald Trump and lawmakers on Friday reached a deal to fund the government for at least three weeks, ending the longest government funding lapse on record, but that didn't make much difference to aviation enthusiasts who had paid for tickets to be on the inaugural A220 flights from LaGuardia Airport because Delta had already postponed them.
The shutdown, which left some 800,000 federal workers furloughed or working without pay, had rippled through aviation, causing staffing shortages at airports, grounding new planes like the A220 and delaying some new routes, such as Southwest Airlines' planned service to Hawaii.
The single-aisle A220s may look to some travelers like just any other plane, but its manufacturer, Airbus, and Delta and other operators have touted the new aircraft as state-of-the-art fuel saving machines that also provide more passenger comforts. Coach-class seats on the planes measure 18.6 inches, the widest in Delta's coach-class cabins, and a tenth of an inch wider than the main cabin seats on its recently overhauled Boeing 777 widebody jets.
Goldmann said he bought tickets using frequent flyer miles for two different flights on Jan. 31 that were scheduled to use the A220 just to be sure he'd secure a seat. Delta is expected to begin scheduling the A220 starting Feb. 7, but Goldmann, who has taken Delta's first A321 flights and one of its last Boeing 747 trips, said he can't go because of planned work travel.
A Delta spokesman said the airline would work with passengers who bought seats on the A220 flights on a "case by case" basis.
"Ugh! My son is going to be crushed," tweeted Nino Benvenuti, a 45-year-old informational technology consultant based in Cincinnati.
Benvenuti told CNBC he planned to bring his 11-year-old, a budding aviation enthusiast, to New York and fly on the 6 a.m. A220 Delta flight from LaGuardia to Boston, hang out at the Boston airport and return, paying around $500 and spending some of his frequent flyer miles for the trip.
"It was: Dad: 'please, please, please can we do this?'" said Benvenuti, who added that on Friday afternoon his son didn't know the debut was postponed because he was still at school. He will try to take him when the inaugural flights are rescheduled.
Groups of aviation enthusiasts fly hundreds of miles around the country for inaugural flights, as airlines revamp their aging fleets with brand-new jets or retire old favorites like the Boeing 747. That's the case even for the new-to-the-skies jets that are just bigger model of a plane that's already flying.
For example, no fewer than 10 so-called AvGeeks met up at Newark, New Jersey, earlier this month for the first official United Airlines flight to Los Angeles on the Boeing 787-10, handing out buttons featuring a drawing of the plane to mark the occasion.
Delta first ordered the then-called CSeries jets from Canadian manufacturer Bombardier in April 2016 but they were caught up in a trade dispute for months after Boeing alleged Bombardier sold the planes to Delta below cost. Boeing lost its case in January of last year.
European plane maker Airbus took over the program in the middle of 2018 and plans to produce the planes in Mobile, Alabama, where it produces other narrow-body aircraft.
As aviation enthusiasts, these individuals are aware that airlines routinely, albeit not for government shutdowns, have to swap aircraft for mechanical problems.
Barry Goldberg, a software engineer, said he booked a ticket from Boston to LaGuardia on the A220 on Jan. 31 "for fun."
"When the [Boeing] 787 came out I flew from EWR to IAH to ORD to LGA just to see the new plane," he said of a trip, using airport codes for Newark, Houston, Chicago's O'Hare and LaGuardia in New York. "The A220 schedule worked out nice for me this time but things happen."