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Delta and Korean Escalate Their Fight

Delta has made it clear that it wants a bigger piece of the Hollywood crowd’s business. What’s the best way to do it? Start acting like a Hollywood-type and get into an ugly public spat. It’s only a matter of time before the paparazzi show up, right?

The very public fight between Delta and Korean has continued to escalate. The only question is… will they reconcile or are they headed to splitsville?

The fight apparently began when Delta tried to push its SkyTeam partner into joining a joint venture. It’s believed Korean wasn’t interested. So, as the story goes, Delta started to react.

Delta Korean Air Fight

The first public display of problems came when Delta announced that no travel on Korean Air-marketed flights would earn elite qualifying miles or bonus miles. Considering Korean Air is a founding member of SkyTeam and one of the largest foreign airlines operating in the US, this was a big deal. But travelers could still book a Delta codeshare on Korean flights and get their elite-qualifying miles.

There was one problem with that scheme. Buying a ticket on the Delta codeshare was often more expensive than booking directly with Korean. So it was hard to justify paying more just for the miles. But don’t worry about that. The airlines have gone and fixed that problem for us.

No, no. They didn’t equalize fares. They just started to unwind the codeshare so you don’t have a choice.

Korean started things off earlier this summer by pulling its code off of 97 Delta routes within the Americas. So you could fly from Seoul to Atlanta on Korean but you couldn’t connect on to, say, Ft Lauderdale on a Korean code. Most of the cities affected (59, in fact) were out of Atlanta, but there were also cuts in other hubs. This may seem surprising considering that Korean is ramping up in Atlanta with an A380 and has a lot of seats to fill, but I guess the time had come to fire a warning shot.

Delta upped the game even further. On August 21, it was revealed that Delta would begin flying from Seattle to Incheon every day beginning next June. That fits with Delta’s Seattle growth strategy, but it’s quite a poke at Korean and its daily flight in the very same market.

But why wait all the way until next June to start inflicting pain? At the same time this was announced, Delta cut some of its own codesharing on Korean. As of last week, you can no longer buy a Delta ticket on the Korean Air flights to Incheon from west coast markets. That means no Delta seats from LA, Vegas, San Francisco, or Seattle, and that means no elite qualifying miles if you fly those routes. [Update: Delta called me to confirm that the pulling of the codeshare this early was a mistake and it has been reinstated until June when the Seattle flight start.]

Now we just have to sit here and wait to see what’s next. Maybe these two need their own reality show. Or we could get Dr Phil to sit down with them and solve their problems on a primetime special.

One thing is clear. Delta can certainly benefit from Korean’s network, and I can understand why they’d want a joint venture. Meanwhile, Korean is huge in the US and should also want to benefit from Delta’s loyal base and connecting options. When both sides receive clear benefits from a relationship, you can only hope that they come to their sense and resolve their issues. But as we know, these fights don’t always end the way they should.

[Original taekwondo photo via Shutterstock]

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