Topic of the Week: Delta Sharpens Its Attack on Alaska

Alaska Airlines, Delta

I’ve mentioned before how Delta looked like it was fighting with Alaska as both airlines added flights in each other’s hubs. But now it’s gone to a whole new level. Delta is now starting flights from Seattle to San Francisco six times daily and adding two additional daily flights from both Vegas and LA to Seattle. What the heck is going on between these two? Is Delta bored of fighting Korean and wants a new sparring partner? Or is this just good business sense?

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21 comments on “Topic of the Week: Delta Sharpens Its Attack on Alaska

  1. Good business sense? I don’t know, but I smell the mirror image of the NW strategy “of scorch the earth when someone invades your turf”.

    1. Except in this case, I believe AS was the original major player at SEA, so it’s really the other way around. DL is trying to invade AS’s turf. It would seem they are trying to provide an alternative to UA out of SFO on long-hauls to Asia – perhaps trying to make hay while the sun shines due to UA’s continuing merger-related operational problems?

  2. I’ve heard Alaska mentioned as a small niche player……so according to DL higher ups possibly not as important of a part as we may think. Also it has been mentioned that Dl WILL have a hub in Seattle. In what shape or form I’m not sure.

  3. I could be wrong, but it looks like Delta’s building an international gateway at Seattle and is simply adding enough flights to provide adequate feed. It may not feel Alaska can provide enough. Only time will tell.

    1. That made sense with the first round of domestic additions from SEA (3x daily to LAX on CR7s and a small number of flights to LAS: no threat in the local market but well-timed to feed long hauls on both ends, something that AS metal couldn’t do). 6x daily to SFO (where DL has no feed on the SFO end) is a whole different ball game. I have to speculate that DL liked the local traffic they saw on their handful of
      LAX-SEA etc flights, but this is bizarre. Of course, they are, in some sense, legally required to compete with AS since they don’t have anti-trust immunity.

  4. Sounds like Delta has extra capacity and is putting it somewhere to see if it sticks. Question is, will Alaska quit codesharing with Delta? If they keep the codeshare I’d think people will buy in price and schedule alone. No codeshare and it comes down to loyalty – and status with an airline.

    Guess it all comes down to how loyal seattlites are to Alaska, no?

  5. If DL wants to build up international travel from SEA it will need feed, but it also needs local traffic. Trying to build up a west coast north/south markets means being last to AS/WN/UA which have been doing it for years and have loyal followings.

    When DL mergered with Western it didn’t keep the WA system going and growing, but would center on just using SLC as a west hub which isn’t going to work for up and down the west coast. DL lost what WA had built up for decades and now they seem to want back in the game.

  6. DL also just dumped the SFO – NRT flight. So, it’s looking to route the people who fly DL to NRT through LAX or SEA now. But, then again, if I was looking to go SFO – Asia, I would fly UA or its partners.

  7. Looks like DL is going to make SEA a hub, and wants to control the flow of traffic themselves rather than relying on AS.

  8. I thought the Jackson Hole – SeaTac addition was interesting. I’m not knowledgeable about the AS/DL relationship but it seemed to me that it was DL laying first claim to a thin route that AS was undoubtedly looking at. Who knows – it could be nothing.

  9. For those of you under the age of [never mind], I believe DL has always had aspirations to set up a hub in SEA, but it was occupied by NW and UA. Back in the 1980s and 1990s, it needed a West Coast airport to serve as a midpoint between Atlanta and Asia, and since SEA would have been a dogfight, it used Portland, which it grew into a hub that did quite nicely until the Asian economic dip and the end of the Internet “bubble.” Now it doesn’t have to contend with NW.

  10. Delta probably is stepping on Alaska’s toes, and as Alex Hill mentions, DL is legally required to compete with Alaska. That being said Alaska has some of the lowest costs, so they could probably end up making money when DL would be taking a loss.

    The other interesting thing is if Delta pisses off Alaska too much, they can cause Delta some legal pain. Alaska’s Airport of the Future Concept is patented:

    However Delta has picked up the concept at least at SeaTac:

    Now from the Fast Company article: “Our patents were about recognizing our employees more than protecting intellectual property,” says Ed White, Alaska’s VP of corporate real estate, “We’re happy to see others embracing what we developed.” That being said if Delta steps on Alaska’s toes far too much, there is nothing holding Alaska back from suing for royalties, or even an injunction.

  11. I dunno…I am a AS MVP and currently sitting in the SYD airport having flowing OO+DL to SYD from SEA and just about to fly DL+OO back today, plus a frequent SEASFO flyer — I think Delta is just putting extra planes where is makes the most sense and creating some tigher conx times. Plus building a modified golden triangle for Asian flyers (SEA-LAS-LAX-SFO-SEA) on its own smaller aircraft.

    Also these DL flights seemed better timed for connections – Example SYD-LAX-SEA on DL-OO has a 3hr conx …same itin on DL-AS has a 4 hour layover

    SEASFO on AS during peak times is almost always 100% full (same for UAL) – as an ex-YM person I know that doesnt mean it always makes $$ – but at the very least there is plenty of traffic at peak times.

    My SEALAX OO flight on a Sat Night at 6pm had only 5 empty seats on it – the gate agent said more than half were conxing (including some to RDU – wtf?).

    At the end of the day, I think AS is happy to carry DL folks on their planes – if DL moves some of them over to RJs, its just more seats for AS to sell on AS ticketstock or QF codeshare, etc.

    Now if Delta paints over those Bag Carts that say Delta Loves Alaska in Seattle – we know there is a war.

  12. SEA makes sense as an Asian gateway for DL. It’s closer to every Asian destination than any other city in the 48 continental U.S. states, which means shorter flight times and less fuel burn. It’s not delay-prone, so less costs for mis-connects. It has a decent O/D market and is growing faster than the U.S. average. So that makes sense for DL.

    What’s odd about SEA is the dominance of AS, who dominate the market but have no intercontinental service. It sure seems like a DL bearhug. We’ll partner with you but if you don’t play our game, we’ll cherrypick your routes.

    There are multiple rationales that support DL’s move to build up service in SEA. First is that you are always treated better by the airline where you have elite status than by their partners. So if DL wants to appeal to LAX, SFO or LAS elites, having their own metal (even if contracted RJs) is a better experience than being low man on AS.

    Second possibilty is that either they want to acquire ALK but first need to depress the stock price, ergo drive down fares on key routes. If we see DL beef up ANC and FAI or Hawaii flying ex-SEA or Mexico flying ex-LAX, that would support depressing AS stock price. Or they simply want ALK to feel some leverage so that they cooperate.

    Third is that they are really attacking VX or even UA. It’s kind of pathetic how little UA competes on LAX-SEA, but SFO-SEA is a serious route, though mainly for connections and to maintain elites. VX doesn’t serve SEA-LAS directly, so that route doesn’t really attack VX, plus VX has a lot more in their route system than the West Coast, so it really doesn’t seem addressed at VX

    It really seems around making SEA an important Asian hub, and doing that on a controlled basis where DL has its own metal on important routes – connecting routes, or ones important for DL elites – and AS is useful for filling in the map, but DL won’t depend on them.

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