What the Heck is Delta Doing in Seattle?

Alaska Airlines, Delta, SEA - Seattle

It started out innocently enough. Delta chose a couple routes where it wanted to add capacity to Seattle, its newest international gateway. Then it added more, and more, and more. Now it’s hard to think of this onslaught as anything but an invasion on the city that its partner (?) Alaska Airlines calls home. I’m really struggling to understand the plan here, but there has to be one.

Delta Alaska War

In the beginning, the moves made sense. Delta, looking to find itself a west coast gateway to Asia, took the only one really available, Seattle. Turns out, that’s not a bad gateway at all. Delta added international flights and relied on Alaska to feed them. The plan seemed to work as the airline continued to add more and more, all while pulling down its Narita hub.

Since then, however, the strategy has become more and more bizarre. Instead of announcing a game plan, the airline has opted to trickle out a route here and a route there. To the best of my knowledge, here’s how it has unfolded.

  • Oct 9, 2012 – Delta upgrades Seattle-JFK flights to intl service beginning June 1, 2013.
  • Oct 22, 2012 – Delta announces Seattle-Shanghai beginning June 16, 2013.
  • Dec 24, 2012 – Delta announces 3 daily Seattle-LA flights beginning April 8, 2013
  • Feb 6, 2013 – Delta announces Seattle-Tokyo/Haneda flight beginning June 1, 2013.
  • Feb 25, 2013 – Delta announces daily Seattle-Anchorage/Vegas beginning June 10, 2013.
  • May 13, 2013 – Delta increases Seattle-LA to 5 daily.
  • Jul 29, 2013 – Delta announces Seattle-London/Heathrow beginning March 29, 2014.
  • Aug 20, 2013 – Delta cancels Seattle-Osaka service beginning November 4, 2013.
  • Aug 24, 2013 – Delta announces daily Seattle-Seoul/Incheon beginning June 2, 2014
  • Aug 24, 2013 – Delta announces daily Seattle-Hong Kong beginning June 16, 2014.
  • Sep 26, 2013 – Delta increases Seattle-Las Vegas to 3 daily.
  • Oct 1, 2013 – Delta announces 6 daily Seattle-San Francisco beginning March 28, 2014.
  • Nov 4, 2013 – Delta announces 4 daily Seattle-San Diego beginning June 2, 2014.
  • Nov 4, 2013 – Delta announces 4 daily Seattle-Portland beginning September 2, 2014.
  • Dec 2, 2013 – Delta announces 5 daily Seattle-Vancouver beginning June 5, 2014.
  • Dec 5, 2013 – Delta announces daily Seattle-Fairbanks beginning May 29, 2014.
  • Dec 5, 2013 – Delta unveils “Spirit of Seattle” aircraft.
  • Dec 16, 2013 – Delta announces daily Seattle-Juneau beginning June 1, 2014.
  • Dec 17, 2013 – Delta announces 4 daily Seattle-San Jose beginning September 2, 2014.

Does this look like a descent into madness to anyone else?

The first twinge of weirdness came with those Anchorage and Vegas flights. But I looked at those and I thought it was just utilization flying. After all, both flights were in the evening and seemed like airplanes that were just sitting on the ground anyway. So, a little strange but not a bad idea.

It was the end of September when Delta decided that Vegas would ramp up to 3 daily that I started wondering what was going on. All of a sudden, you had flights that didn’t seem timed for international connections. The addition of San Francisco seemed stranger with much heavier frequency. And then it was off to the races.

The idea that flights were being added to support the international operation is now a joke. Many of these flights are clearly being scheduled in these markets for local Seattle travelers. In some of these markets, there are so few international travelers anyway that it doesn’t make a difference if there was a connection or not. And naming an airplane the “Spirit of Seattle” is just like a dagger. Delta has decided to go scorched earth with one of its previously-dearest partners, Alaska.

If I’m Alaska, I’m somewhat shell-shocked here. I’m not sure why Delta is doing this, but I have three guesses. Maybe you have a better theory.

  1. Alaska can’t provide enough feed to Delta. Delta needs more seats and if Alaska won’t provide them, Delta will.
  2. Alaska won’t provide feed at a low enough rate so Delta is going to fly its own airplanes. That would be closely tied with #1 since if Alaska flights weren’t full, they’d be much more willing to negotiate a lower rate to fill those seats.
  3. Delta wants to try to weaken Alaska enough that it depresses the stock price, making it a cheaper takeover target. Alaska is a well-run airline that wants to stay independent, but numbers are numbers. If Delta can make the numbers work, then it might try to make a move.

In each of these scenarios, Delta is putting pressure on Alaska to get what it wants. Clearly Delta doesn’t think that Alaska can do any harm in response, but Alaska is incredibly strong in Seattle. It’s hugely profitable and so it would take a lot to really bring Alaska down. Delta may also be underestimating Alaska’s willingness to kill the partnership.

There’s no doubt that both sides benefit from their agreement, but if Delta keeps adding, Alaska is effectively helping Delta grow by offering reciprocal frequent flier benefits. The more Delta grows, the more I’d think about walking away if I were Alaska. That would hurt Delta in Seattle significantly. It would hurt more if this fight pushed Alaska further into the arms of American. Then again, if it resulted in Delta buying Alaska, then none of this would apply.

For Alaska’s part so far, it’s responding with a few flights into Salt Lake City and a strengthened frequent flier partnership with its other international partners (all now provide elite qualifying miles). I’m not sure any of this will have an impact on Delta, but it does send the message that Alaska won’t just back down. There could be further consequences.

This will continue to be very interesting for the next year or so. I’m really curious to see how far Delta will take this before reversing course. Maybe if Alaska gives Delta what it wants (your guess as to what that is is as good as mine), then this will stop. But if the assault continues, this partnership could start to deteriorate faster.

[Original image of woman puppeteer via Shutterstock]

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58 comments on “What the Heck is Delta Doing in Seattle?

  1. I’d say DL is bullying AS into giving them something that AS is not willing to do (cheaper feed). Maybe AS should look towards AA (or maybe even UA) to partner with.

    1. They are already partnered with AA.

      A partnership with UA is not going to happen. It doesn’t make sense for them to work with UA at all.

  2. At first it seemed that DL was adding feed to it’s SEA gateway so as to get better control over connecting traffic flows. I would compare SEA to JFK in that at most DL would need a couple of flights per day in most major markets to help feed the gateway. Now, given the frequency that DL is adding to places like LAX, SFO, SAN, YVR, PDX and LAS, coupled with increased Alaska flying to ANC, FAI and JNU it’s much more than feeding the international flights.

    I’m as perplexed as you are Brett in what exactly DL is trying to do here. If they overlap AS too much in SEA, there’s no way an AS takeover will pass muster with the DOJ. They’ve already reached the tipping point in that regard IMHO.

    Alaska’s response so far, the mini-invasion of SLC sends DL a message: We’re not backing down, at least for now.

    AS has several options if they wish to remain a healthy, independent carrier and here are my thoughts;

    1. oneworld membership. This sends a clear message to DL: we’ll find nicer partners, you can continue to work with us if you wish but our primary loyalties lie elsewhere. BA already serves SEA, AS already code-shares with AA and perhaps some of the oneworld members could be enticed to start SEA service: JL, CX and AY to start. Maybe QR down the road. Hainan already serves SEA and while not a oneworld member, AS could partner with them to dilute DL’s China traffic.

    2. Pursuing their own acquisition. Obvious target to me is HA. Whether merged or operated as two airlines under one holding company, an AS/HA combo would be large enough to raise a red flag at DOJ if DL wished to pursue an AS takeover.

    3. Dumping DL as a partner altogether. Gate issues at SEA prevent DL from gaining parity with AS, and AS has other strongholds (LAX, PDX and to an extent SAN and SJC) from which to grow. Such a move would probably result in a strengthening of ties with AA.

    4. Investing in the “new” AA. Newly emerged from BK, AS might decide to go the cross-equity route and financially entwine the two carriers, thus muddying the prospect of DL buying AS.

    AS is currently playing from a position of relative strength in their market region and shouldn’t be counted out this early in the pissing match.

    1. ChuckMO – Lots of good thoughts. I couple of mine in response to your 4 points.

      1) Since oneworld is a very loose alliance in the sense that you can maintain your outside partnerships, it might work. But what would the benefit be? Alaska is already working with many of those airlines (AA/BA/Cathay/LAN/Qantas) and it offers elite qualifying miles with them all. I don’t see why they couldn’t continue to do those kinds of partnerships as one-offs where valuable.

      2) I don’t see it. Alasks puts a lot of stock in the importance of culture and merging does not fit with that belief.

      3) This is the one that interests me. How far is too far for Delta to push?

      4) Nah, why bother? It doesn’t get them anything.

  3. Let us suppose that Alaska decides its lost faith with Delta and wants to end the partnership. At what point in time will the merged American be ready to devote considerable amounts of time to significant integration with Alaska or even consider sponsoring Alaska into oneworld ? My guess is Xmas 2014 at the earliest, but more likely July 2015, but interested to hear what others have to say

    1. AA/AS codeshares and FF benefits are in place already. It wouldn’t take much effort on either side to tighten up the relationship.

    2. David – Agreed with ChuckMO. The building blocks are there and it’s already a solid relationship. If the AA management team is interested in maintaining or growing the partnership, it should be pretty easy to do.

  4. Kind of passed over the ‘Alaska adds a few flights to SLC’ to quickly since it’s more then a few and flights are to various other cities and not just SEA/PDX strongholds.

    Good point on trying to devalue AS for a possible take over. But any airline starting a international gateway is going to need it’s own aircraft to feed it or at least it’s own commuter carrier to do so. DL can’t get say Skywest to move in and become another Horizon, so it’s using what DL/DLC it can into the bigger business centers of the west to feed it’s flights. And by offering multi flights in some markets instead of just internationtl connecting flights it’s getting locals to think more DL when they need to travel outside the western region.

    But if DL had kept the west coast service that Western had pioneered, they wouldn’t be trying to play catch up now with United and Southwest.

    1. Where does adding a seasonal JNU-SEA flight fit into international feed? Cranky seems to be on track given the sheer number of flights being added.

      1. I think that was purely a move to pull down Alaska’s profitability. AS charges significantly more on the SEA/JNU sector than SEA/LAS, for example.

        Jan 7th – one way – taken from Alaskaair.com
        SEA-Juneau: Lowest – $283.50 one way; highest $516.40
        SEA -Vegas: Lowest – $88.90 one way, highest $374.90

        We pay dearly to have Alaska here – granted SeAk ops are a bit more expensive as Alaska has done a lot in terms of operational performance, technology enhancements, etc. Having a city of 35,000 get full size 737s (that are mostly full) versus RJ’s in the Lower 48 means a lot. However, the pricing polarity mentioned above is why Delta is coming into Juneau. Alaska will no longer be able to charge $600 roundtrip in the summer for SEA/JNU as Delta already came in at $495, and now they both are at $395 roundtrip. Horray for us in Juneau, however we need to see what’s going to happen moving forward. The Juneau route is most definitely a thorn in the side of Alaska, and NOT a friendly move. Delta doesn’t need to put many butts in its 737-800 on the SEA/JNU sector to make a profit at these levels.

        (note: I use Las Vegas, despite it being a MUCH bigger market, it is about the same flight time/ distance as Juneau)

      2. Delta’s new Juneau flight is timed well for its departures for Paris, Tokyo (NRT) and Shanghai. I’m not sure what time of day the new Hong Kong flight will leave Seattle. The only international flight the new Juneau doesn’t serve well is the new evening departure for London.

        1. Eric – Juneau may be well-timed but it’s a very tiny market that connects to those three cities. If that flight is there for international connections, then Delta is doing something very wrong. There just aren’t a lot.

    2. David SF – I passed over it because it’s not a strategy to serve those cities. It’s really just a response that’s making a point that Alaska won’t take it lying down. But look at the flights into Salt Lake.

      Forget about Seattle and Portland since those do fit into Alaska’s current network well. You have two flights a day to San Diego, a growing focus city of Alaska’s. You also have one a day from LA, Boise, San Francisco and San Jose but those are utilization flights – using airplanes that would just sit on the ground overnight anyway. So it’s relatively low risk. Then are the two daily flights between Vegas and Salt Lake. Those use more airplane time in the middle of the day, but it’s Vegas. There might be room for that. That’s the only one that really stands out to me as odd.

      Also, why can’t Delta get SkyWest to move into Seattle? They can do that if they want. Or they can get another regional.

  5. There’s at least some speculation about a possible takeover (see the article below). As you point out, Cranky, Delta’s actions in the next year or so should be telling. I wonder if the DOJ would be as willing to allow a Delta / Alaska combination (which would increase industry concentration even further) as easily as it was ultimately willing to settle its US / American lawsuit. There is a point where there really would be too few carriers, and one more merger may be too many in DOJ’s eyes.


    1. Would it be in the public interest, for either Alaska (or Hawaii for that matter), where air transport to the other 48 states is particularly important, to be highly dependent on one carrier ? If either AS or HA were to merge with one of the big 3 carriers, there’s a clear possibility that such an eventual end-game would happen.

      Yes, I know about United having a very high level of control over air transport in some of the tiny islands in Polynesia in the Pacific, but these are very much tiny islands for whom there is unlikely ever to be room for more than 1 carrier to operate profitably. Hawaii and Alaska have vastly more passenger flights going on…

      1. I think you meant Micronesia and not Polynesia. Understandable mistake. UAL doesn’t fly anywhere in Polynesia right now after it pulled out of Fiji last year. Micronesia is essentially United country. The number of flights out of Guam to like seven or eight destinations in Japan would be tough to impact for an invading carrier. UA can get away with Micronesia since it’s essentially flying one plane from Hawaii to Guam with four or five stops and does like once or twice a weeks to Cairns from GUM.

        Even DL won’t mount a full frontal assault on UAL there. It’s got just one foot into Palau with seasonal only service to NRT and its GUM flights are holdovers from NW’s days.

        I just wish there was direct service to GUM from the 48. The 787 would seem to be a logical choice to attempt such an endeavour but it would cannibalize HNL-GUM. A good chunk of travelers on the GUM-HNL route go on to SFO/HOU/LAX/ORD and that mechanism works so well I can’t see UAL messing with it by doing SFO-GUM.

  6. As an Alaskan who books a nearly-annual mileage ticket to Europe with AS miles, I hope the DL redemption options don’t go away. Or they at least keep the KLM/AF redemption option – but wouldn’t that be strange, as the JV would put you on a DL flight half the time anyway. Connecting to Europe through MSP/SEA/SLC is so much nicer than taking multiple hops to get to the East Coast gateways for other airlines.

    Most Alaskans complain about the premium AS charges to get out of state. But between the Club 49 benefits (free bags mostly), mileage program (companion fare, actually being able to redeem miles), and customer service issues with the other airlines, I (and I think lots of others) will pay a couple hundred dollars more to stay on AS whenever practical. Also, I feel much more comfortable with AS crews, who fly in the really, really terrible weather up here constantly. If DL is thinking buyout, what would they think about flying to Nome, or Barrow, or Kotzebue, and are these super small markets worth the pain in the ass factor for such a large airline?

  7. What the Heck is Delta Doing in Seattle? It looks like they are atempting to establish a focus city – if not a full fledge hub there on Alaska’s turf. Keep in mind that United has a good sized presence in Seattle as well. It’s American/ US Airways that’s weak in the Pacific Northwest, so closer ties to Alaska will definitely aid in those prospects.

  8. Interesting how NW was well established in SEA for decades but DL didn’t seem to want to build on that when they took over NW, and now they want to be big in SEA. Took all this time for DL to figure out they need to not rely on just Tokyo as an Asia hub and now have a west coast hub over the pacific to try and keep up with UA.

  9. I have a few theories to add to the pile.

    1) DL is trying to or has already received corporate travel contracts from Microsoft and others and needs to provide flights on its metal to the places it’s employees frequently travel.

    2) DL is trying to get Alaska to stop it’s partnership with American and be exclusive partners. AS said no, so DL is ramping up flights to hurt them.

    1. Scott – On #1, I’m sure that there are corp contracts with both Delta and Alaska. So Delta can try to grow and take that traffic from its partner, but then it risks losing its partner. On #2, this seems like a very 2nd grade way to accomplish the mission. Tell the boy you like him by punching him?

  10. It’d be an interesting marketing ploy subtly to attack AS on their wages given SeaTac Proposition 1 ($15 minimum wage for airport/hospitality workers.) Though they’d have to make sure they weren’t in a glass house first..

    1. the $15 minimum wage is only for NON-union jobs. That’s why many people saw the union-garbage politics all over this. The vote merely does nothing more than push companies to WANT unions which means more unions = more dues payers. The hotels & restaurants are going to suffer the most, err.. consumers USING restaurants & hotels in Seatac.

  11. Delta is building their West Coast hub, just like United did with San Francisco. This leaves American without a monopoly on a major West coast city. LA will always be too fragmented. What city does this leave American with for a pacific hub? PHX?
    Delta is playing offense now while the other mergers are still getting settled. This is best defense against the bigger UA and AA, once they finally get their respective houses in order.

  12. Remember that much-hyped Alaska/Delta joint press conference in October 2012 which turned out to be just Delta touting already-announced international service out of Seattle with one new route announcement? Around that time, someone posted on airliners.net saying that DeltaNet (the employee internal service) said that Delta would become Alaska’s exclusive international partner out of Seattle.

    Now, I wouldn’t put much stuck in an airliners.net rumor, but my wild guess is that this is an insight into what’s going on.

    Perhaps Delta was putting the screws to Alaska behind the scenes (or thought they had an agreement with Alaska) asking them to drop their widespread partnerships with Delta’s rivals (AA, BA, QF, etc) and the plan for the press conference was to announce that in conjunction with Delta’s expanded international service. But something didn’t work out, and Alaska is continuing their promiscuous ways (which, to me, seem very much like the best business plan for Alaska, even though it doesn’t benefit Delta as much as an exclusive agreement would). So now Delta is getting revenge, deciding that they don’t really need Alaska and that Delta is now large enough to go it alone and/or force Alaska to drop their other partners.

    This seems like a conspiracy theory, but it’s also pretty similar to what Delta appears to have done to Korean Air — in that case, Delta wanted a joint venture, Korean apparently said no, and Delta dropped all codeshares and dropped elite qualifying mile earning on KE-coded flights.

    1. Alex Hill – I think that’s a very good point to review. Delta may not like the additional international partners in Seattle. It could want Alaska to feet it and only it there. If that’s the case, then Alaska’s recent decision to award elite qualifying miles to travelers on all international partners is a much bigger slap than the flights into Salt Lake are. That gives a clear statement for DL to suck it.

  13. Washington state residents seem to have a fierce loyalty to Alaska Airlines – Southwest hasn’t grown much in the 19 years since they got in via Morris Air.

  14. Delta may be overplaying their hand in Seattle. I live in Seattle and end up flying Delta several times a year, but I fly Alaska more. Alaska’s service is a lot better and their frequent flyer program is superior for my situation. If the Delta/Alaska arrangement blows up, I’ll fly AA/BA/CX for my needs outside of Alaska’s network. It would take an incredibly cheap ticket for me to choose Delta under those conditions. I don’t belong to SkyMiles and never intend to for the obvious reasons. My business with Delta overwhelmingly depends on the current arrangement with Alaska’s ff program. Others I’ve spoken to feel the same way.

  15. Nice analysis – and interesting points. It’s a power grab move by Delta for sure. I’m tired of so much consolidation and the reduction in choices when I fly. My response is to support and fly Alaska, Virgin America, JetBlue and Sun Country whenever possible. I hope this greedy move by Delta backfires and costs them some big bucks.

  16. Also in this battle between the two airlines is the Seattle Football teams.

    Delta signed an agreement to be the official airline of the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders FC in September.

    Alaska this month signed starting Seattle Seahawk Quarterback Russell Wilson to be their honorary CFO — ‘chief football officer’.

    Alaska is also the official airline of the Portland Timbers.

    Don’t know if any other sports teams will be drawn into this battle. Time will tell. It is entertaining to watch from the sidelines that’s for sure.

  17. The CSA of the Salt Lake area is 2.3 million and is growing at relatively high rates – not as much as TX, but the Wasatch Front is definitely growing faster than a lot of other parts of the country. I think that Salt Lake is maturing to the point that it can support a DL hub AND a relatively strong focus operation for another carrier. I think a strong indicator of that is G4’s success both north and south of the core air terminal. WN didn’t make huge inroads into the SLC market but I think that AS has a unique brand recognition that could be successful.

    I think that AS can carve a niche into the SLC market – sort of like F9 in DEN but to a considerably lesser extent. I think that, in time, after AS fills all the markets out of SLC that have the O&D numbers to allow it to sneak itself into, we may see AS add city pairs like STS-SLC (which at one time there was mutual interest between both communities in convincing Horizon to operate) and other markets that presently don’t have service to SLC.

    1. If I had to guess, I would say that the next AS market out of SLC would be from this list: OAK, RNO, SMF, GEG, or STS. Pretty much anything within two hours flight time of SLC that DL flies mainline without nonstop competition and has no slot restrictions would be a good indicator (STS an exception – it’s a QX market). I don’t think AS has any interest in going east of Salt Lake. OAK and SMF might be viable because they might have the Hawaiian connections; WN gave up RNO so the #’s might be there for a Q400 or two; GEG has similar SLC #’s as RNO does, so maybe. STS, like I said, has been discussed before and would be an exclusive Wine Country market.

      This AS/SLC thing is intriguing to me because it is the first hub war in the new era of deregulation that leaves us with the “Big 3”. WN might be next in a turf war…who knows.

  18. Maybe it has something to do with MQDs and the fact that DL.com won’t show you many Alaskan flights because many of them have an illegal American Eagle leg. If you were a Oregon or Washington-based Medaillon, you now have a significant part of your possibilities cut off.

  19. I view DL as trying to make SEA a major international gateway and hub in their network with the addition of the HKG, PVG, and LHR flights. This will make them very competitive with UA & AA.

  20. DL wants to buy Alaska. Alaska has a modern, efficient fleet and some choice routes DL does not have access to currently. (LOTS of traffic up and down the coast.) Alaska is in play, Delta wants it.

  21. To truly BEAT Alaska, you have to go to (and within) Alaska……..I look for WN to go head-to-head with Alaska on non-stop SoCal to the Northwest, something WN has never done. If Alaska’s blood is in the water, it won’t be just DL feeding.

  22. “a few flights into Salt Lake City”..

    Not quite. Alaska have gone from 2x daily out of SLC to 16x daily next summer.

    1. Delta operates 233 flights a day from SLC. And, they haven’t even responded to Alaska’s new flights yet Alaska’s 16x flights will fail miserably.

  23. The question for Alaska is where do you go from here? There’s really no great move as far as expansion into other markets without facing another airlines with significant resources and loyalty. Unless there is a significant uptick in domestic traffic overall where the pie itself expands, Alaska is mostly stuck attempting to fight from their west-coast hubs unless they decide to go big and start expansion eastward or somehow start intercontinental international service.

  24. My original hope was for an Alaska & US Airways merger, but that did not happen. But, it would now seem that Alaska should at least code share with AA to expand its reach from Asia to Europe.

  25. Delta just plunged off of my list of airlines to use. 17 people were bumped today from a flight from Austin, TX to Salt Lake City, UT (26 December). Method used to bump: Select those who purchased tickets earliest; those who paid less than those who purchased tickets later. Worse, Delta eliminated an earlier, regularly scheduled flight due to not enough seats filled, and then moved most of those folks to the schedule they were later bumped from. Now that’s what I call CUSTOMER SERVICE and RELIABILITY!! And consolation for driving to the airport, waiting and hoping for hours, and finally being told there are no flights to accommodate your holiday plans: Refund of the purchase price of your ticket – nothing else! Southwest, United, American are excellent choices for all of my future flight plans!

  26. DL has also announced SEA-YYC service

    I think pure and simple, DL has decided to build SEA into a hub for international service, and decided that it needs to control at least the most important domestic feed – so it can control elite member benefits, schedules, and pricing. The thinking must be that NRT is going to decline in importance with the expansion of HND, and that therefore DL needs a strategy beyond NRT as a connecting hub. UA dominates SFO. MSP and SLC don’t have the traffic to support an Asia hub. LAX has too much competition and a relatively poor location. DL flies some routes from DTW and ATL, but geographically that misses half the country and the distances are long.

    SEA has runway and gate capacity, and is the closest mainland city to Asia, it’s growing, and it has a base of O/D traffic. So, DL is going to make a play to make SEA its Asian hub. As it happens, SEA is also reasonably well-located for polar Europe flights, so those make sense, too, for both O/D and flow. I think most of the DL expansion is tied to where flow traffic might originate or be destined, perhaps coupled with some corporate client destinations.

    So I don’t think DL made the decision to target AS – they made the decision to build SEA and not depend on AS. Now if ALK stock price goes down low enough, maybe they offer to merge.

    While I agree a merger might trouble the anti-trust authorities, especially after DL’s expansion, the usual remedies are to give up gates and slots. SEA doesn’t have slot constraints and the only airports that AS serves with slot constraints are EWR, ORD, and DCA, and none of that service overlaps. Nor are the airports with overlapping service gate constrained (except perhaps LAX). So there is fairly little that DL would have to give up if the DOJ wanted concessions.

    That’s how I see it. May we live in interesting times. AS doesn’t have very many obvious counter moves.

    1. When did Delta actually announce SEA-YYC service? I have heard rumors that DL will announce the route in early January, but as of yet have not heard anything official. Please provide a link to this if you have it…

  27. There are additional details for Mr C Flyer to mull over. Delta has unilaterally canceled all Alaska Airlines ground handling contracts effective March of 2014. Delta has also announced plans to build a 75,000 square foot “Sky Lounge” at Century Link Field.

  28. Brett, I’ve heard this may have a little something to do with Delta’s pilot scope, which really reigned in the amount of seats that domestic code share partners could operate. Any idea if it’s true or not?

    1. Eric C – I don’t buy it because much of this new flying doesn’t feed the international flights. So it’s just additive flying and not related to feeding international. But I don’t know if the pilot contract would impact this or not anyway.

  29. 4. – It’s easier and cheaper to organically build your own SEA hub than pay a premium to buy AS outright?

  30. Im from a small village in western Alaska. I was raised in the airline industry in this state. I would like to offer some views of this issue from a life long Alaskan. First, in my opinion, Delta isnt doing anything new. Rather they are returning to Seattle and Alaska. Delta, through its Western and Northwest heritage had a decades long presence serving ANC FAI and JNU. It was only in the early nineties that they scaled back Alaska and Pacific Northwest service. Second, no one on this site seems to realize how utterly unique Alaska Airlines truly is. Fly from Anchorage to Bethel and you will see what i mean.i just dont see how a major carrier like Delta would acquire Alaska and make it work. Alaska Airlines within Alaska is not only by far the dominant carrier for passengers, but it is also a cargo airline as well with the United States Postal Service being one of their most important customers. They know Alaska better than anyone and pioneered flying within this state. Point being, no major carrier can acquire Alaska Airlines and make it work with the very unique needs we have. Last, i read alot of comments about O/D traffic from SEA that Delta and Alaska are competing on. It seems to me that people posting on this site are either forgetting or unaware of the very significant through traffic from Alaska that feeds Alaska’s lower 48 flights. Delta just doesnt have this and never will. We Alaakans may not always like our “hometown” airline, but we are loyal to them. They know us and our needs and Delta just cant compete with Alaska’s service to/from or within Alaska.

    1. “First, in my opinion, Delta isnt doing anything new. Rather they are returning to Seattle and Alaska. ”

      But they are, they’re challenging a carrier on their home turf. They may speak of it on quarterly earnings calls as “opportunities” and “Trans-Pac Hub” but this is entirely about beating AS into submission, with the added benefit of creating a geographically convenient hub.

      “Delta, through its Western and Northwest heritage had a decades long presence serving ANC FAI and JNU”

      The Alaska routes have little to no meaning. They’re not doing these things for Alaska flying. Alaska is irrelevant, small and nothing important. It’s heavily summer seasonal, and the rest is a lot of oil contract flying.

      “Second, no one on this site seems to realize how utterly unique Alaska Airlines truly is. Fly from Anchorage to Bethel and you will see what i mean.i just don’t see how a major carrier like Delta would acquire Alaska and make it work.”

      Alaska Airlines is not unique. Not at all. They’re a west coast carrier with a few trans-cons. The Inter-Alaskan flying is not their bread and butter. Delta, American, Southwest, United, they could all do it. Just copy Alaska’s model. If DL bought Alaska (which they’re not going to do) they would either simply rebrand the operations and go status-quo or can them all because the volume isn’t there. That flying depends SO HEAVILY on the cargo. That’s why they’re still flying combi’s up there.

      “They know Alaska better than anyone and pioneered flying within this state. ”

      A state with little money, little population, limited tourist season and harsh conditions. Nothing to write home about. Delta wants nothing to do with inter AK flying, because it’s simply not worth their time.

      “They know Alaska better than anyone and pioneered flying within this state.”

      What does knowing the state matter? It doesn’t. Do I need to know how many bushels of corn are grown annually in Nebraska to make a profitable airline route to Nebraska? No. Pay a marketing firm to come in and do some Pax estimations, and you have everything you need to know.

      “Alaska Airlines within Alaska is not only by far the dominant carrier for passengers”

      How many other major carriers operate inter-AK routes? Oh, that’s right, none. That’s why they’re “dominant”. The other options are basically glorified Bush Pilots.

      “but it is also a cargo airline as well with the United States Postal Service being one of their most important customers.”

      As is every other airline in America. The slack could be easily absorbed.

      “Last, i read alot of comments about O/D traffic from SEA that Delta and Alaska are competing on. It seems to me that people posting on this site are either forgetting or unaware of the very significant through traffic from Alaska that feeds Alaska’s lower 48 flights”

      This is comical, and naive. What is there, maybe 20 flights/day for Alaska Airlines between Alaska-Seattle? Let’s assume 80% load loadfactor, also let’s say 85% of them have a connection to make and 2/3 of those make the connection on Alaska. We’re down to about 50% of those pax, who connect onward, using Alaska Airlines. That’s about 1200 ppd. That is nowhere near enough to even begin to appropriately feed the SEA hub. Keeping in mind, this is the tourist season, so if you checked again in DEC-JAN, the numbers will have decreased significantly.

      “Delta just doesnt have this and never will. We Alaakans may not always like our “hometown” airline, but we are loyal to them. They know us and our needs and Delta just cant compete with Alaska’s service to/from or within Alaska.”

      You’re so blinded by your love for Alaska Airlines. Delta could easily take over Alaska, rebrand them, and keep flying the same routes. You would ride the same routes, the same planes, the same baggage handlers, but it would be DL. But they won’t do this. They don’t want the AK flying. They’re content to just cherry pick everything they want in the lower 48 from them.

      They have the muscle, the reputation and the money to do whatever they want. Yet, you won’t see them do anything drastic going to AK, because they just doesn’t matter.

      The Alaska market is not important to most carriers. It needs to be in their route map, but you seem to think that AK-SEA is equivalent to SFO-LAX, NYC-Florida and you just couldn’t be more wrong.

    2. Forgot one point:

      “Delta just doesnt have this and never will. We Alaakans may not always like our “hometown” airline, but we are loyal to them. They know us and our needs and Delta just cant compete with Alaska’s service to/from or within Alaska.”

      Delta does not need your business. They’re going to be able to feed their flights with people originating in the lower 48 states. Hundreds of times more populous than Alaska. Why worry about seeling Alaska originating pax? No need. Get them from Florida, Nebraska, California, New York, etc. etc. etc.

  31. The Delta flight surge in Seattle has begun, but how are things between Widget and Eskimo? On the next episode of ‘As Seattle Turns’…

  32. @Ben H, Yes it seems the surge has begun but Delta is backing off, a bit. I live in San Diego and have enjoyed Alaska’s expansion here. Alaska’s customer service is well above Delta in my opinion.
    But the significant thing is that I had a flight scheduled from SEA to SAN in early OCT.
    I just noticed Delta is scaling back their non-stops between SEA and SAN. The daily A320 is replaced with a compass regional jet on the weekends and the total number of nonstop flights is now 4 during the week and three on the weekends (down from 5 and 4).
    Apparently advanced booking is nowhere near what Delta wanted.

  33. Nothing much new here lately, but I can report Delta is still ramming Alaska hard at SEA. Hundreds of flights per day, but still behind Alaska, mostly due to Horizon. The jury is still out on this one!

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