It seems like we’ve been waiting for this for a long time. First we heard the news that the long-frosty relationship between Delta and Korean had begun to thaw. Then we heard that the airlines planned to create a joint venture. Now, regulatory approval has been received on both sides of the Pacific, so it’s time to hit the accelerator.
Both United/ANA and American/JAL have had years to refine their partnerships over the Pacific, but they haven’t gotten nearly as far as you might expect. Delta and Korean should have also shacked up years ago, but a disagreement between the two led to some frosty years. Not only did they fail to form a joint venture, but they also cut back their frequent flier partnership and scaled down codesharing.
I’ve written here about Delta’s Pacific perils at the ever-shrinking Narita hub. But now it’s time to stop talking about shrinking and start focusing on what this partnership can mean.
To start, Delta says there are four things coming soon.
1) Implement full reciprocal codesharing on each other’s networks and work together to provide the best travel experience for customers between U.S. and Asia
The two airlines have already started to ramp up codesharing significantly since the relationship began to thaw, but I imagine they’ll now expand it even further into smaller markets that may not have the code today.
2) Offer improved reciprocal loyalty program benefits, including providing customers of both airlines the ability to earn more miles on Korean Air’s SKYPASS program and Delta’s SkyMiles program
SkyMiles members, rejoice. Despite the warming relationship, the frequent flier partnership has remained frigid. Delta SkyMiles members, for example, earn 100 percent of miles for premium cabin and full fare coach on Korean-marketed flights. Mid-level coach fare classes earn 50 to 75 percent, and lower fares earn nothing. But most importantly, Delta frequent fliers can earn NO medallion qualifying miles at all when they fly Korean-marketed flights. That has been a huge reason for the most important Delta fliers to avoid Korean. This ridiculousness can’t end soon enough.
3) Begin implementing joint sales and marketing initiatives
This may not sound like much, but it’s incredibly important. Don’t forget that Korean is a beast when it comes to Transpacific flying with a ton of flights to more than 10 cities in the US and Canada. It has a sales organization in the US, but it’s still limited in its ability to push sales and marketing efforts beyond big cities. Likewise for Delta, it has a presence in Japan and in a couple other cities, but Korean is much stronger in Asia.
This isn’t just about knocking on doors. This means Delta and Korean can offer joint commission incentive agreements to travel agencies. With joint pricing they can really flex their muscles. American and United have done this with their partners over the Pacific for years, and now Delta can do the same.
4) Increase belly cargo cooperation across the trans-Pacific
It’s easy to underestimate cargo, but cargo is important. Working together on the cargo side should work the same as it does on the passenger side, possibly having an even bigger impact.
Now the question is… how close do Delta and Korean get, and how quickly can they get there? Unlike over the Atlantic, the Transpacific joint ventures haven’t grown as tight so far. Think about American and British Airways or United and Lufthansa. They’re thick as thieves. But over the Pacific, the relationships have remained more distant. Why? There could be a lot of reasons. It could be cultural differences, or it could be that some airlines are more focused on their home markets instead of thinking globally. Whatever the reason, this means Delta and Korean have an opportunity.
If Delta and Korean are able to forge a relationship even remotely near what Delta has with Air France/KLM, then they’ll quickly become a leader over the Pacific. They both have every incentive to try to achieve that, and now that government approvals have been received, it’s time to show what they can do.