In October, we gave our $.02 on the Delta expansion in Seattle, home base of “partner” Alaska Airlines. Delta had announced new service on a number of routes that Alaska was already serving. In theory, this was to feed Delta’s growing international gateway from Seattle. We opined that it was possible Delta and Alaska were going to start playing hardball. A couple of days later, news broke that Delta pulled the plug on providing ground services at some Alaska remote stations. Things haven’t gotten much better in the meantime.
This past week, Delta announced a further expansion in Seattle, launching flights to Vancouver (5x daily) and seasonal service to Fairbanks, Alaska (you can guess who also flies there). Delta and Alaska are now competing on ten routes out of Seattle.
Last week, Delta unveiled their newest special aircraft, a Boeing 737-900ER named the Spirit of Seattle. This is a big deal, because it is rare for Delta to do any sort of special livery. But it seems that Seattle is special enough.
“For 80 years, our customers, employees and partners in Seattle have embraced Delta, and our growth here would not be possible without them,” said Mike Medeiros, Delta’s vice president – Seattle. “The Spirit of Seattle aircraft will proudly bear its name as it travels around the country as a representation of Delta’s history in Seattle and a sign of our thanks and commitment to our future here.” Delta also points out that they’ve spent $14 million enhancing their passenger facilities in Seattle.
Would Alaska respond? Oh yes…
If the “Spirit of Seattle” name sounds familiar, it should; Alaska Airlines has been flying a special livery under that name for five years. Having grown up in Washington State, and lived in Seattle for a number of years, I can tell you that Alaska is definitely considered their “hometown” airline. It’s also very interesting to note that Delta only has one other “Sprit of” plane – and that’s a 777 for Atlanta, their home base.
After Delta’s announcement of their new plane, Alaska took to Twitter to respond, also pointing out that they had been flying from Seattle for 81 years, one more than Delta/Northwest. Burn.
Shortly thereafter, Alaska took another shot back at Delta – this time more substantial. Alaska announced four new routes from Delta’s main western hub, Salt Lake City. They’ll operate flights to some of their key west coast markets (some routes will be operated by SkyWest).
Publicly, Alaska and Delta are still talking partnership (albeit in very polished PR-speak). It is hard to know the discussions that are happening behind closed doors.
Maybe this is not just Delta looking to attack Alaska head-on, but they are looking to their own future. You have the world’s (formerly, as of this morning) largest airline looking to build up a hub in Seattle and previously they have relied on Alaska to help push traffic into Seattle. When building such an important hub, it doesn’t make sense to rely on another airline for your future. What if Alaska got bought out? What if their agreement ended? The moves that Delta has been taking make some sense, but so does Alaska’s reaction.
What’s the next move? We are not sure, but we sure will be watching.