Battle for Seattle: Delta v. Alaska Airlines

airplane2By Oregon Small Business Association

Seattle is the center of one of the airline industry’s biggest turf wars, and the ultimate victor may be Northwest business travelers, both domestic and international.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has long been a hub for Alaska Airlines, which currently runs 253 flights out of Seattle daily to 79 different locations in North America. But Delta Airlines has been aggressively expanding its Seattle operation, and is now the number two carrier in the market. In May of this year, the worlds’ second largest airline announced it will add several new destinations from Seattle—Spokane, Calgary, Alberta, Maui, Bozeman, Los Cabos and Puerto Vallarta. By 2017, Delta plans to offer more than 150 daily flights from Seattle to compete for business.

Delta’s announcement means that two major carriers will now service some of the same domestic markets from Seattle, and both airlines are racing to add more domestic locations. In response to Delta’s plans, Alaska Airlines plans to increase nonstop flights out of Seattle 11 percent by spring 2015, growing the number of daily flights to 285. It will increase the frequency of trips to Boise, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Fairbanks (AK) and Palm Springs (CA) and recently announced the addition of new routes to Albuquerque, Baltimore, Detroit, New Orleans, Tampa and Cancun. For its Seattle-Spokane route, the airline will even switch to larger planes to increase the number of seats—adding 150 seats per day.

The benefits to business travelers are already starting to accrue. In addition to increasing the number of destinations, both airlines have begun offering deals as they vie for the loyalties of Northwest travelers, including enhancements to frequent flyer programs and double bonus miles to certain locations. Costs for both individual and corporate travel may also decrease as the airlines compete for business.

While Alaska Airlines focuses exclusively on servicing North American destinations, Delta is a global carrier that views Seattle as the “Gateway to Asia.” Delta has recently added international flights from Seattle to Shanghai, Tokyo, Seoul and Hong Kong that will make it easier and more cost-effective for Northwest business executives to travel abroad and attend to corporate interests in Asian markets. Growing international travel to and from Seattle will also likely generate local and regional economic and business activity.

Interestingly, Delta and Alaska Airlines are officially partners pledged to work together to serve the flying public. Delta, however, has clearly chosen to compete for the Northwest market independent of Alaska Airlines and plans to make it a hub for its domestic and global services. Given Alaska Airlines’ near total domination of the Seattle hub for so long, some analyst wonder if Delta’s aggressive plan will backfire. There is also concern among both companies’ investors that the competition could be too costly to the airlines’ bottom lines.

In the meantime, business travel out of Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is likely to become cheaper and more convenient to a growing number of prime destinations.

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