Earlier this week in celebration of its 80th anniversary (NWA) of service and growing presence in Seattle, Delta Air Lines unveiled their Sprit of Seattle new Boeing 737-900ER aircraft at Boeing Field. The aircraft is “dedicated to the city of Seattle and the airline’s customers, employees and partners in the region.” Interestingly enough, Alaska Airlines has their own Spirit of Seattle decked in full Boeing colors.

Delta Spirit of Seattle

Alaska Airlines Spirit of Seattle

The unveiling came less than a week after Delta once again added new routes directly in competition with partner Alaska Airlines. As noted in the previous post – Delta & Alaska – Best Frenemies? The Battle for Seattle, it’s been quite an interesting year for these two airlines.  The future seemed so bright last October when Delta announced their huge Seattle build-up and expanded Alaska Airlines partnership. Delta planned to dramatically increase their international flight schedule from Seattle, while partner Alaska would be key in feeding the flights with traffic from their strong domestic hub. Both airlines also announced reciprocal frequent flier mileage earning and elite benefits. Adam Levine-Weinberg at The Motley Fool reports that Delta has clearly changed their strategy and decided to follow a new playbook:

Once again, Delta is targeting core markets for Alaska Air, in a bid to become more self-sufficient in Seattle. Delta’s latest expansion of service in Seattle involves two more routes for which Alaska already offers frequent service. Most importantly, in June Delta will add five daily round-trips between Seattle and Vancouver, which is a short 125-mile hop currently served by Alaska and Air Canada. Delta will also add a daily seasonal flight from Seattle to Fairbanks next summer, breaking Alaska’s monopoly on that route. These new flights come on top of recent announcements of new or expanded service from Seattle to San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, San Diego, Portland, and Anchorage. (Delta is also adding long-haul flights to London, Seoul, and Hong Kong next year.) All in all, by next summer, Delta Air Lines will have added 31 new daily roundtrip flights to its Seattle schedule compared to its 2013 schedule. This is pretty impressive considering Delta currently offers only 35 peak-day departures from Seattle and offered just 44 during the summer peak season. Delta thus plans to grow its presence in Seattle by around 70% in the span of just a year. This will still leave it at just a fraction of Alaska Air’s size in the Seattle area, but as a much more serious competitor.

It’s also being reported that loyal Alaskan fliers have created their own Facebook support group to show their allegiance to the “true local carrier” and send the “carpetbagger from the east back home”. They also note Delta’s use of smaller CRJ and ERJ aircraft on several of the routes where Alaska currently utilizes Boeing 737 aircraft.

Update – Alaska has just announced an expansion from Delta’s hub at Salt Lake City (SLC)! From NYCAviation

After just eight months of serving the Salt Lake City market from their home base of Seattle (SEA), Alaska Airlines Group has announced an expansion of their service from SLC to four west coast destinations. In June 2014, daily flights will commence to Portland (PDX), San Jose (SJC), San Diego (SAN), and Los Angeles (LAX). An additional flight to Seattle (SEA) is also being added, bringing the total number to three each day. Booking for these flights will be available beginning on December 10. The airline is commemorating this new service expansion by rewarding its Mileage Plan members with double mileage accrual on these selected routes. Alaska Airlines is known to have a modest status-level threshold relative to its competitors in the industry, so this is especially good news for their frequent fliers. To benefit from the promotion, membership must be effective by June 15, 2014. would be difficult not to notice the location of Alaska’s choice for service expansion and the statement that it presents to their codeshare partner, Delta Air Lines.

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JustSaying December 6, 2013 - 12:19 pm

Could it be that Delta is looking to build a maintenance hub there and feed off the Boeing workforce training?

Shaun December 6, 2013 - 12:33 pm

Any chance Alaska will ever expand and try to go international? I would think that a plane like the 787 would make certain routes fesible for them. I would think with the reduced capacity, higher fares, and improving economy, if they were ever going to give it a go, now would be the time. Instead of just the feeder revenue they could actually capture a bigger peice of the pie.

adam December 6, 2013 - 12:36 pm

@Shaun – I don’t see them going international but I just updated the post as Alaska has announced an expansion from SLC!

David December 6, 2013 - 1:17 pm

Delta has reduced int’l flights out of MSP & DTW, and is moving LAX-Asia to SEA. SEA is a non hub growth with some premium growing O&D corporate. DL is shrewed, stock is up there. wouldn’t they like to ding AK profitability and stock price for a stock acquisition pre-merger? SEA becomes DL’s asia cornerstone connecting LAX, SLC, MSP, even DTW asia-bound traffic there

Carl December 6, 2013 - 1:32 pm

@David That’s clearly DL’s strategy, to build up an Asia hub at SEA. Instead of one bank, DL has flights throughout the day, hence they need multiple feeder flights. Almost all of the new cities are either important sources or destinations of Asia travelers, as well as helping DL to increase its base of frequent fliers in SEA.

If ALK’s stock price drops, maybe an acquisition becomes possible, but I don’t think that’s central to DL’s strategy, it might be an interesting side-effect.

MEM must be might jealous right around now. Maybe MEM can get some MEM-SEA flights back.

David December 6, 2013 - 2:16 pm

Despite DOJ, AA/US gave up little to merge. DL w/ AK would catapult past. Even DL strategy w/ oil refinery & 717s & 330s is contrarian, unlike AA’s pricey new fleet; DL earnings will benefit from cheaper (old) planes bought at a discount and can always be sold at a discount. AA/US will retrench at PHX, ORD & JFK, build LAX & PHL, Charlotte & MIA already fortress. DL will build SEA hub and cut back old NW Tokyo hub, and cut back LAX, DTW & MSP to asia, JFK for Europe, ATL for mid East. UA will own ORD, EWR, IAH, DEN. AA PHL, MIA, Charlotte, DFW, more in LAX, DL will be JFK, ATL, DTW, MSP, SEA, SLC. DL & AA split LGA & DCA.

Carl December 6, 2013 - 2:24 pm

I think LAX will continue to be split 3-ways
I agree that AA is likely to shrink in PHX and ORD, not so sure about JFK/LGA.
DL doesn’t need to cut anywhere, they have already right-sized MEM & CVG, and all their other hubs are fortress, except JFK/LGA and LAX which are split.

The DOJ doesn’t like route overlaps when they consider mergers, and the DL/AS moves are making for a lot of overlapping routes, really more than either the UA-CO or AA-US mergers. There aren’t any obvious concessions since none of the airports involved are slot controlled. I don’t think a DL-AS merger would sail through. In any event, at ALK’s stock prices, I don’t think DL buy ALK

DiscoPapa December 6, 2013 - 4:45 pm

In what markets does Delta use CRJ/ERJ equipment when AS is using 737s?

adam December 7, 2013 - 5:07 pm

@DiscoPapa – SEA – SFO/LAX are two such markets. DL predominately will have ERJs with a few mainline thrown in.

Carl December 7, 2013 - 8:51 pm

Even DL’s SFO-LAX shuttle is operated by E170/175 aircraft. They are actually fairly comfortable offering first class and 2×2 seating in coach, and enough room to put rollaboards in the overhead bins.

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