American Airlines, which since emerging from bankruptcy in 2013 has seemingly been a weak, slumbering giant of an airline, often bullied by Delta, said Thursday it will move to expand in Seattle, a Delta hub.
The expansion has two aspects. First, American will form an alliance with Alaska Airlines, which like Delta has a Seattle hub. Alaska and Delta have battled since Delta established a hub in Seattle, which is Alaska’s stronghold, in 2014.
Secondly, American will begin service from Seattle to Bangalore, India, in October 2020 – flying a Boeing 787-200 seating 285 passengers – and from Seattle to London Heathrow on a Boeing 777-200 seating 273 passengers in March 2021.
Seattle-London is a typical international airline route, already flown by Delta, Norwegian and American partner British Airways. By contrast, the 17-hour, 8,084-mile Seattle-Bangalore route is one that few people would ever have imagined.
“It’s exciting to see that American is taking on Delta,” said Dennis Tajer, spokesman for Allied Pilots Association, which represents American pilots. “We are excited by competing and winning, not just by co-existence.”
As for the Bangalore route, Tajer said, “We are hopeful that this is a real opportunity, not just a show of force.”
In a joint announcement Thursday, American and Alaska said Alaska will join the Oneworld alliance. Additionally, the two will expand a domestic codeshare to include American’s international routes from Los Angeles and Seattle. Also, each carriers’ frequent flier program will be offered on the other carrier.
Before Alaska acquired Virgin America in 2016, American and Alaska had a codeshare agreement, but regulators forced a reduction as a condition of the merger. Some of that reduction had been slated to take effect in March 2020.
“By connecting American’s strength in long-haul international flying and Alaska’s presence across the West Coast, we will build a better network for our customers than either airline could build alone,” said American President Robert Isom in a prepared statement.
Seattle-Bangalore tickets will go on sale this month, while Seattle-London tickets will go on sale in May.
“Beginning West Coast international service from Seattle will complement American’s strong existing international network from LAX,” said Vasu Raja, American senior vice president, network strategy, in a prepared statement.
“India is a grossly underserved market, despite the number of businesses with a major presence in both India and the West Coast,” Rasu said. “By adding Seattle to Bangalore, we’re giving customers from more than 70 U.S. cities access to India in one stop or less — versus the two, three or four stops they’d have to make to get there in the past.”
The Seattle expansion comes five months and a half months after Delta announced it would block American’s long-planned partnership with LATAM, the largest airline conglomerate in Latin America, by spending $1.9 billion to buy 20% of the Santiago-based company.
American, by all accounts, was shocked – and apparently prodded into action. It seemed to target Delta’s Boston hub, newly established in June.
Within days of the LATAM announcement, American said it would begin Boston-London service. In November, American announced a Boston-Austin, Texas, in competition with Delta. In October, hours before the Delta earnings call, American announced new Boston routes to Indianapolis, Raleigh-Durham and Wilmington, N.C.
Aviation consultant Bob Mann said the move on Seattle also “gives a sense that American wants to compete.
“American is picking up the pieces from the Alaska/Delta blowup,” Mann said. “They had to drop some of the pieces in the Virgin America merger, but apparently not these pieces.”
As for the Bangalore flight, Mann said the city’s status as the technology capital of India – referred to as India’s Silicon Valley – provides the rationale for the flight.
“I would guess that American has an insight into corporate travel needs,” he said. “I point to the tech firms in Seattle as a likely vector for that. That’s the only reason you would serve it.”
For U.S. carriers, India has been a tough market, largely impenetrable due to a preponderance of low fare service, often remarketed by consolidators, and by one-stop competition from the subsidized Middle East carriers. “The historic pattern is very long-haul flights with very low unit revenue,” Mann said.
Seattle/Bangalore, he noted, would become “one of few cases where code sharing and alliances result in new service instead of duplicative services. It is not typical.”