American Airlines and Alaska Airlines are longtime partners. That relationship is set to get a lot deeper as the two establish a “west coast international alliance” with more long-haul lift coming. As part of the expansion American Airlines will launch service from Seattle to Bangalore, India in October 2020, fed by the Alaska Airlines’ 300+ daily flights at its main hub. A Seattle-London Heathrow flight will follow in March 2021.
Alaska Airlines has a great network fit with us. AS is strong in the west coast markets, particularly in the Pacific Northwest…and that’s where our network is the weakest. By doing this we get to put the two airlines together and very critically have American Airlines launch international flights into places that would’ve been unthinkable.– Vasu Raja, Senior Vice President of Network Strategy
American Airlines’ new international gateway in Seattle
Don’t call it a hub, but American Airlines is ready for some big growth in Seattle on the international front. The carrier will launch the Bangalore and London flights and it seems likely a few others as well, once the feed from Alaska Airlines is running smoothly. This is not about drawing traffic away from Los Angeles or other hubs according to Vasu Raja, Senior Vice President of Network Strategy. He sees it as augmenting the existing network, but without the need to develop the domestic feed half of the operation, “In Seattle our airline will be able to do things that we wouldn’t be able to do anywhere else. We get to go and launch international flights off of the strength of that great domestic network. In Seattle we have a gateway that very much compliments the rest of our hubs. Our flying there will be incremental growth for our airline in a creative way that we haven’t really seen before.”
For American Airlines’ front-line employees the new arrangement could trigger concerns. Rather than seeing direct domestic operations growth the company is arguably “outsourcing” that service to Alaska Airlines to deliver the feed. Raja hopes to assuage those concerns, talking up the west coast feed from Alaska Airlines into American’s operations at LAX, too, “As good as this is for Seattle, it is just as good for LA. Our partnership is a west coast international alliance. We will have a comprehensive partnership. Those domestic flights that they fly into LA will help support our long-haul service out of LA. We expect to continue to grow in LA and also now grow in Seattle and offer a really compelling network as a joint AA/Alaska marketing presence.”
Bangalore is a major business market from the USA and a growing one, with tech driving most of the demand. Cranky Flier shares some detailed statistics but the gist of it is that a nonstop flight between the US and Bangalore should do great. The problem is that it is very far away. Raja explains:
Our airline and our airline network is about taking chances. We bought the 787-9s to fly to India and Africa, not to Hawaii. Now it it time to make good on that. The real challenge is that the highest growth market for our customer base is Bangalore but Bangalore is so far beyond the reach of the 789 from any of our hubs. Indeed, there’s only one market in the US that can serve Bangalore with reasonable payload and that’s Seattle. With this partnership we’re able to open an India network.
Bangalore service from the West Coast via Seattle compliments the British Airways option via Heathrow on the East Coast. And Seattle and San Francisco combine to deliver 20% of the daily demand, so there’s a lot of potential traffic for this new service. United Airlines and Air India can also offer a one-stop option with a connection in India but the domestic hop on the US side will be a much better passenger experience overall.
The Seattle-Bangalore flight is only about 300 miles shorter than a trip from Philadelphia, so maybe Seattle isn’t really the only technically viable option. But between winter headwinds and the higher passenger demand from the West Coast it makes more sense to fly it from Seattle, assuming American can get that feed from Alaska Airlines.
Alaska Airlines picks Oneworld membership
The deeper relationship could also see Alaska Airlines scale back on its generally broad partnerships policy. Alaska Airlines has many, many airline partners across alliances and independent carriers. But today it announced plans to join the oneworld alliance in due course.
What of the non-oneworld partnerships will remain? Will it join the transatlantic joint venture? Lots of loyalty questions yet to be answered. But in the near term expect full reciprocity with American Airlines