Delta puts more chips on Seattle table

For the second time in two months, Delta is adding West Coast routes from Seattle.

By TheStreet.com Staff Nov 6, 2013 11:03AM

parked airplane © Sava Alexandru, Vetta, Getty ImagesBy Ted ReedTheStreet.com logo


Delta (DAL) is wasting no time bulking up in Seattle.

 

The carrier said Tuesday it will add two new Seattle destinations: Portland and San Diego. That would bring the total number of destinations to 18. Four daily San Diego non-stops will begin June 2, four daily Portland, Ore., non-stops will begin Sept. 2, and the number of summer seasonal flights to Anchorage, Alaska, will increase from one to two on June 5.

 

The competition involved in Delta's Seattle buildup, where code-share partner Alaska (ALK) already operates a hub with about 300 daily departures, is a hot topic in the airline industry. By next summer, Delta will have nine daily international departures from Seattle, including six to Asia, and it wants to support that with domestic feed.

 

Delta said last month it will add seven daily Seattle-San Francisco flights by June 2014; four daily Seattle-Las Vegas flights by April, bringing the total to five; and two daily Seattle-Los Angeles flights in June, bringing the total to seven. Alaska's reaction to the buildup was the subject of repeated questions on its third-quarter earnings call last month.

 

"As we move forward, there are going to be places where it's going to be in our interest to work with Delta and we're going to support them, (where) they're growing internationally," said Alaska CEO Brad Tilden. "And then there are places where they are growing in North-South markets that have been long-term core markets for Alaska Air Group (and) in those markets, we will compete and we'll defend what we've built over the next years."

 

On Tuesday, Delta said it would double mileage awards and qualification for its Medallion program, which enables upgrades, on all six of its Seattle-West Coast routes through Oct. 31, 2014.

 

"We have continued to strategically add service from key markets in an effort to support passenger demand for our expanding international destinations," said Mike Medeiros, Delta's vice president -- Seattle. "Delta's most recent additions will provide our customers with one-stop access to and from several of the top international and domestic destinations via our growing global gateway in Seattle." Delta currently operates 36 peak-day departures to 15 destinations from Seattle.

 

The new flights mean that Delta will operate in every one of the top 10 Seattle domestic markets that is not a hub for another major carrier. The top 10 domestic markets by traffic, according to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, are San Francisco, Los Angeles, Denver, Anchorage, Phoenix, Chicago O'Hare, Las Vegas, Dallas, Minneapolis and Portland. Delta will be in six of them and will keep growing.

 

"We will continue to explore adding service to markets that support our overall international growth in the market," said spokesman Anthony Black. "Delta is building an important international gateway in Seattle and we are committed to supporting its continued success through our growing domestic network."

 

Scott Hamilton, Issaquah, Wash.-based aviation analyst with Leeham.net, said Delta "will have a tougher time than it thinks it will" if it battles Alaska for Seattle-area passengers. "Alaska has tremendous loyalty here in Seattle. It's the hometown airline."

 

In 2005, Southwest (LUV) proposed moving from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to close-in Boeing Field because of the rising fees at SeaTac. "That created an uproar," Hamilton said. "The community beat up on Southwest in the media," partially because of loyalty to Alaska, which remained focused on SeaTac operations. Southwest later dropped the proposal.

 

At the same time, Seattle has long suffered from a dearth of international markets, so Delta's international flights are a welcome boost for the economy. "Delta is clearly making Seattle an Asian hub," Hamilton said. "To do that you need to feed your own routes if your code-share partner doesn't provide the capacity you want."

 

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