Go west, US airlines

US air carriers are beginning to duke it out (again) out west.

Delta Air Lines especially is provoking the ire of its codeshare partner Alaska Airlines and competitor United Airlines along the west coast, as it builds up its focus city at Seattle Tacoma International airport.

Citing the need to provide feed for its expanding international services from Seattle, the Atlanta-based SkyTeam Alliance carrier has launched flights to Anchorage, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, and recently announced new six-times daily service to San Francisco from 28 March 2014 – far more than expected if feed to once daily international flights was your goal.

Alaska and United have responded in kind, increasing capacity and frequencies on Seattle-San Francisco around the end of March 2014, and on the other routes.

“On domestic, Delta is no different than other competitors,” Ben Munson, director of network planning at Seattle-based Alaska, told Airline Business earlier in October. “The moves they make in Seattle [are] for their reasons and we will respond.”

The battle is in more than just Seattle. Los Angeles and San Francisco are also centres, with airlines – mostly Chicago-based United – retaliating with additional service. For example, the Star Alliance carrier has announced new flights to the Delta strongholds of Atlanta and Minneapolis-St. Paul from San Francisco and Los Angeles, respectively.


“If everything we’ve seen filed remains in the system, there will be a very fierce battle out here and it will be very interesting to watch,” says Henry Harteveldt, a San Francisco-based travel industry analyst at Hudson Crossing.

Whether or not this is a larger trend returning to the days of using capacity and low fares to force a competitor out of a market is unclear. Harteveldt says it is not, noting that Delta is very nimble and strategic in its route planning.

On the other hand, Helane Becker, an airline analyst at Cowen Securities, says that the moves are “definitely concerning” and one indication of the larger trend towards more capacity throughout the US market.

“Everybody has spent four or five years focused on maintaining capacity discipline but when push comes to shove and you look ahead you’ve got to wonder how long before someone breaks rank,” she says.

Delta and other carriers have expanded and then pulled expansions along the west coast before, leaving Alaska, Southwest Airlines and United in their long standing dominant positions in the region. Only time will tell whether this time will be any different.

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