In a major shift in hub strategy, American Airlines and Delta Air Lines have decided not to expand operations at Seoul's new Incheon airport. Both carriers have previously proposed a Seoul hub. They lack fifth freedoms beyond Japan but could exercise unlimited rights beyond Seoul under the South Korea-USA "open skies" bilateral.

With its proximity to much of Asia, Incheon has the makings of a strategy to bypass Japan. Yet, both carriers have opted against it. "It is unlikely that we would build a hub at Seoul," says American. "The opening of Incheon provides more opportunities to our partners, Asiana and Japan Airlines, which could mean more options for our own passengers."

Alliances have also replaced hubs in Delta's thinking. "Our presence at Incheon will be via the SkyTeam alliance," Delta says. Mostly that means Korean Airlines (KAL). Delta does not codeshare on KAL flights, but the two plan to share a terminal. Neither Delta nor SkyTeam partner, Air France, has been codesharing with KAL because of concerns about its safety and operational record. The Delta codeshare will probably not be reinstated until later this year.

American and Delta now have nonstops of their own to other Asian cities. Combine that with feed from alliance partners and the whole strategy of building hubs around one airline's operations seems to have become obsolete. Nevertheless, Delta predicts Incheon "will offer more connectivity than any other airport in the Asia-Pacific".

Source: Airline Business