Delta’s expansion of its shuttle service to Seattle last
week was the latest move in the carrier’s skirmish with Alaska Airlines for
Pacific Northwest supremacy, analysts said.
“Delta and Alaska don’t get along,” said Seth Kaplan, the
managing partner for Airline Weekly. “They’re at war.”
Delta launched the business traveler-oriented service on
May 11 with flights from Seattle to San Francisco and Seattle to Los Angeles.
Most notably, Delta Shuttle flights have separate, dedicated check-in counters.
For convenience, they also make use of gates located near security and offer
two-class service with complimentary upgrades.
Delta is operating the shuttle service on its eight
existing peak-day flights from Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport to Los Angeles and its
eight peak-day flights from Seattle to San Francisco. It will also be offered
on two Seattle-LAX flights to be added May 23.
The Delta Shuttle’s West Coast expansion — it has offered
flights between San Francisco and Los Angeles since 2013 — came a month after
Alaska entered into a merger deal with Virgin America. Once the merger is
finalized, Alaska will be the largest carrier on the West Coast.
Delta has been taking on Alaska aggressively in its
Seattle home market since 2012, increasing service at Sea-Tac from 31 peak-day
flights to what will total more than 150 peak-day flights this summer. Alaska
makes 258 daily departures from Seattle.
Aviation analyst Bob Mann of R.W. Mann & Co. said
that Delta made the move on Seattle after it decided it couldn’t merely rely on
its codeshare agreement with Alaska for Seattle routes. That agreement remains
in place, leading some to refer to the airlines as “frenemies.”
While Alaska’s codeshare with Delta amounted to 2% of its
annual revenue as of December, the carrier brought in more than twice that from
a codeshare deal with American.
Analysts last week expressed skepticism that the advent
of the Delta Shuttle in Seattle will have a major impact. Alaska offers 19
peak-daily flights between Seattle and San Francisco and Los Angeles compared
with 22 Delta will be offering by the end of May.
“Every move that Delta makes in Seattle is calculated to
siphon off from Alaska,” said Jason Rabinowitz, data research manager for the
flight-amenities ranking website Routehappy. “I don’t know if it will be
successful, because the shuttle doesn’t really offer all that much more than
the typical flight.”
Mann said that the conversion of standard service into
Delta Shuttle operations should be viewed mainly as a marketing effort. He
said the original airline shuttle operations, which flew between New York,
Boston and Washington, were operated as on-demand services. Now the Delta
Shuttle is booked like any other flight.
“I think [Delta] just decided that there are shuttles on
the East Coast that don’t actually perform like a shuttle, but we’ll call them
that,” Mann said, “so why can’t we do that on the West Coast, too?”