Air France to Seattle: Stirring up trouble??

Air France tail at CDG airport at sunset

Air France is returning to Seattle next Summer, with up to 5x weekly service from Paris-CDG starting on 25 March 2018. The new flights join partner Delta’s existing daily service between the two cities, upping capacity by ~70% during the peak summer season. The flight times between the two carriers are nicely offset, delivering real options to passengers. At least in this context the joint venture arrangement between the two offers some advantages for passengers.

Another new seasonal route across the Atlantic is not all that surprising. Even the choice to augment rather than replace within the JV is easy to understand during the high season. But in reading some of the initial reactions late yesterday about the announcement I wonder about a different angle of the news: What does it mean for Alaska Airlines?

In the short term the answer to that question is likely positive. Air France and Alaska Airlines are partners, with a codeshare arrangement and some frequent flyer program reciprocity. Adding another route to Europe increases the value of the MileagePlan program. And Alaska Airlines still offers a number of onward connections for Air France passengers that are not served by Delta via Seattle.

Read More: Air France, Delta to (maybe) swap on Chicago-Paris winter service

But there’s also the ongoing battle between Alaska and Delta in Seattle. The two broke off their cooperation – both codeshare and loyalty – last year and the marketing skirmish in town is impressive. And I’m wondering when that boils over and impacts the Air France – Alaska Airlines situation. I think it has to come sooner than not.

Seeing Air France dropped from the list of partners for Alaska Airlines would be a coup for Delta. It strengthens the Widget’s relative position in Seattle and reinforces the split between global and regional carrier. That’s good marketing fodder on top of the actual impact of a changed relationship. And there’s more reason than ever for such a move to come (relatively) soon.

Read More: Stock swap: Delta, Virgin Atlantic, Air France/KLM making moves on each other

Delta is poised to take a 10% ownership stake in the Air France-KLM group and also a seat on the Board of Directors. That does not mean instant change to partnerships, of course, but the potential for such increases. The Air France relationship with Alaska Airlines predates the SkyTeam Joint Venture across the Atlantic (2006 v 2009) but the latter is strengthening as the legacy airlines fight off LCCs and other challenges to their yields. Not surprisingly the Air France announcement of the move does not mention the Alaska Airlines partnership at all, though it does call out the Delta JV.

Alaska’s MileagePlan historically served as a great “wildcard” program for collecting and redeeming against a wide variety of partners. That’s been great for passengers and presumably for the airline as well. But this is one facet of that plan I could see falling by the wayside (and taking KLM with it, of course) in the not too distant future. I wonder when the contracts are up for renewal.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Definitely an interesting one to watch. I haven’t gotten much into the non-alliance code sharing in recent years, but this has me curious. Could I conceivably earn Delta Skymiles by flying an AF codeshare on AS CHS-SEA and then AF onward SEA-CDG? I believe you are right that this service can cause a problem with AF/AS code sharing, but in the short term, it might present an opportunity. Maybe an amateurish question, but with the new changes to the Amex spending waver on Skymiles, I am looking at all of my options. 🙂

    1. That’s what I was wondering. I figured there would be no difference if it was an AF flight number booked through AF. There is definitely a difference is how Skymiles are credited on Delta flights on AF ticket stock vs DL ticket stock. The question would be the ability to book it as a connecting flight from CHS-CDG.

    2. You’re right, there doesn’t seem to be an AF number for that flight when I look for it in Sabre. I guess I could have checked that first. 🙂

  2. I agree. It’s already hard to find award availability on AF using Alaska miles. I don’t think this will help the whole “battle for Seattle” being that Delta can pressure a Skyteam partner will be important sadly.

  3. From their business practices, AS really has no qualms of negotiating code-share deals with just about ANYONE. So in that sense, no single partner is all that irreplaceable. Partners come and partners go …. it’s the nature of the setup instead of relatively stable setups like an alliance. Lose AF-KL ? They’ll just go talk to LH Group instead. Lose KE ? Talk to Asiana.

    AS can always bring in surprises (like the recent SQ tie-up), but the flip side of that coin is that partner XYZ you’ve been accumulating so hard to redeem leaves them overnight. It’s absolutely unrealistic to think AS will just keep adding partners without losing a few along the way.

    1. “Just go talk to LH Group instead” is cute but it ignores the more significant factor presented: The JVs are getting tighter, to the exclusion of other partners. LH Group is happily wedded to UA for TATL the same way AF/KL is to Delta. The more likely scenario IMO is that BA decides to get tighter with AA, at the expense of AS.

      Those TATL JVs are becoming stronger at many levels. They have to in order to fight the LCCs. And it is not good news for the independent programs, I don’t think.

  4. AS and AF do not codeshare, and most through-fares do not allow for interline connections between AS and AF anyways. I believe the “issues” are quite overrated in this context.

    1. Hmm….Pretty sure they used to. Even without the codeshare the partnership is at risk IMO. Not because AS wants it to end but because DL does, and it will use its JV relationship and seat on the AF/KL board to push for such.

      Is it really an “issue” for Alaska Airlines? Maybe, maybe not. But I think it is coming.

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