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.
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.
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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