CEO of Alaska Airlines, Brad Tilden, believes that COVID-19 may have accelerated Alaska’s plan to join the oneworld alliance. Alaska believes that, as a member of the alliance, it will be able to connect its customers to a broader market around the world where its passengers want to go – even amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Alaska moving forward to join oneworld
In an Aviation Week Fireside Chat viewed by Simple Flying, CEO Brad Tilden made the following comments when asked about how COVID-19 would affect Alaska’s plans to join the oneworld alliance:
“I think it’s probably accelerated it a little bit. We were well on that path pre-COVID, but I do think that, especially with international, people are going to be looking to work with their partners through their alliance to satisfy the global demand that exists.”
The excitement is still in the air over this move forward. First announced in February, Alaska believes its longstanding relationship with many oneworld airlines, including American, British Airways, and others, made oneworld the “obvious choice.”
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When is it happening?
Tilden made the following comment when prompted on the join date:
“What we’re hoping is for the formal invitation really soon, maybe this month, and then membership by the end of the year. It’s on quite a fast track.”
Originally, Alaska had planned to join the alliance in 2021. Now, that’s been accelerated by a few months, assuming everything else goes according to plan.
What Alaska gains by being a part of an alliance
Global partnerships are becoming incredibly important for airlines. American is strongly committed to its oneworld partners; Delta is preferring to chart its own course by investing in airlines and building up partnerships there over alliance-wide partnerships, and United charts a sort of middle ground between the two. The reason being is simple. There are plenty of benefits to being a part of an alliance. For Alaska, one of the biggest is the international connectivity.
Alaska Airlines operates an all-narrowbody fleet. This limits the airline to flying short- and medium-haul missions in the US, Canada, and Central America. However, Tilden notes that its customers are looking for a little more:
“Customers in Seattle and San Francisco and San Jose … they want to fly domestically up and down the West coast or Midwest or whatever, but they also want to take those trips for business or for pleasure to London or Sydney or Shanghai or wherever.”
While Alaska does have its partnerships, being part of an alliance deepens those potentials. Working with American Airlines, Alaska plans on building up a robust West Coast partnership. Already, American has announced plans to fly from Seattle to Bengaluru (BLR), London-Heathrow (LHR), and Shanghai (PVG). This would have been impossible without Alaska’s hub out of the airport.
For Alaska, it essentially means greater connectivity out of Seattle, which it can market to its base of customers, without the significant capital expenditures it would need in taking on new aircraft, setting up marketing, setting up ground games in other countries, and adding additional maintenance and training costs.
In addition, these international flights will also help keep more of Alaska’s planes full. With the COVID-19 crisis, there has been an overall decrease in travel demand. All airlines are working to react and either grow or shrink accordingly.
Where Alaska sees itself in oneworld
Within oneworld, every airline has its place. Alaska Airlines won’t be the primary US carrier in the alliance. However, Brad Tilden sees the airline bringing loyalty from passengers in its core markets, which the alliance can leverage. Regionally, Alaska plays strongly on the West Coast. More oneworld carriers fly into Seattle than they do to Phoenix– American’s largest hub west of Dallas- giving the alliance new reach within the Pacific Northwest.
Are you excited to see Alaska join oneworld? Let us know in the comments!