Exclusive: A Look At The Value Of Korean Air’s Delta Partnership

It is approaching three years since Korean Air began a joint venture (JV) with Delta Air Lines on Pacific routes, This partnership began on May 1st, 2018 with a goal to provide passengers more convenient flight schedules and additional benefits through seamless access to hundreds of destinations. Simple Flying caught up with the managing vice president of Korean Air’s passenger sales in the Americas, John Jackson, about how valuable the collaboration has been.

Korean Air 787
As founding SkyTeam members, Korean Air and Delta recognize the importance of working together. Photo: Korean Air

Swift developments

The joint venture provides a strong platform for growth, passenger advantages, and revenue generation across one of the most comprehensive route networks across the Pacific. The development of the JV furthered last summer when Delta completed the acquisition of a 10% equity stake in Hanjin-KAL, the largest shareholder of Korean Air. The Atlanta-based carrier previously shared that this move demonstrates its commitment to the success of the program.

Today, Korean Air stands proud with its alignment with Delta. Despite there being plenty of room for maturity amid it still being somewhat early days, both airlines are seeing results. The global health crisis absolutely rocked the aviation industry from top to bottom over the last year. However, the JV proved to be valuable amid the impact of the pandemic, and it is helping to add further foundation to the partnership.

“This is the fastest JV implementation the industry has ever seen. We still have some seams to address and some contracts to integrate, but most of it is already done and our teams are working great together,” Jackson told Simple Flying.

“A crisis is the best way to find out how strong a relationship is and we’ve done a really good job as a JV in managing it proactively. And together we have a solid vision for the JV to grow when demand returns”

Korean Air Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner HL7206
Since the pandemic, the flag carrier of South Korea has been busy reducing costs, selling assets not related to its core business, and ramping up cargo operations. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Collaboration is key

Jackson explains that his airline has regular meetings with Delta at both working and management levels. Every team, including passenger, cargo, marketing, finance, and IT departments, share updates with each other. They also discuss the market outlook, along with what they can do together in the post-pandemic climate.

Airlines have had to implement and scale-up several biosecurity measures since the outbreak of the virus. The executive highlights that presently, Delta and Korean Air’s programs ensure the highest level of cleanliness. He adds that Incheon International Airport, Korean Air’s hub, is one of the world’s safest airports.

The site is in close communication with customers of both airlines. The operators are also working together to regularly communicate with and update customers, especially corporate travel managers and travel agencies.

Korean Air understands the value of communication and collaboration. It feels that airlines need to work together to ensure that flying is safe and that customers know it. Therefore, it is working closely with the SkyTeam alliance, IATA, and Delta to convey the assurances of traveling securely to the public. Korean Air’s Care First and Delta’s program, CareStandard, are designed to show travelers why they should be confident about flying.

Additionally, the carrier is working closely with Incheon International to align biosafety and cleanliness standards to ensure safe travel at every step. Measures include queue guidance stickers, plexiglass shields, hand sanitizer stations, fever checks, and mandatory face masks.

Delta Air Lines Airbus A350-941 N512DN (1)
Delta and Korean Air are on the same page when it comes to biosecurity efforts. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

Long-term mentality

Overall, Korean Air believes that there will be many opportunities for itself and Delta to support each other during the recovery process. Jackson adds that Delta gives his passengers access to more than 290 destinations. Meanwhile, Korean Air provides Delta customers access to more than 80 destinations in Asia. With this in mind, Korean Air feels that the benefits will only get better, especially following the acquisition of Asiana Airlines.

“With the acquisition of Asiana, Korean Air will be one of the worlds’ top 10 airlines. This will establish Korean Air as a leader in the Asian airline industry with focus on our people, our passengers and our products. We obviously are looking to fill our planes again and serve the traveling and business public. It’s a big job: getting people comfortable enough to fly again.  But Korean Air is resilient and will come out of the pandemic stronger,” Jackson added.

“The next couple years will be about rebuilding Korean Air and integrating Asiana into our JV.  The pandemic will have lasting effects on how people travel, and that will create both challenges and opportunities that we’re well-equipped to address from a JV standpoint.”

Korean Air Airbus A380-861 HL7615 (2)
Amid all the ongoing travel restrictions Jackson hopes for better cooperation among airlines and governments. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

A crucial year ahead

Korean Air is the largest transpacific carrier, and its position will be enhanced upon completing the integration with Asiana. Altogether, Jackson expects that the merger will give greater synergy to its joint venture with Delta.

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When it comes to flights, the airline already recently added a new cargo route to Columbus, Ohio. This move highlights the importance that freight operations have had amid the industry transitions. However, the company’s priority is getting its current routes back to normal.

Collectively, it is always looking for new, profitable destinations. Even though 2020 was the most challenging year in the industry, Korean Air generated an operating profit. Moreover, it managed to serve nearly all of its pre-pandemic destinations by the end of last year. Nonetheless, its current focus is to rebuild its network

The timeline of further international passenger recovery is totally dependent on vaccinations and the loosening of global travel restrictions. However, following a global vaccine rollout, Korean Air hopes to see results by the third quarter. The JV with Delta will undoubtedly prove to be helpful with this goal.

What are your thoughts about the joint venture between Korean Air and Delta Air Lines? Have you flown with the pair over the last few years? Let us know what you think of the carriers and their operations in the comment section.