SEATTLE — Alaska Airlines and American Airlines are planning to expand their partnership, the airlines announced in a news release Thursday morning, and this will potentially offer travelers to and from Seattle access to an extensive network of international flight routes.
Instead of carrying out existing plans to dial back their domestic code-share relationship this March, Alaska and American will expand that code-share to include West Coast international routes from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport. (Though, this proposed change requires Department of Transportation approval before it can take effect.)
In addition, American Airlines has plans to launch two new international routes from Seattle — to Bangalore, India and London's Heathrow Airport.
But perhaps the biggest news for Seattlites who frequently travel internationally is that Alaska plans to join the oneworld alliance, a network of 13 global airlines that includes the likes of Cathay Pacific, British Airways, Qantas and Japan Airlines. The goal is to offer international travelers ease of connection and allow them to benefit from shared services among the member airlines.
As international corporate interests in Seattle continue to grow with the expansion of companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing, Alaska hopes this strengthened alliance with American will allow it to contend on an international level, said Nat Pieper, an Alaska Airlines vice president.
"As Alaska thinks about 'how can we compete and get our fair share of business from those corporations?' we have to have an international offering as well," Pieper said. "It has to be hassle-free. It has to be effective from a mileage plan and from a flyer perspective.
"If these employees want to be able to fly anywhere in the world, we have to be able to offer them an effective and easy way to do that."
For American, the partnership is an opportunity to increase its presence on the West Coast and start new international routes — such as one from Seattle to Bangalore, India, that is scheduled to begin this October.
"Many of (these services) are beyond the range of any airplanes in our traditional hubs in Chicago or Dallas-Fort Worth or Los Angeles," said Vasu Raja, American's senior vice president, network strategy. "Now with a one-stop, we're able to get people as far as Bangalore, which is one of the fastest-growing global corporate markets."
The route will be the first service from Seattle to Bangalore and the first and only nonstop flight from the U.S. directly to Bangalore.
American Airlines also plans to add a new route from Seattle (SEA) to London Heathrow (LHR) beginning March 2021.
Last fall, American and Alaska announced plans to shrink their domestic code-share that allowed members of both mileage programs to earn and redeem miles between the two carriers. The changes were scheduled to take effect this March.
However, Thursday's announcement of their expanded partnership means the code-share program will remain active, and will now include international routes from Los Angeles (LAX) and Seattle (SEA), pending Department of Transportation approval.
When Alaska Airlines' membership with oneworld alliance is finalized in the summer of 2021, Alaska Mileage Plan loyalty members will also be able to earn and redeem miles through more than 1,200 international destinations that the oneworld network serves. American Airlines is a founding member of oneworld alliance.
Pieper said the expanded relationship between American and Alaska and Alaska's pending membership in oneworld will help Alaska contend with carriers like Delta, which has a strong presence in the Seattle area and offers both a domestic and international network out of Seattle.
Raja says American sees this enhanced partnership and Alaska's joining oneworld as a significant change that benefits both the airlines and their customers on the West Coast.
"There's this huge base of customers that are loyal to Alaska in the Pacific Northwest particularly and in the West Coast at large," Raja said. "If you fly anywhere (from) Seattle you're probably flying Alaska. They've got 350 flights on a peak day, but they don't have an international network. So they haven't been able to offer a really complete solution to the customer yet."
Partnering with American will change that and give Alaska more international clout. Similarly, the enhanced relationship with Alaska will allow American to be more competitive with West Coast travel markets.
To emphasize how big a change this would be, Raja used the example of Austin, Texas, an American Airlines hub which does not currently have a direct flight to Seattle.
“Now with American and Alaska together, if you are a really big time flier in a city like that you now have a complete network solution that you didn’t have before,” Raja said.