Alaska Airlines accelerates Oneworld plans with aim to join by year end

Jul 7, 2020

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Alaska Airlines is accelerating plans to join the global Oneworld alliance in a silver lining to the coronavirus pandemic downturn.

The Seattle-based carrier hopes to become a full alliance member by the end of the year, Alaska CEO Brad Tilden told the Aviation Week Network in a webinar on July 2. The accelerated timeline would be around six months earlier than the previous mid-2021 target.

“It’s on quite a fast track,” Tilden said of the membership process.

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Oneworld spokesperson Ghim-Lay Yeo told TPG that discussions between the alliance and airline are “progressing very well” and an update is expected in the coming weeks.

Alaska surprised many in the industry when it announced plans to join Oneworld, as well as rekindle its partnership with American Airlines, in February. The airline had long espoused a “Swiss” partnership strategy of neutrality, where it preferred lots of individual relationships rather than joining one of the major alliances.

The carrier aims to broaden its appeal to travelers along the West Coast by joining Oneworld. Especially among frequent flyers who want to travel abroad and receive all of their Alaska Mileage Plan benefits on partner carriers.

Alaska senior vice president of finance, alliances and treasury Nathaniel Pieper told TPG in February that alliance membership would guarantee a uniform set of benefits for its loyal travelers around the globe.

Related: Alaska Airlines plans to join Oneworld, forms alliance with American

Of course the Oneworld plans were laid before the pandemic when the worst crisis airlines’ envisioned was a repeat of 9/11. COVID-19 has hit air travel much harder than the 2001 attacks with Alaska carrying as few as 4,000 flyers a day compared to its normal around 130,000 in April, Tilden told Aviation Week.

The airline plans to fly around 40% of what it flew last year in July, according to Cirium schedules. Tilden said travelers are flying more along the West Coast than across the country or to Hawaii, where a mandatory 14-day quarantine does not ease until Aug. 1.

“[At] some point in time we’ll be back to where we were in 2019, but I don’t believe we think we’ll get there in the fall or even next summer,” he said of the recovery.

Related: Alaska Airlines adds new California route even as it warns of flying, staff cuts

 

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In addition to Alaska’s accelerated Oneworld plans, American plans to launch new nonstop service between Seattle (SEA) and Bangalore (BLR), and shift its flight between Los Angeles (LAX) and Shanghai Pudong (PVG) to Seattle in 2021. These will be part of the renewed Alaska-American partnership, and also fortify Oneworld’s international presence in Seattle.

Alaska is already a codeshare partner with five other Oneworld members: British Airways, Cathay Pacific Airways, Finnair, Japan Airlines and Qantas Airways.

Both the Oneworld membership and American partnership position Alaska to better compete with Delta, a former friend that has built a competing hub in Seattle since 2014.

Related: American drops 19 long-haul routes; cuts in LAX, adds in Seattle

Updated with comment from Oneworld.

Featured image by Alberto Riva / The Points Guy.

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