Skip to content

Alaska Airlines calls Boeing a 'fantastic partner' as it decides between A321neo and 737 MAX

March 07, 2020
4 min read
Alaska Airlines calls Boeing a 'fantastic partner' as it decides between A321neo and 737 MAX
This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. Terms apply to the offers listed on this page. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Alaska Airlines is pushing forward with its search for an Airbus A320 family fleet replacement, even as it works to manage rapidly changing demand for air travel amid fears of the COVID-19 coronavirus.

The Seattle-based carrier is evaluating how to replace the 61 Airbus A319s and A320s it gained through its 2016 acquisition of Virgin America. On the table are either more Airbus A321neos — it operates 10 currently — or Boeing 737 MAX 9s or 10s.

At stake is whether Alaska returns to the "proudly all Boeing" moniker it boasted for over a decade, or continues with the diversified fleet it has flown since the merger.

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Sign up for the free daily TPG newsletter for more airline news

“There’s extraordinary benefit to a single platform, Boeing is a fantastic partner, [and] there are reasons to not have a single platform," Alaska CEO Brad Tilden said at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Aviation Summit on Thursday. "I think we’ll answer that in the next four, five, six months.”

Tilden's comments, while not making any commitments, did acknowledge the company's history and local ties with Boeing. His immediate response to the question on the fleet campaign was to highlight Alaska's "very, very special relationship" with Boeing, then he added that the planemaker makes an "incredible" product and that Alaska is "confident" in the beleaguered MAX.

In terms of Airbus, Tilden said Alaska "did inherit" the jets without embellishing.

Related: Alaska weighs Boeing or Airbus to replace Virgin America fleet

While Tilden was clear that he would not answer the "Boeing or Airbus" question at the summit, some industry observers will undoubtedly try to read the tea leaves for a hint of what Alaska might be thinking.

Airline executives are known for using the media to push planemakers for better deals. This is what former Delta Air Lines CEO Richard Anderson did when the carrier was weighing either the Airbus A350 or Boeing 787 for its wide-body jet needs.

However, with an Alaska mainline fleet that is more than two-thirds 737s and with firm orders for 32 MAX 9 aircraft, the rationale for Alaska to opt for more Boeing jets is clear. The airline flew 71 A320 family to 166 737 family jets at the end of December, according to its latest fleet plan.

Alaska's narrow-body jet campaign comes amid uncertainty around the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak. In an investor update Friday, the airline said it was seeing a "significant increase in close-in cancellations and a decline in forward bookings" since the beginning of March. The carrier has put flights on sale to encourage people to travel, and is considering further actions like capacity cuts.

Related: US airline execs warn coronavirus impact ‘could be worse than 9/11’ downturn

Most Wall Street analysts, at least at this point, expect the drop in demand related to COVID-19 to be relatively short-lived. This likely short-term impact, while undoubtedly severe, compares to a fleet decision that will impact Alaska into the 2030s — long after the impact of the virus is likely just a memory.

This is not to mention that a down market, when manufacturers are discounting to drum up sales, is often a good time to make a big ticket purchase.

Alaska will be flying its former Virgin America Airbus jets through at least 2025. The airline plans to open a pilot crew base for the fleet in Seattle to support additional A320 family flying from its homebase.

Related: Alaska Airlines to shift more Airbus flying to Seattle

Featured image by An Alaska Airlines A320 at Washington Dulles International Airport. (Image by Edward Russell/TPG)

TPG featured card

Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards

1 - 3X points
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases

Intro offer

Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points60,000 points
For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

Annual Fee

$95

Recommended Credit

670-850
Excellent, Good
Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases
Best starter travel card
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
3XEarn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
1XEarn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Intro Offer
    For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening

    Earn 80,000 ThankYou® points
    60,000 points
  • Annual Fee

    $95
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    670-850
    Excellent, Good

Why We Chose It

The Citi Premier’s 3 points per dollar spent across a wide range of popular categories is one of the more lucrative offerings in the world of points and miles. The Citi Premier comes with a $95 annual fee and is currently offering a solid sign up bonus of 80,000 points after you spend $4,000 on purchases within the first three months. It also has some valuable transfer partners to make the most of your rewards. Add in access to Citi Entertainment plus a $100 hotel credit for any single-stay hotel booking that exceeds $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through the Citi travel website, there are few reasons why the Citi Premier should not be in every traveler’s wallet.

Pros

  • Earns 3x points on restaurants, supermarkets, gas stations, air travel and hotels.
  • $100 annual hotel savings benefit (on single hotel stay bookings of $500 or more, excluding taxes and fees, booked through thankyou.com)
  • Points transfer to 16 airline programs, from JetBlue to Virgin Atlantic.
  • World Elite Mastercard benefits, extended warranty, damage and theft protection.

Cons

  • $95 annual fee
  • Lacks travel protections that other travel rewards cards come with
  • For a limited time, earn 80,000 bonus ThankYou® Points after you spend $4,000 in purchases within the first 3 months of account opening
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Restaurants and Supermarkets
  • Earn 3 Points per $1 spent at Gas Stations, Air Travel and Hotels
  • Earn 1 Point per $1 spent on all other purchases
  • Annual Hotel Savings Benefit
  • 80,000 Points are redeemable for $800 in gift cards when redeemed at thankyou.com
  • No expiration and no limit to the amount of points you can earn with this card
  • No Foreign Transaction Fees on purchases