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A history of Delta in Seattle, Alaska Airlines' hometown

Feb. 13, 2020
5 min read
A history of Delta in Seattle, Alaska Airlines' hometown
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Delta Air Lines is firmly ensconced as the Seattle area's second carrier, having built an Asia gateway and hub there during the past decade.

The SkyTeam Alliance carrier will offer up to 184 departures this summer, including service to seven cities in Asia and Europe, from Seattle/Tacoma International Airport (SEA), according to Cirium schedule data. Hometown carrier Alaska Airlines will offer nearly 345 departures, all of which are to points in North America.

However, while Delta's No. 2 position in Seattle is not in question, it now faces a new challenge from a rekindled partnership between Alaska and American airlines. As part of the tie-up, American will launch new daily flights from Seattle to Bangalore (BLR) — its only service to India — in October, and London Heathrow (LHR) in March 2021.

The new partnership will strengthen Alaska's value proposition to travelers in Seattle, ratcheting up pressure on Delta in one of its key West Coast markets.

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

Hub of necessity

Delta's Seattle hub was a product of necessity. Once a bit player in the Seattle market — it only served the city from Atlanta (ATL), Cincinnati (CVG), New York John F. Kennedy (JFK) and Salt Lake City (SLC) in 2008 —it more than doubled in size there through its merger with Northwest Airlines in 2009.

Delta Air Lines' routes from Seattle in December 2010. (Image by Cirium)

The Northwest combo also expanded Delta's Pacific route map, including Northwest's hub at Tokyo Narita (NRT). The Minneapolis-based carrier's network included nonstops between Seattle and both Beijing Capital (PEK), Osaka Kansai (KIX) and Narita, according to Cirium.

That Tokyo hub, Delta eventually realized, needed to go. Thus began its Seattle build up.

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SEATTLE, WA - 2009: A Northwest Airlines Airbus jet backs out of its Sea-Tac Airport gate in this 2009 Seattle, Washington, landscape photo. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)
Delta gained a sizable presence in Seattle when it merged with Northwest Airlines in 2009. (Photo by George Rose/Getty Images)

Delta added flights to Shanghai Pudong (PVG) and Tokyo Haneda (HND) from Seattle in 2013, Cirium shows. These routes, plus the others it already flew, were primarily supported by connections with then-codeshare partner Alaska.

However, as Delta added long-haul routes from Seattle it realized that it could fill more seats — and generate more revenue — by providing its own domestic connections rather than flights operated by a partner.

“We are making Seattle our West Coast hub to serve the Pacific,” Mike Medeiros, Delta’s then-vice president for Seattle, told FlightGlobal in April 2014. “We are looking at the top business markets with a focus on Asia.”

Delta had added 18 new routes from Seattle, including flights to Hong Kong (HKG) and Seoul Incheon (ICN), in 2014 — the year it officially declared the city a hub.

Related: The rise and fall of Delta’s Tokyo hub

Delta's route map from Seattle in December 2014. (Image by Cirium)
Delta Air Lines' routes from Seattle in December 2014. (Image by Cirium)

Delta continued to expand in Seattle, repeatedly going head-to-head with its still partner Alaska on nearly every route it added.

Alaska and Delta finally went their separate ways in May 2017, just five months after the former closed its acquisition of Virgin America.

Today, Alaska still dominates Seattle carrying nearly 49% of the 48.7 million travelers that passed through the airport during the year ending in July 2019, the latest U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics data via Cirium shows. Delta carried just 24% of airport traffic.

Alaska routes from Seattle in February 2020. (Image by Cirium)
Delta routes from Seattle in February 2020. (Image by Cirium)
Delta routes from Seattle in February 2020. (Image by Cirium)

American, for comparison, was the fifth-largest airline in Seattle — behind Southwest Airlines and United Airlines — with just over a 5% share of passengers during the period.

For its part, American's long-haul flights from Seattle will not be the first time the city has had two U.S. carriers competing for international passengers. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, Northwest and United Airlines competed for Asia-bound travelers from the Puget Sound region with dueling flights to Tokyo and elsewhere.

Aircraft operations at Sea-Tac, 29 March 2016.
Delta, Alaska and American jets on a taxiway at Seattle/Tacoma International Airport. (Image courtesy of the Port of Seattle)
Featured image by Alberto Riva

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Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
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The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

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  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023