They call it the Battle for Seattle. Since spring 2013, when Delta announced it was turning Seattle into an international hub, the competition between Delta and Alaska has been fierce—and lucky consumers have benefitted from the ticket price wars. Delta eyed Asian routes, and Alaska added nonstops to Nashville and New Orleans. Delta ramped up its philanthropy, funding Seattle arts institutions. Alaska sharpened its aim to support education.
The fight began, says, Delta’s Mike Medeiros, because “Seattle is a global city…. We’re finally bringing Seattle to its rightful place, you know, having two carriers go head to head with each other.”
But just when Seattleites clutched their Alaska Airlines companion fares in fear—could Delta swallow the hometown airline like United ate Continental?—Alaska announced in April that it had acquired Virgin Airways for $2.6 billion. With Virgin’s 63 Airbus 320s, it jumped from the sixth to the fifth biggest air carrier in the United States.
“The top four airlines in the U.S. now control well over 80 percent of the domestic market,” says Alaska communications VP Joe Sprague. “We’re really small by comparison.” But getting bigger.
Meanwhile, Delta has tried its best to look like a local. It put Starbucks on all its planes and adopted Microsoft Surface tablets instead of iPads for flight crews. Not to be outdone, Alaska offers Tom Douglas–created breakfast sandwiches with Beecher’s cheese and Boeing’s bigger Space Bins for carry-ons.
Seattle brands may be the real winner here, and Alaska proved it’s no punching bag for big bad Delta. The fight is still on, and no one’s hit the mat.