There’s ample debate on FlyerTalk about a new advertisement from Delta Air Lines, which is trying to woo Seattleites with its expanded presence. The comments are generally hostile, even though the ad is artistically beautiful.
After a long history of using the city as a hub for international flights and relying on Alaska Airlines for feeder traffic, Delta is now adding more domestic routes. That means a lot of new competition for business, and Alaska has been fighting back with new routes of its own and even the pending acquisition of Virgin America.
The commentary in that FlyerTalk thread also demonstrates that there is a lot of emotional attachment for Delta to overcome. Ben at One Mile at a Time doesn’t understand why Seattleites are so loyal to Alaska Airlines, calling its fleet “bare bones.” Personally, I have everything I need when I fly with them and nothing I don’t. There are power outlets, big overhead bins, and a free drink when I don’t get upgraded. Some of it may be personal preference — the debate between backseat televisions vs. portable tablets, for example.
What matters more, I think, is the network. This is actually the entire point of Delta’s advertisement.
Delta’s argument is that they can connect you to international destinations throughout the world, with Seattle at the center. That is a valuable offer, but it isn’t enough by itself. Here’s a breakdown of Delta’s non-stop service options:
- Five cities in Asia
- Three cities in Europe
- Three cities each in Alaska and Hawaii
- Eight U.S. cities west of the Mississippi (including Minneapolis)
- Six U.S. cities east of the Mississippi
Update: I believe there are 15 additional West Coast cities served by regional carriers that were not included in that list or in the map below.
Now, I know that Delta offers even more cities if I’m willing to connect, and Alaska doesn’t have much of an international network at all (unless you count Mexico and Costa Rica). But the fact remains that Alaska is by far the better choice for Seattleites traveling within North America, who can enjoy 97 destinations with nonstop service.
This matters because the majority of travelers are not flitting off to Tokyo or London. They’re visiting family in eastern Washington, meeting business partners in Oregon, and taking vacations in Montana. Washington also has important political and economic ties to Alaska and Hawaii, which are better served by Alaska Airlines.
If you do need to travel abroad, Alaska has international partners. It purposefully offloads that part of the business to other carriers and tries to focus on what it does best. That is a legitimate risk if Delta and Alaska’s relationship continues to be strained. Alaska’s partners offer nonstop service from Seattle to ten international destinations, and just six remain when you exclude Delta.
Ben at least recognizes that “Seattleites are different than most people.” Where I think he’s wrong is when he says that we should feel flattered for being portrayed as the center of the world. There is a joke that the mountains and forests are here to protect the Pacific Northwest from the rest of the country, and that I cannot legally call myself a Seattleite until I’ve been here at least a decade. (Nine years and counting!)
Don’t believe me? Just read PDXFlyer’s comment on FlyerTalk:
The “here we are…” especially rubs me the wrong way. Delta, you aren’t from Seattle. Stop pretending.
Or this one by nwflyboy:
Obviously written by some nimrod who has never been here, or who just plopped down, took the duckboat tour, and cheerfully proclaims themselves a local expert (like most of the recent arrivals).
Or Matt’s comment on Ben’s article:
For better or worse, people are provincial in the Northwest. Outsiders can be sniffed out in a heartbeat.
What Seattleites most want, I think, is not to be the center of the world but merely some respect for the success of their local economy. Seattle is more than Microsoft and Amazon, more than the Space Needle and Pike Place Market (please, not Pike’s Place). Non-stop travel options reflect the growing demand for air travel. Importantly, those flights should include destinations abroad and within the United States.