Since American’s bankruptcy, most of the talk in the US has centered on consolidation, with the AA/US linkup taking center stage. But others have been mentioned.
Since American’s bankruptcy, most of the talk in the US has centered on consolidation, with the AA/US linkup taking center stage. But others have been mentioned. American has made passing reference to both jetBlue and Alaska as possible partners, but both have rebuffed that advance and clearly declared that they intend to remain independent.
But that statement of “independence” is actually a confirmation of their current strategy, which is to optimize their partnerships without fully committing to a monogamous relationship. They are joined in this business plan by Hawaiian, another carrier that sees far greater benefit in being able to pick and choose its relationships rather than join an alliance and limit its possibilities.
JetBlue has been the pioneer in this business model and has accumulated an interesting assortment of partners and alliances that defy accepted lines of affiliation. While Star Alliance anchor carrier Lufthansa owns 19% of jetBlue, the carrier has an extensive codeshare agreement with oneworld’s American.
The company’s website lists 22 interactive partner airlines from all parts of the globe. This is, of course, no accident as the airline is the number one carrier at New York’s Kennedy Airport, still the most prominent US gateway. By being outside of any alliance, the airline has been free to join forces with any carrier – in an alliance or unaligned – that can benefit from its substantial feed. It is no wonder that a merger with American is seen as a liability rather than an asset.
And on the opposite coast…
On the West Coast, Alaska has pursued a similar market strategy. It has had a close relationship with American Airlines, which, following its failed San Jose hub attempt, has used AS codeshares as it primary presence in the North-South West Coast market, with special emphasis on its LAX “cornerstone” hub. Just announced is a much closer alignment with Skyteam’s Delta as they add transpacific flights at Alaska’s Seattle hub.
The AS roster of partners has no Star Alliance members but there is almost equal representation from oneworld and Skyteam, with a few non-aligned airlines, including Emirates, thrown in for good measure. As with jetBlue, Alaska’s predominance in the Pacific Northwest makes it an appealing link to multiple operators, and its business philosophy has been to make the most of numerous relationships.
The same is true of Hawaiian. During an interview with the airline’s CEO, Mark Dunkerly, I asked about alliances and whether or not he saw Hawaiian headed for a specific group. He noted that as the only strong interisland carrier, and Hawaii’s “flag carrier,” the benefits of links with numerous partners far outweighs the limitations imposed by being part of any single alliance. As with jetBlue and Alaska, its dominance in a popular market has given the airline an ability to interact with multiple suppliers and boost its market in ways that would not be possible with a tighter alliance bond.
So these three airlines, all highly ranked by consumers, have three things in common. First, a size and corporate ethos that differs from their legacy competitors and gives them a unique customer service style. Second, dominance in a key market or region that has made them a desirable partner for numerous airlines, and third, a business plan that sees value in exploiting those advantages.
Since we are talking aviation, nothing is “forever,” but Dunkerly said that there had been numerous studies as to the value of being in an alliance versus playing the field and each one gave a strong edge to the current philosophy. But, he noted, if that changes, so will we.