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Alaska Airlines' Alliance With Delta Evolves Into 'Frenemies'

Tom Banse
Northwest News Network
File photo of Alaska Airlines jets at SeaTac Airport.

You've probably heard this phrase before when discussing a messy relationship: "It's complicated." Those are the words the president of Alaska and Horizon airlines used Thursday to describe the state of the alliance between the Seattle-based carriers and Delta Air Lines.

You might also call these airlines "frenemies."

Alaska Air Group and Delta Air Lines signed a long term partnership in 2008. Both sides agree it's been a profitable alliance. The carriers feed connecting traffic to each other, coordinate some schedules and offer reciprocal frequent flier benefits.

But Delta clearly ruffled some feathers at Alaska Airlines this fall. Delta added new flights from the Pacific Northwest to Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Alaska Air Group CEO Brad Tilden says his company will aggressively defend what it considers core markets.

"Alliances can be complicated," he says. "It's likely that in the future there will be markets where it is in our interest to work together with Delta and there will be markets where we will compete because it is in the best interest of Alaska Air Group to do so."

In the meantime, both airlines' customers may benefit from the heightened competition. Alaska and Delta are offering double miles to frequent fliers who register in advance on the north-south routes where they now compete head-to-head.

During a regular conference call to discuss earnings, Tilden also said his airline is on track to book a record profit in 2013. Next week, Alaska and Horizon will raise fees for checked baggage and reservation changes.

On the Web:

Alaska Air Group earnings announcement - Alaska Airlines 
2008 news release on marketing alliance - Delta Air Lines

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.