In mid-February, just as the coronavirus pandemic was gaining steam, American Airlines announced a partnership with Alaska Airlines and plans to serve Seattle – Bangalore, India. It was to be American’s return to India, and the first U.S.-Bangalore non-stop.
The flight’s launch as been delayed to next year, but American Airlines President Robert Isom told his airline’s pilots last week that they’re still committed to it – even though United Airlines has just announced plans to fly San Francisco – Bangalore and will likely pick up most of the non-stop tech corridor business, and they’re planning to launch their flight before American begins its service.
Isom said he doesn’t regret the announcement, tipping their hand to United, because “the lead time is long to get markets like that set up, so you can’t be too stealthy…we anticipated that others would try to get in.”
And American’s strategy is different from United, noting that “Seattle is a fantastic point in which to really connect with that part of the world..in all likelihood we’ll be able to fly with higher loads…Seattle can connect for most of the country in a non-circuitous way..and we have this partnership with Alaska and they have a fully developed very large connecting hub.”
San Francisco is the largest market to Bangalore by far (17%), followed by New York, Chicago, Dallas and Boston. Seattle is only the 8th largest U.S.-Bangalore non-stop market with 4.3% of the traffic. United’s flight should pick up most of the non-stop business from the Bay Area, except for Alaska Airlines loyalists in the area. American’s play is for connecting traffic.
That’s not to say that United won’t have connecting traffic on its Bangalore flights. They have a well developed hub at San Francisco. But they’ll be able to focus more on premium non-stop business from the tech corridor, which no doubt American had hoped to pick up before United’s announcement.
Meanwhile Senior Vice President Vasu Raja doubled down, “we’re absolutely committed to the Seattle hub and our partnership with Alaska.” American calls its close partner hubs their own hubs as well, like they consider London Heathrow to be a hub because of their joint venture with British Airways – and New York JFK should again become a true hub given their new partnership with JetBlue that’s coming online.
Raja emphasizes that making the flight work means driving the integration with Alaska Airlines, because “in order to make those services work it needs to be that a customer of either Alaska or American Airlines would choose us over one of our competitors’ long haul services” because of upgrades, seat assignments, and other benefits.