The Worst Performing Airline Hub Is Delta Air Lines In Seattle, An Albatross Around Their Neck [Roundup]

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Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Uh, Is Tim Dunn in the house?? How dare you do anything but praise Delta? The best operation, the best management, the best pilots, the best mileage program, simply the best run company in the world.

  2. This is so gratifying to read. Of course Delta’s SEA hub is a financial albatross. First, the airport and the city never needed, wanted, or could support 2 airlines hubbing there. Second, Delta’s TPAC network is really at its core, very weak. Not quite AA’s, but a close second and increasingly reliant on partner airlines to do the heavy lifting. SEA doesn’t work as a TPAC gateway for Delta, and never did. It would not surprise if they pulled it down completely.

    Seattle’s hometown airline, AS, doesn’t have the global reach of Delta, but it offers a decent product and a significantly bigger and more robust (and intelligent) network out of SEA than Delta. It would not come as a surprise if Delta closed down the SEA hub.

  3. The DL article is so interesting and flies in the face of what Tim Dunn says, namely that people pay a premium to fly DL due to their product.

    The revenue premium comes from the number of DL fortress hubs, where DL can charge more due to a lack of significant competition. In places where they have a significant competitor, there is no premium bump.

  4. All you needed to know is that the assessment of Delta’s hub positioning DOES NOT INCLUDE international revenue data.
    SEA was never built as a hub to compete directly against AS but rather as a replacement hub in N. America for the Tokyo Narita hub.
    Add in that, for 3 years, SEA is operating at a fraction of its previous transpacific size – PVG gets back to daily shortly – and a high percentage of domestic traffic through SEA is connecting to international segments – which the data does not show, and it is no surprise that the “analysis” comes in highly flawed.

    Garbage in, garbage out.

    There were a host of people that were convinced that Delta would not focus its China rebuild on SEA but they chose SEA-PVG as their first post-covid route to be daily to China and THAT should tell you that a whole lot of people simply don’t see ALL of the data and so invariably come to the wrong conclusions.

    Delta’s position in other airline hubs – including Denver – includes a significant percentage of international traffic flowing into its other hubs which, again, makes analysis of financial performance meaningless.

  5. What percentage of Delta’s revenue and expenses are attributable to its Seattle operations? Delta was one of the most profitable airlines last quarter. Apparently, Seattle isn’t having an outsized effect on the airline’s bottom line.

    P.S. Why are you apparently rooting for major airlines to be liquidated?

  6. Yes, flying Delta to SEATAC is a miserable and gross experience. Their oldest and worst airplanes, late, and checkin is a zoo. You might get the odd nice flight, but I won’t fly them there again, uf I can avoid it. I might have to fly through.

    And yes, their reliance on other carriers internationally has been a problem.for, and is more so now with the MQD only nonsense. It’s just getting too hard for me to find ways to fly them.

  7. Tim: “SEA was never built as a hub to compete directly against AS but rather as a replacement hub in N. America for the Tokyo Narita hub.”

    Delta currently operates three transpacific routes from SEA, per Wikipedia.

    What an amazing strategic victory.

  8. I don’t think anyone wants an airline to be liquidated (at least I hope they don’t wish that), but a narrative is out there that DL is so premium that they command outsized revenue when they’re up against a competitor. This backs up the counter narrative that DL’s revenue advantage comes from fortress hubs with little pricing pressure.

    Regarding China gateways, if DL chose DTW as the gateway they’d effectively give up the western half of the country to competition with their own western gateways. DL had no choice but to use SEA. This also backs up the idea that LAX isn’t a great option either, due to all the competition that depresses yields. It’s very telling that DL forces LAX pax to connect in SEA versus offering them a nonstop.

    Also, the lack of international data is covered in the link and shown to be inconsequential. Read the link for full details, but there really isn’t much international there and the data likely wouldn’t change the bottom line.

  9. I just looked, the only non-partner hub DL flies to from Seattle is HND. So much for the vaunted “Narita replacement”.

  10. wow, but why aren’t people flocking to pay more on DL for their “premium experience”? I was assured that DL is a premium airline that could command pricing to match! I’m so confused, also, I was born yesterday.

  11. @Tim Dunn – it’s apples-to-apples, and Delta largely hasn’t been growing Seattle international flying because it’s a dumpster fire too

  12. SEA doesn’t have the same amount of location population as LAX or even the Bay Area. Plus it’s geographically out of the way for the West Coast population centers to make most domestic connections, making it only logical for a TPAC hub, where it lacks the O&D of the bigger players along the West Coast.

    Also, Seattle has a fiercely local preference amongst residents, which you can tell by their preference and stores. CVS hardly has any presence in Seattle yet there’s a large local drugstore chain (how many of those haven’t been gobbled up by now?). Dick’s burgers barely goes outside the city limits. Ivar’s doesn’t hardly leave Washington State. Fred Meyer is mostly in the PNW and Alaska. It’s a totally different market that doesn’t assimilate well with the rest of the country, and AS is the benefactor of that.

    It’s not like Texas or Georgia where local residents proud to be driving American-branded trucks built in Mexico while pounding their chests and claiming to be patriotic with their imports. Seattleites do prefer things local whenever possible.

  13. Ghost gets it while Gary doesn’t it.

    The question being debated is whether SEA meets DL’s goals including being profitability. The source Gary cited says no but DL has yet to re-add alot of markets that they fly from other hubs.

    DL is not and never tried to be all-things to all people from SEA or to overtake AS. The notion that was ever the case is not only wildly ignorant of what DL has said but also overlaying some people’s personal objectives onto DL strategies and then acting like those people can accurately assess whether DL is successful or not.

    Those people do not know what DL’s goals were, where its priorities for rebuilding are and what DL’s growth plans for SEA are in time.

    I have said it before and will repeat that DL works on its own timeframe and rarely does anything on the timelines that others expect – and yet Delta is the most profitable airline and is matching the growth of its most aggressive US peers.

    Just because you or someone else don’t think DL is meeting your objectives doesn’t make DL a failure.

  14. You start out saying ” Far from putting the Seattle-based airline out of business…” – what are you talking about? Where did you get the idea that Delta intended to put Alaska out of business? Bad supposition. Another bad supposition is viewing Delta’s current Asian destinations out of Seattle without taking into account recent history. Remember COVID? China is very slow to reopen and Japan just recently reopened. I would also suggest you consider that Delta is operating an international hub and Alaska is operating a domestic hub. But if your intention is simply to trash Delta, then job well-done!

  15. The MS travel gods here in Redmond. spoke several years ago this subject:

    “Thou shalt fly Alaska where feasible because they are part of our PNW corporate family. You can consider Delta for an international flight”.

    Message received.

  16. neither enrilia or gary can explain how Delta has managed to use the same 45 years of deregulation to develop 4 massively profitable hubs to subsidize 4 money-losing hubs on both coasts and still become the most profitable airline in the world.
    The idiocy of those that continue to pander the notion that DL is capable of supporting 4 money-losing hubs is beyond laughable.

    using half backed and incomplete data only amplifies the stupidity of these notions

  17. Uncle Jeff: In terms of “local” SEA drug stores, you’re speaking of Bartell’s. When the Bartell family sold-out to Rite-Aid in 2020 – they knew that getting out at that time was the right step to take – and the family made some cash in the process.

    What has Rite-Aid done with Bartell’s since acquiring the chain? Opened only ONE location that was already in the pipeline – and has closed several in the SEA area – more of them Bartell’s than Rite-Aids – and that has all taken place BEFORE bankruptcy.

    Now that Rite-Aid is bankrupt, they have announced even more Bartell’s are closing! A a chain with 73 stores at day of acquisition is down to 46 locations?

    Anyway, Rite-Aid is D.O.A. on the west coast. Goodbye Thrifty, Payless and Bartell’s.
    (Rite-Aid continues to operate about 20 locations in California as Thrifty-Payless.)


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