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The Widebody Implications For Alaska Airlines Of Hawaiian Airlines Merger

Although Alaska Airlines plans to keep Hawaiian Airlines as a separate entity, I wonder if we might see Alaska Airlines operate widebody aircraft for the first time in a move that could transform the dynamics of Alaska’s transcontinental service.

Might Alaska Airlines Start Operating Widebody Jets?

Yesterday, Alaska unexpectedly announced it would purchase Hawaiian Airlines. Live And Let’s Fly was first on Boarding Area to report this. The most interesting facet of the merger, which will face intense scrutiny from the Department of Justice, is that the two carriers will remain separate brands (with a shared operating platform and common loyalty program):

“The expanded airline will maintain both industry-leading Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines brands while integrating into a single operating platform and loyalty program.”

A combined Alaska-Hawaiian route mapA combined Alaska-Hawaiian route map

Interestingly, Alaska Airlines hints of a “potential to cross-fleet widebody aircraft on high-demand long-haul routes not currently served.”

Alaska Airlines widebodyWe might see Alaska Airlines operate widebody aircraft for the first time

At this point, I’m not predicting we will start seeing 787-9 Dreamliner service between Alaska and London or Paris, but I do wonder if we might finally see Alaska meaningfully compete with its peers on transcontinental flights.

Right now the product, even in economy class, is not all that competitive. Sure, you can generally count on friendly service, functioning wi-fi, and a great buy-on-board program in economy class, but those Boeing 737 aircraft are not ideal for flights of 5-6 hours. In the premium cabin, there is simply no comparison between a recliner seat with 37 inches of pitch and a lie-flat seats that American, Delta, JetBlue, and United offer on head-to-head routes.

So I wonder whether part of this merger plan is for Alaska to deploy widebody aircraft on its busiest transcon routes in a way that those aircraft can be better utilized?

As for Hawaiian flying, we book a lot of Hawaiian travel at Award Expert and it never ceases to amaze me that clients will often pay double or even triple to fly on a Hawaiian A330 versus another carrier that does not have lie-lat seats between the US Mainland and Hawaii. Hawaii may be a leisure market, but there are deep pockets and folks like bigger seats.

Finally, although a loyalty program merger may be months or even over a year away, you might want to consider the implications of moving American Express Membership Rewards points to Hawaiian Air, which might become Alaska miles. If I was sitting on a huge balance of AMEX points, this is certainly something I would consider in the months ahead (today is far too premature).

CONCLUSION

Alaska Airlines plans to acquire Hawaiian Airlines and has hinted at the potential to “cross-fleet widebody aircraft.” That was my immediate thought the moment I learned of the merger and I think this makes a lot of sense if Alaska Airlines wants to grow beyond its all-737 business model.



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