Could American Help Alaska Face the Delta Threat?

SEATTLE (TheStreet) -- Something is potentially going on between Alaska (ALK) and American Airlines (AAL) but Alaska executives won't say exactly what it is.

During Alaska's earnings call on Thursday, Andrew Harrison, vice president of planning and revenue management, said the two airlines are talking, which isn't surprising given that Delta (DAL) is engaged in an effort to bulk up its flying into Alaska's Seattle hub and plans to compete with Alaska on a variety of key domestic routes.

Conceivably, American could act as a white knight. Both American and Delta have code-share agreements with Alaska.

"We're getting to know the new American management team," Harrison said during the call. "I have met with their alliances folks, and we have started discussions about how we might work with the new American. It's very exciting and we look forward to future things."

Asked later whether Alaska wants to expand its relationship with American, Harrison responded: "American's and US Airways' No. 1 priority is integrating with themselves, code-sharing on each other's metal. This year we will be finalizing how much we will work together. I'll have more to say in future quarters on that."

In a recent report, Wolfe Research analyst Hunter Keay questioned whether the hostilities between Delta and Alaska might set up closer cooperation between Alaska and American.

"It is our opinion that Delta needs Alaska more than Alaska needs Delta in the context of their code-share relationship given Delta's Seattle-Asia plans and Alaska's dominance in the Pacific Northwest," Keay wrote. "If Delta pushes too hard we wouldn't be surprised if Alaska finds solace in the arms of its other partner, American, at Delta's expense."

A wide range of possibilities exist for cooperation between American and Alaska, said aviation consultant Bob Mann. The possibilities include, at a minimum, code-shares, some already in place, between Alaska flights in Seattle and Portland and American hub flights serving Charlotte, Chicago, Dallas, Philadelphia and New York. A code-share on Charlotte flights, for example, would provide Alaska passengers with an alternative to Atlanta for flights to Southeast destinations.

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