Can Delta Make An Emotional Connection With Seattleites?

For a couple of years now, Alaska and Delta have been at war in Seattle. Historically Alaska is Seattle’s hometown airline. Then a few years back Alaska and Delta announced that they’d grow together. Delta launched a bunch of new international flights out of Seattle, with the intention of Alaska providing the regional feed for those flights.

Alaska-Seattle

That worked great for a while, but then Delta realized that they didn’t actually need Alaska to provide that regional feed, and that they could just operate those flights themselves. So they did, and they’ve been growing every since.

Delta-Seattle

While the two airlines are still technically partners, they’re enemies at the same time. Reciprocal frequent flyer benefits between the airlines have been cut, and Alaska and Delta have both offered several promotions intended to poach customers from one another.

The thing is, Seattle is a unique market in terms of the people. Seattleites are different than most people. And that’s evident when you ask people in Seattle about Alaska Airlines. Sure, Alaska has a great frequent flyer program and for the most part has better than average employees (so does Delta, by the way), but it doesn’t change the fact that their planes are as bare bones as they get. If you ask me, the airline as such is nothing to get excited over.

Seattle-Skyline-Market

But Seattleites are all about loyalty, and all about having something unique which belongs to them, even if there are better things out there. That’s why so much of Alaska’s advertising is centered around how they’re Seattle’s hometown airline… because the emotional connection is what matters to Seattleites.

Well, it looks like Delta is now trying to get some of the “hometown airline” action as well, especially with their latest ad, called “Center of it All.”

I think it’s a brilliant ad, personally. It’s abstract at first, highlights how Seattle is the center of the world (there’s nothing more people there want to hear), and plays off of how beautiful the region is. And as much as many people are loyal to Alaska, there’s no denying that all of these new longhaul international flights are fantastic for the Seattle economy.

But it’s still quite amusing to read the thoughts that Alaska flyers on FlyerTalk have about the ad, which basically boil down to “you’re not one of us, stop pretending.”

Seattle can be a tough market to crack!

What do you make of Delta’s new Seattle ad?

Comments

  1. Being a local Seattle dweller, I think that folks aren’t going to be swayed by some bs advertising campaign by Delta. For better or worse, people are provincial in the Northwest. Outsiders can be sniffed out in a heartbeat. AA has been more than vocal about calling out Delta as an outsider.

  2. As a Seattleite, and a lifelong Washingtonian, we are fiercely loyal once the loyalty has been earned. We love AS, we love Boeing, and Starbucks, and Microsoft, ….

    It makes me uncomfortable flying on an Airbus plane because If it ain’t Boeing, I’m not going, as we say.

    I don’t see DL ever making inroads in Seattle. They will absolutely take some pax from AS and they will probably grow. But, I don’t see how DL ever comes close to AS in terms of loyalty in SEA.

  3. If Delta really wanted to have a chance at winning hearts and minds in Seattle, they’d have bought Boeing, not Airbus.

  4. Comical.

    Alaska just bough themselves an Airbus fleet, so the “Delta doesn’t only fly Boeing” argument is suspect.

    And all those Seattle/Northwest grunge hippies didn’t mind when Alaska put prayer cards on the meals?

    People aren’t rational about these passion things. Delta is giving it a shot, and their flights all seem pretty full to me. (Sample of one.)

  5. Having family and spending much time in SEA between breaks, Seattle (& Wash State) is a special place in the country and it takes a character to belong there. As an aviation geek and as a member of the aviation industry, the strong ties between aviation and Seattle are difficult to separate. I wish the best to DL, but they are still very much the outsiders.

  6. The Alaska fanboys on FlyerTalk crack me up. They talk about how much the ad sucks. I have elite status on AS and love them very much. But there is no taking away how great of a commercial Delta produced, and how beneficial they are to the economy.

  7. I used to be an AS guy but after flying DL I am moving to their side. Considering BA moved to Chi town I dont care about them & they just cut a bazillion jobs in WA. I am loyal to has the best planes service etc.Business is no longer loyal to customers why would I be to them? The reason I read this blog is to be informed about carriers,airports etc.Thx as always Ben

  8. I have no dog in the fight, and just watched both of the ads for the first time, and thought the Alaska one was FAR better than the Delta one. Much stronger emotional connection/appeal. Just my two cents.

  9. I think part of the reason that people in the PNW are unusually loyal to Alaska (and other local companies) is the physical isolation. Seattle is a long, long way from any other airline hub. You can drive 20 hours to Denver or 24 hours to Minneapolis and the biggest city you’ll pass along the way is Spokane, a city of less than 200,000 people. The entire northwest corner of the country is an afterthought to many national companies, media and politicians. When a storm comes through here and 500,000 people lose power it will be the 15th item on the national news but if 100,000 lose power in DC or NYC it will be the lead story for 4 days. The northwest (WA, OR, ID, MT) is an afterthought for most of the nation and always has been – and most people in the region are just fine with that, in fact they love it that way. But when a company like Delta rolls into town and claims that they care about Seattle, it certainly leads a lot of people to wonder, why now?

  10. So you lived in Bellevue for about a year part time…and you’re an expert into the psyche of Seattleites?

    Please.

    The majority of those in Seattle aren’t originally from Seattle.

  11. @Andrew I agree totally, had only watched the Delta commercial and went back after reading your comment. The Alaska one connects with people and gets to their emotions, the Delta one, while kind of cool, does none of that.

    Granted, I grew up in Seattle, but I have flown both airlines and am really liking Alaska’s policies. Since every one of my flights on Delta, no matter how long, have been on regional jets, so far I have not seen anything great about Delta.

  12. What they say: “You can’t. Stop. Seattle.”

    What they mean: “You can’t. Stop. Delta.”

    We shall see…

  13. As Another Steve alluded to, Seattle has been, and to some extent still is thought of as a frontier logging town by much of the U.S., especially the east coast (but to them anything past the Mississippi is still the frontier). And we like that. It’s one thing that makes our city so unique. However there is a part of us that gets annoyed at Seattle being considered an “afterthought.” After all, it could be argued that no city has influenced the modern global age more than Seattle. Boeing ushered in the modern jet age. Microsoft ushered in the modern computer age. Starbucks gave us a familiar place in every city Boeing made it possible to travel to where we can sit and poke at little devices that exist thanks to Microsoft. And Amazon lets you be lazy in ways heretofore unimagined. We’re proud of our accomlishments, and if someone tries to pass us off as an afterthought, an impassioned “Ummm…EXCUSE ME?! BoeingMicrosoftStarbucksAmazonKurtCobainYou’rewelcome!” quickly follows.

    We’re proud and loyal because these companies became such an integral part of the community. Just ask anyone living in Detroit during the Motown boom. They know what I’m taking about. There was a time when Boeing was the biggest thing in town, and they hired LOCAL. Everyone in the Seattle area had at least one family member who worked at Boeing. My uncle built 747s, my best childhood friend’s dad built 767s, another good friend was an engineer on the 747 and now the 777, and you know that new fangled overhead bin on the latest 737s? My friend’s boyfriend owns the patent on that design. There was one helluva sense of pride when you stepped onto a Boeing jet, one of thousands that has taken hundreds of millions of people from all over the world to every other place in the world. But Boeing isn’t from Seattle any more. They’re from Chicago. So now I could care less.

    Microsoft…they’re a different story. They’re still very much a local company, there’s just nothing about their product that elicits a sense of pride. There was a time when you were able to say the same thing about Microsoft as you could about Boeing. My uncle (not the one who built 747s) was part of the team that wrote Windows95. As Microsoft grew exponentially that sense of local pride was there, but that faded as well. With massive size comes mediocrity (or in the case of Microsoft utter crap).

    Starbucks? I just have one thing to say: We’re sorry everyone. That was our bad.

    Loyalty? It was there…once upon a time. But today I’m perfectly happy (sometimes happier) to fly Airbus, all my whizzbang devices are Apple, and I actively avoid Starbucks as much as possible. So what’s left for us Seattle natives who grew up with such a fierce sense of civic pride to be loyal to and proud of? Amazon? Puhleeze. I don’t think there’s anyone working at Amazon who actually grew up here. Our sports teams generally suck. So what’s left? Oh yeah…Alaska Airlines.

    But honestly, there are so few people left in the area who are actually Seattle natives and would have that inherent sense of local pride that I fail to see the point of advertising to that demographic. The market is just too small to bother.

  14. As a native and lifelong resident of the PNW, the Delta ad is empty and falls flat. I feel no more special – or more importantly, appreciated, celebrated – by it. I think most in the NW view Delta as a large, opportunistic mega corporation that posed as one thing, then two-faced a partner based on hubris and arrogance, and now Seattle is a money-grab to make Asia work better for them. All under the convenient cop-out of “hey, it’s just business”. BS. And most in the PNW that are loyal to AS have been and will continue to call them on it. Wolf in sheep’s clothing, nothing more.

  15. @markiteight: Boeing Commercial Airplanes is still firmly HQ’d in Seattle. It’s the parent company Boeing (that includes military and other divisions) that moved to Chicago.

  16. Seattle proud of Amazon?

    They’re on the way to being more hated than Microsoft ever was in Seattle. Tried to drive in SLU or rent an apartment in Seattle recently?

  17. The Seattle area has lost plenty of hometown headquarters business to other cities. Boeing is not a Chicago based company. They are in the area because the state gave them a HUGE tax break to stay. But, the handwriting is on the wall for all to see, IMHO.

    The local banks and department stores have been taken over by huge national Big Boys. The Seattle area still has Costco, Starbucks, Microsoft, Alaska Airlines, and a few others, but not as many as before.

    Seattle area people won’t let Delta take away all those jobs from Seattle. It is not good for them in the long run.

    I fly Delta for International flights. But, domestically, it’s Alaska if they go where I am going.

    Besides, I like the Eskimo on the tail of the plane. 🙂

  18. I was a DL Medallion and started taking a few AS flights through SEA and I didn’t go back to DL. Yes, DL has the newer shinier toys, but they haven’t been able to match the feeling on most AS flights. I always (and yes i’m MPVG75) feel like i’m treated very well on each flight, in the Chairman’s lounge and when I call. It feels to me like AS really cares. DL to me feels institutionalized, cold and uncaring.
    I’ll take a beatup 738 anyday over the First Order bots at DL.

  19. forgot to mention the creepy Richard Anderson DL in-flight videos – all i can think of is .. “is it safe?….”

  20. I have a hard time, as a long time Seattle resident and Alaska Air MVP Gold flyer, warming up to Delta again after the change in partnership arrangement with Alaska in early 2014.

    I have flown Alaska many times between Seattle and San Diego in the past 15 years and flown Alaska on cross country routes multiple times. Between 2011 and 2014 I flew Delta on overseas flights approximately eight times and was able to achieve MVP Gold status due to flying Delta overseas and flying Alaska within the U.S. The partnership between them shaped my overseas flying habits and I was happy to be able to get benefits on Delta by flying Delta and combining Delta and Alaska flight miles in my Alaska FF program. Delta provided a good product to many worldwide destinations and offered service to Europe from Seattle and San Diego. I was disappointed in 2014 when the change occurred.

    I lost the mile for mile accumulation, Sky Priority Boarding Status, discounted economy comfort seats, and a second free checked bag on overseas flights, which helped on overseas golf trips. I flew Delta at least eight times on overseas trips to Australia, Europe, and Asia from the west coast between 2011 and 2014. After a flight between Seattle and Amsterdam in September 2014, I discontinued flying Delta.

    I saw the intrusive way Delta came in and tried to muscle their way into the Seattle market. I saw their attempt to affiliate with Seattle sports franchises. Sorry but they are the Falcons, Braves and Hawks airline due to their presence in Atlanta.

    What did I do after 2014? I flew British Air to Ireland on two trips last year, flew Qantas to Australia four times, and flew Cathay Pacific to Asia twice. Last this month, I am doing a trip on American to Ireland and later in summer I will do another trip to Ireland. In October I will fly Cathay Pacific from Vancouver and on to Australia, returning the same way.

    Do I miss Delta? Not any longer. With two free bags when I need them and other benefits in terms of mileage accumulation, I have come to think that the deterioration in the partnership allowed me to see other options. I really like Cathay Pacific and Qantas. British Air does fine on trips to Ireland. I am hoping that my experiment with American to Ireland will help me find an option that avoids the Heathrow transfer.

    I really thought the Delta change in their partnership with Alaska and their own points for dollars approach to FF programs clarified to me what their priorities are.

  21. I guess it comes down to who the target audience is – the 85% who take just one flight a year or the FF crowd.
    Im not sure airline loyalty isn’t overrated for the FF population. I have lived in Alaska, New Jersey, Virginia, Florida and California in the past twenty five years – all of them as a FF. I’ve migrated from Delta to Continental back to Delta then to US Air and now AA. For me it’s all about convenience and programs and cost. I’d leave AA tomorrow if Delta or anyone else offered a better package.

  22. I’ll preface with I’m a Seattle local, MVPG, and vendor to Alaska.

    The Alaska commercial had a MUCH stronger emotional appeal to me. After having a ton of interaction with the folks at Alaska I’ve honestly never been more impressed with any other company. Everybody seems to genuinely care and they definitely have a family mentality. From their CIO to the folks agents at the airport everyone I have interacted with has been competent, friendly, and has left me just feeling good.

    Personally, I don’t care what Delta does – I don’t have any plans to fly with anyone else unless I have to. Alaska is like family to me.

  23. It only takes a couple of times before you get stranded in SLC or DTW before the “shiny new Delta toy” thing wears off… These service businesses are only as good as their people (Read Tiffany’s post the other day about the disinterested ‘AA Lifers’ she encountered on a short SAN-LAX-LAS trip.) and DL’s are even worse, Delta having not flushed enough of ‘the old guard” out during Chap 11.

    The thing (like Seattle, frankly) that makes AS different is the people– the upbeat attitude, the helpfulness, the little extra zest with which they serve a NW region micro-brew. Do they have bad days? Sure. But, all in all, the “people element” of the customer service on AS is about as good as it gets– and that is something DL will always lose at, no matter how many slick ads and cute-sy safety videos they make. With DL, you can be assured that a few frosty sprinkles and some glitter on a piece of scat doesn’t change the nature of the droppings… pooop is poooop

  24. DL ad shows high production values and comes across as “slick.”
    AS ad is also very well produced but way more heartfelt.
    I’m one of those not originally from Seattle, but here now, and proud of it. Left Delta behind years ago, when it first became apparent that SkyPesos were going to zero. AS miles, on the other hand, have aged like a 2007 Quilceda Creek Cabernet — at least so far…
    I just wish AS flew somewhere far enough away to warrant adding 77Ws and 789s to their fleet.
    As to Starbucks, its “nose” reminds me of the #YMMfire, so I’m not a complete homer.

  25. Born and raised in the PNW (living in Tokyo now) and for all the talk of a special NW mindset, price is still the big concern as it is with most people on earth. Most of Alaska’s flights are under 4 hours and no one I know who’s paying with their own money will shell out an extra $50 or $100 for a 2 hour hop down to SF/LAX/LAS because of some special NW loyalty.

  26. AS customer service is second to none. Compassionate, understanding, helpful souls who try their best to do the right thing even if it flaunts official policy. They have earned my loyalty.

    I’m not sure what Lucky means about the planes being bare bones. What’s so deficient about AS’s domestic fleet compared to other domestic fleets? (Don’t call out the fancy transcontinental ones… they’re a tiny fraction.) AS has new seats, power at every seat, great food at reasonable prices, and a pretty modern entertainment streaming solution. I don’t get the bare bones comment at all.

  27. SeattleTodd nailed it. Its the staff attitude thats different. And that sparse interior comment cannot come from someone who flies coach regularly. AS planes in Y have more legroom. I’ll stick with Alaska.

  28. Sounded like Ben is a little down on AS. Yes they may be “barebones” but the few times I’ve flown AS economy, I have been treated like a human being. Unlike flying UA business and treated like dirt.

  29. The only group more provincial than a bunch of home grown Seattle people, is a bunch of home grown Portland people. Alaska Airlines is nothing to write home about, just like any other US airline.

    PS Seattleites, you may have grown under a rock, but Microsoft, Boeing, Nordstroms, REI, Safeco, Starbucks, etc. are corporate America, don’t think otherwise.

  30. I was MVP gold two years ago and almost never set foot in Seattle. They seem to like point-to-point routes that serve me well. When Southwest pulled RNO-SJC, Horizon picked it up, and I was on that twice a week and was never disappointed. Plus, those little Q400s can land in the infamous Reno crosswinds much more easily than the Southwest 737s. Now that I live in Boston, I fly BOS-SAN, which is only served by Alaska (and upgrades are easy since there are few MVPs on this non-hub route) and JetBlue which is routinely $200 more. With the Virgin acquisition, I’ll get BOS-SFO too and be a happy camper.

  31. Alaska is in Seattle to stay… Delta is fickle anywhere, but especially in the NW. I lived in PDX for 20 years and switched to Alaska when I was already a DL million miler after DL summarily abandoned their hub in Portland. I stuck with AS through my time in SFO, but in DC now I’ve had to switch to AA. Sure, the seats are better and I get more upgrades as AA Plat than I did as AS Gold, but the people on Alaska are invariably nice — like the time that we misread the board (rookie mistakes happen to all of us) and almost missed our flight while sitting in the boardroom at LAX. The flight crew hunted us down to make sure we got on board. Let me laugh when I contemplate AA or DL doing that. So, color me unsuprised if one day DL abandons SEA just like the abandoned PDX 20 years ago.

  32. First off, the two major premises of your blog are factually incorrect. Northwest Airlines started flying out of Seattle a full two years before Alaska Airlines did, making Delta the longer-lived airline.

    Secondly, the DL-AS codeshare fell apart because Alaska reneged on it’s agreement to provide feed to Delta, instead providing it at American Airlines and incentivizing it to grow at the expense of Delta.

    As a Seattle resident, I agree that loyalty is important… which is why Delta and Alaska are at odds right now. Alaska wasn’t loyal to it’s agreements with Delta, which sparked the current animosity between the two carriers.

    What’s more important than loyalty? The facts. Nobody has a problem with honest competition, but distorting the truth is un-American. The good people of Seattle deserve better than your blatantly partisan and biased “opinion.” Delta came to Seattle with a plan to grow WITH Alaska Air. Alaska Air broke their word. Delta was forced by Alaska Air’s decision to grow from within. Today, Seattleites have a choice, and that’s a good thing.

  33. I’m afraid I lost a bit of respect for Ben in this post. Alaska is simply a ‘better’ airline, in terms of customer service, than the Big Three will ever be. Ben just needs to get a faster modem…. fly ’em a few times (they do a lot of east coast routes now) and you will see.

    The AS-Virgin tie-up is a potential game-changer if AS can bring great service to a broader network with what’s probably the most generous mileage plan still standing. They won’t always be the cheapest but the staff will be friendly and the miles will still often get you a one-way on their mileage redemption chart for only 10,000 miles.

    Try that on DL’s mileage chart. Oh, wait a minute, DL does not even publish one any more.

  34. Of the cities I’ve lived in, Seattle has the most people who walk by you on a sidewalk without making eye contact or offering a greeting. I’m told it’s “The Freeze.”

  35. I have no dog in this fight, but I came here to ask two questions:

    How is “Lucky”, a person who never lived in Seattle, suddenly an “expert” on the psyche of Seattleites?

    How is an airline with “Alaska” in its name, considered “local” to SEATTLE?

    Neil S. said it best:”People aren’t rational about these passion things.”

  36. i live in Seattle and experience the “freeze” daily. One time on the bus, I asked a woman next to me about where the bus stopped next. She said “You must not be from around here.” I said “why?”. She said “Because you are speaking to me.”

  37. @Jon Jon

    Ben can’t. That’s why we jumped on him. AS is a delightful alternative to the Big4 and we can only hope they keep expanding.

    Those of us who lived in the PNW for decades recognize the absolute games United and (especially ) Delta have played in these markets for years. Entering. Not being committed. Withdrawing. United used to have 7x flights SEA_BOI a day for gosh sakes. Then nothing.

    Alaska has been loyal.

    And yeah its just a name. And that’s an Eskimo on the tail not Paul Allen in a parka. Deal with it.

  38. @Tachyon Well.. regardless of anything else, Alaska is not “just a name.” The airline has a long history of providing essential air service in Alaska — a state where many communities to this day don’t have roads and their only link to the outside world is an airstrip. No doubt they are Seattle’s hometown airline, but Alaskans still rely heavily on the airline and I think the name reflects that history.

  39. AD,

    My response was directed to Jon-Jon who had asked why a local “Seattle” company could have “alaska” as a name. The HQ is in Seattle and the main hub has been in Seattle for decades. And for the Lower 48 crowd it IS just a name– while AS may have an extensive route coverage in AK (they do) most of the passenger traffic is down here.

    One might as well ask why an airline Hq’d in Atlanta would have “delta” for a name. There is a history there too, but not much of DL’s business anymore is crop dusting for boll weevils out of a shed in Monroe Louisiana.

    At some point these brands sever all ties to the original meaning. That’s what makes it a brand.

  40. This commercial cracks me up. Buffalo? Really? I actually found this ad insulting – as if we are I the middle of no where. Get a new marketing team- they have no idea how to make an emotional connection, unless insulting Residents was the plan all along.

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