L.A. Airline Spat Widens With Delta Effort to Block American

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Delta Air Lines has asked U.S. regulators to prevent American Airlines from starting flights between Los Angeles and Mexico City, the latest shot in recent friction between the two carriers.

American has sought clearance to take over the route from Alaska Airlines, which has agreed to turn it over before June. The Department of Transportation should deny American’s request and have an open competition for the route instead, Delta said in a filing. Under a U.S.-Mexico treaty, Alaska and United Airlines are the only U.S. carriers that are allowed to fly between the two cities.

“Delta is a strong and growing challenger at Los Angeles and to Mexico, but needs important limited entry authority on this route to compete,” Delta said a subsequent filing on March 13.

The skirmish is part of a competition between Delta and American to grow at Los Angeles International Airport, where no airline enjoys a dominant market position. The carriers have been involved in at least two other faceoffs, one involving a U.S.-Tokyo route and another over a partnership with Japan Airlines.

American and Alaska submitted an application with DOT on Feb. 11 seeking to make the swap. Consumers would benefit because American would operate twice-daily flights between Los Angeles and Mexico City, where Alaska only operates one, the airlines said.

Strong Relationship

The route request “is an example of American’s strong relationship with Alaska Airlines and underscores its commitment to providing customers a world-class global network from LAX,” Jenna Arnold, an American spokeswoman, said Thursday.

Delta filed documents in late February to block the transfer on procedural grounds and urged the government to allow other airlines to compete for the right to fly between the cities.

“Delta has proposed a superior application offering three daily flights on the LAX-MEX route, versus the one daily frequency operated by Alaska and the two daily frequencies proposed by American,” the carrier said in the filing. The Atlanta-based airline didn’t respond to a request for comment on Thursday.

Alaska and American called Delta’s request a “spurious effort to obstruct and delay” in a subsequent filing. Department of Transportation spokesmen didn’t immediately respond to a call for comment.

Alaska Benefit

Bobbie Egan, the Alaska spokeswoman, said the airline is “looking forward and hopeful that the DOT will approve the application soon.”

Letting go of its route to Mexico City would enable Alaska to fly Los Angeles passengers to other destinations. Alaska customers could still book seats on the Mexico flights through the airline’s website through a marketing agreement with American, she said.

United was the leader at Los Angeles Airport at the end of 2014 with an 18 percent share of passengers, followed by American with 17 percent, according to government data. Delta had 14 percent.

American on March 27 lost a bid to strip Delta of a flight between Seattle and Tokyo’s Haneda airport that it said was underused. American wanted regulatory clearance to move the route to Los Angeles and make it a daily service.

The Transportation Department let Delta keep the route, one of only four between the U.S. and Haneda, and ordered the airline to fly it year-round. American will take over if Delta fails to do so.

Japan Fight

In 2010, American was able to fend off Delta’s attempt to woo Japan Airlines Corp. out of the Oneworld global alliance of carriers and into the rival SkyTeam group. Japan Air’s routes in its home country and elsewhere in Asia were attractive to both American and Delta. Losing JAL would have cost American’s Oneworld its only Japanese partner, while a Delta victory would have strengthened that carrier’s grip on U.S.-Japan traffic.

American, the smallest of the three major U.S. airlines on service to Asia, later formed a venture with the Japanese airline that enables the carriers to coordinate fares and schedules on trans-Pacific flights. Such agreements reduce operating costs.

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