Turkish Airlines and Star Alliance intrude into Atlanta; a “tag” strategy that just might work


Citing growing business between the two cities, Turkish Airlines has announced that its new Istanbul/Washington DC flight will be extended to Atlanta; pending approval. The move is either bewildering or bold—or perhaps a bit of each—given the fact that Atlanta is a bastion of Delta, and SkyTeam, strength.

“Tags” like this on long-haul flights have been disappearing over the past decade as airlines found that short flights with big aircraft and no traffic rights generally drag the entire operation into the red. When begun in November, the Turkish operation will be one of the few foreign carrier tag flights in operation in the US.

Turkish will have a tough battle to gain yield traffic

Atlanta and its surrounding area is fertile territory for SkyMiles and SkyTeam loyalty. Other US airlines fly only to their own hubs and foreign alliance carrier presence is very limited (British Airways to London Heathrow, Lufthansa to Frankfurt). As carriers continually discover, prying top-level travellers from their dedicated allegiance is most often a losing battle.

Additionally, it is almost certain that corporate agreements for Atlanta businesses are very “Delta friendly” and that the carrier will offer significant incentives to keep its market share intact.

Finally, the port of first entry, IAD is a prime United hub and the ability to fly between Washington and Atlanta on a Star carrier is not problematic; although US domestic service when juxtaposed with international carrier standards is always found wanting. And, a connection involving an aircraft change can be troublesome.

But there are attractions to the one-stop, single aircraft service

There are however some bold-side arguments. Delta is the only US carrier operating nonstop US service to Istanbul, but that service is from New York’s JFK.

That means that Atlanta originating passengers must brave the challenges of a connection (through the congested skies above New York City), as opposed to a through aircraft offered by TK. You can’t misconnect when you are already on the aircraft. What’s more, you don’t have to get undressed at the transfer gate either.

The very fortress like nature of Delta may actually provide an opportunity for Star member travellers to stay with their preferred alliance. And the Turkish Airlines network across the Middle East provides a new set of onward connections to travellers in the Southeast—albeit with a one-stop/no change flight.

A potential winner – but worth a try anyway

Conventional wisdom currently dictates that this type of tag flying is probably not a great idea. But the recent history of Turkish is that of an organisation that perhaps discounts those assumptions until they have proven unsuited to the carrier’s own experience.

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