Delta Air Lines closes in on Korean Air JV to boost Asia network, hedge China Eastern partnership

Delta Air Lines is rekindling its partnership with Korean Air. Delta has previously used heavy-handed tactics – cutting off codeshares, nearly eliminating reciprocal frequent flyer benefits otherwise enshrined in their SkyTeam alliances – to bully Korean Air into a JV. The attraction to Delta is a JV partner in Asia, which American and United have long enjoyed. 

Korean Air, until recently, has failed to see the benefits of a partnership with Delta, which has a smaller trans-Pacific footprint. Although Korean Air felt the damage from all but losing its North American partner, what Delta needed to give Korean Air was time. It has helped that Delta is no longer pursuing a hub in Tokyo – a rival to Korean Air and Seoul.

A deeper Delta-Korean Air partnership, as hinted at by Delta management in Dec-2016, starts with both feeling competitive trans-Pacific pressure but jointly holding a position of strength, with a JV slightly smaller than United-ANA's, but much larger than American-JAL. Korean Air brings wider coverage to Southeast Asia, as well as North American gateways.

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