MIAMI — When Alaska Airlines CEO Bradley Tilden sat down on the CEO panel for the 2015 IATA Annual General Meeting it is likely he knew something about his company’s viability was likely to be a topic. And the discussion’s moderator, CNN’s Richard Quest, is rarely one to shy away from probing statements or questions, so perhaps such a bold statement was to be expected. Still, the phrase “under attack” is not one commonly used in the industry. If there truly is an attack on-going it seems that Tilden is unconcerned.
Tilden acknowledges that the competitive landscape is changing but feels that his company is built to survive and even thrive with such challenges. Among the advantages Tilden sees is his company’s history operating in a market with significant cost pressures and very competitive fares. “We’re a west coast airline and fares on the west coast of the United States have always been among the lowest in the world, so we’ve always had a low-cost structure,” he said.
It is not all about costs. In fact, Tilden suggests that fares are only a very small portion of the company’s plan for success. Alaska Air intends to be competitive on price, but there are other factors it considers to be at least as important if not marginally more so, he said.
“We’ve got a low-cost structure and we do offer low fares, but we also have got a big focus on on-time performance, we have a big focus on customer service,” said Tilden. “Our belief is that if you operate safely, operate on time, give people great service and do it for a fare which works we’re going to have a future.”
As for the target customer market for the carrier, Tilden sees quality over quantity. “‘Bleisure’ is a word people use sometimes, the business market plus high-quality leisure [passengers].”
Reliability is a noble goal and it is something which has worked for Alaska Airlines in the past as a differentiator. But Delta Air Lines has a similar focus these days, offering spectacular operational numbers and matching some of Alaska Airlines’ promotions and customer-focused actions like checked baggage delivery guarantees.
Alaska Airlines may be “doing just fine” as Tilden expressed, but that does not mean there is no attack there. And the outcome of the battle will likely not be known for some time.