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Delta and Alaska Battle for Hearts and Minds in Seattle

Tickers in this article: ALK DAL

SEATTLE ( TheStreet) -- No doubt Delta can build a hub in Seattle, but if it wants to win the battle for hearts and minds it will have to take on Alaska's Eskimo.

On Alaska Airline's third-quarter earnings call last month, a reporter asked whether the carrier might get rid of its Eskimo motif as it re-examines its branding. The response was negative. "The Eskimo is a beloved part of our brand expression and something that customers and employees resonate and relate to very closely,' said Joe Sprague, vice president of air cargo and part of the management executive committee.

The question reflects the airline's periodic thoughts regarding removal of the Eskimo, a process that always seems to result in a public outcry. "Airline's Plan to Junk Eskimo Logo Stirs Up Some Alaskans," was the headline on a 1988 Associated Press story, published in The Los Angeles Times .

The point is that Alaska Airlines has a rich regional heritage, while Atlanta-based Delta is an out-of-town company trying to build an international network. Most experts feel the two can co-exist, especially since they will continue to code-share on some flights and to benefit from each other's presence, but it will be an uneasy co-existence.

Delta said last month it will add seven daily Seattle-San Francisco flights by June 2014; four daily Seattle-Las Vegas flights by April, bringing the total to five, and two daily Seattle-Los Angeles flights in June, bringing the total to seven. Regional partners will operate most of the service.

But it is not just about routes. Delta announced last week that it will establish a "Delta Zone" at Michael Buble's Nov. 15 concert in Seattle, and it will also host a VIP reception with Buble for preferred customers and partners. Buble is a famous Canadian singer. "We are always looking to provide exclusive experiences to our customers both in the air and on the ground," said Jarad Fisher, director of SkyMiles, in a prepared statement. Delta recently picked up sponsorships of the Seattle Seahawks football team and the Seattle Sounders soccer team.

"Delta is trying to do in Seattle what it's done in New York," said aviation consultant Bob Mann. "Every time you look at a billboard in New York or watch a sports team, you see Delta, which is trying to dominate awareness and be at the top of the New York consumer's mind. I presume they will try to do that in Seattle. But it's tougher in Seattle, where Alaska is such a fixture in the community."

In New York, Delta is the official airline of the Mets. It is also the official airline of the Liberty, Knicks, Rangers, Yankees and Madison Square Garden, where it maintains a club room to entertain guests.