American Airlines will become the first airline to offer nonstop flights between the United States and Bangalore, India, in October, from an unlikely departure city.
American is adding the daily service to the southern India technology center not from Dallas, Chicago or one of its other big hubs, but from Seattle, where it has a small presence.
It's all part of an expanded partnership with Alaska Airlines announced Thursday, where the airlines will feed each other passengers and offer travelers reciprocal frequent flyer benefits to lure more passengers. Bangalore isn't the only new international flight planned from Seattle. American said it will offer nonstop service to London Heathrow beginning in March 2021.
Alaska, a mostly domestic airline with a loyal following in California and the Pacific Northwest, is based in Seattle. It's been battling American rival Delta Air Lines at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport since Delta established a hub there in 2014 and has aggressively added flights. Delta now considers Seattle its primary West Coast gateway to Asia, with nonstop flights to Japan, Korea and China, but none to India.
American's 16 hour, 20 minute flight from Seattle to Bangalore's Kempegowda International Airport will be Seattle's first nonstop flight to India and will mark American's return to the Asian nation after nearly a decade.
The carrier ended flights between Chicago and New Delhi in 2012. It will be American's second longest flight behind Dallas-Hong Kong at 17 hours, the airline said. Tickets go on sale in late February.
Seattle will be American's first international gateway in the United States outside of its hubs, and the expanded partnership reverses American's earlier decision to end key parts of its partnership with Alaska beginning next month.
"This is going to come as a bit of a surprise to the world,'' Vasu Raja, American's senior vice president of network strategy, said in an interview. "I'm not sure anyone has done anything like this.''
Why Bangalore instead of other destinations in India, such as New Delhi and Mumbai, which some of American's competitors already serve from other U.S. airports?
Raja said Bangalore is the the No. 1 destination the Dallas-based airline's top corporate customers have been requesting for more than two years. Big technology companies such as Dell and Texas Instruments and other large companies have a presence there, he said.
Seattle is the best choice for American to serve the country for two reasons, he said. First, American's Boeing 787s can make the trip from Seattle, unlike from its Dallas and Chicago hubs, so passengers in places like Austin, Texas, and other American cities will now have one-stop service to India. American has an international gateway at Los Angeles International Airport but it is focused more on local passengers. American hopes to draw a mix of local and connecting traffic in Seattle with Alaska, which has more than 350 daily flights from the city.
Second, demand for travel to India is strong in the technology havens of Seattle and several other cities along the Pacific Coast, where Alaska is strong, Raja said.
Alaska said the expanded partnership with American on international flights from Seattle and Los Angeles will make it more attractive to corporate travelers seeking one-stop shopping for U.S and international flights. Alaska plans to join American and a host of other carriers in the global airline alliance oneworld next year as part of the deal, subject to approval.
Brett Catlin, managing director of alliances and network for Alaska, cited Seattle-based Amazon as an example. Seattle-Bangalore is one of the company's most heavily traveled routes, he said, but employees currently have to connect in another city, adding a few hours or more to their trips.
Similarly, there is strong demand from San Francisco to Bangalore, he said. Alaska has 14 daily flights from San Francisco to Seattle, where travelers will be able to connect to the nonstop American flight on one ticket purchased either on Alaska or American.
"You multiply it across Alaska's 1,300 daily flights and suddenly you can see the power,'' he said.
American and Alaska aren't counting on Bangalore to be an immediate success because India is still a developing airline market from the United States, and other airlines, including Delta and United, are also adding flights, if not yet to Bangalore.
"It's not without its risks,'' Raja said. "For us this is really a long-term strategy to be able to give our customers what they want, which is a really good India network.''
How many airlines offer nonstop flights between the United States and India?
U.S. and foreign carriers currently offer nonstop flights to India from New York, Washington, D.C., Chicago and San Francisco but none to Bangalore.
New York/Newark-New Delhi: United, Air India
Washington, D.C.-New Delhi: Air India
Chicago-New Delhi Air India
San Francisco to New Delhi: United, Air India
New York-Mumbai: Delta, United, Air India
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: American, Alaska airlines team to offer new Seattle-to-India flights