In one of the largest airline mergers in recent history, Alaska Airlines has reached a $1.9 billion agreement to purchase Hawaiian Holdings, Inc, the parent company of Hawaiian Airlines. The blockbuster deal combines two longtime Pacific carriers, greatly expanding routes and loyalty program options for travelers.
The merged company is poised to transform air travel between the continental U.S., Hawaii, and Asia. “The combined company will unlock more destinations for consumers and expand choice of critical air service options and access throughout the Pacific region, Continental United States and globally,” Alaska said.
While the Hawaiian and Alaska brands will remain intact, the unified platforms, hubs, and loyalty programs are expected to provide flyers with far greater flexibility. Honolulu will become Alaska’s gateway for further Asia expansion, while Alaska’s West Coast hubs offer Hawaiian access to dozens of new North American cities.
This groundbreaking deal didn’t appear overnight, but is the culmination of both airlines’ steady growth over decades of service. Let’s look at the history of both carriers and how the landmark merger developed.
Hawaiian Airlines: Over 90 Years of Aloha
Hawaiian Airlines’ roots stretch back to 1929, when it first launched as Inter-Island Airways serving Oʻahu, Maui and the Big Island. The fledgling airline adopted the Hawaiian Airlines name in 1941 and gradually expanded to other Pacific destinations.
Today Hawaiian serves 16 domestic and international destinations, including the U.S. west coast, Asia, Australia, and the South Pacific. Its fleet includes Airbus and Boeing jets ideally suited for overwater routes.
The company has overcome challenges over nine decades, including wartime disruptions, new competitors, financial troubles, and tourism decline during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hawaiian has emerged stronger each time thanks to solid management, dedicated employees, and loyal customers attracted to its authentic Hawaiian hospitality.
Alaska Airlines: Ninety Years of West Coast Focus
Founded just a few years before Hawaiian, Alaska Airlines commenced operations in 1932 with flights from Anchorage to small Alaska bush towns. In the following decades, Alaska assumed many of Pan Am’s former routes between Alaska and the western U.S.
Alaska’s first flights to the U.S. east coast began in 2001. Its merger with Virgin America in 2016 further expanded its domestic network. Today Alaska serves over 120 destinations across North America.
While Alaska operates numerous Boeing 737 jets ideal for shorter routes, it has fewer long-range aircraft needed for transoceanic flying. Acquiring Hawaiian’s widebody fleet helps fill this gap to enable further international growth.
A Natural Partnership Forged Over 25 Years
The new merger didn’t appear overnight, but rather has roots going back over 25 years. Alaska and Hawaiian first formed a codeshare agreement in 1995 to jointly sell seats on certain flights. This allowed the airlines to expand their networks and provide passengers with more itinerary options.
The benefits of the partnership led to deeper cooperation as the years passed. Alaska and Hawaiian joined the same airline alliance and began reciprocal frequent flyer rewards. In 2016 they opened their first mileage redemption partnership, further aligning the loyalty programs.
Meanwhile behind the scenes, talks occurred periodically about an outright merger. The pandemic disruption to travel in 2020 put discussions on hold temporarily. But as conditions improved in 2021, negotiations resumed in earnest regarding how Alaska and Hawaiian could build an even more formidable alliance.
Executives found much common ground between two airlines steeped in history and culture. Joining forces would leverage their distinct strengths to expand services for customers and opportunities for employees.
These talks culminated in the March 2023 merger announcement, described by Alaska CEO Ben Minicucci as the “next chapter in our growth story.”
How the Blockbuster Deal Will Reshape Pacific Travel
While frequent Hawaii visitors are certainly cheering this headline, how specifically does the Hawaiian acquisition advance Alaska’s strategy? And what new options may the partnership unlock for air travelers?
Let’s explore four ways the merged airline giants will transform Pacific region connectivity:
1. Hawaii Becomes Alaska’s Gateway to Asia
Alaska has offered Asian service for years through partnerships, but operated few flights itself beyond the Pacific coast. Hawaiian’s Honolulu hub now provides the perfect springboard for Alaska to launch its own nonstop services to key Asian centers like Tokyo, Seoul, Singapore and Manila.
Expect Alaska to leverage Hawaiian’s long experience in Asian operations as it adds new routes. This growth will also enhance options for Alaska loyalty program members redeeming miles for Asian award travel.
2. More Nonstop Mainland-Hawaii Routes
While Hawaiian already serves many West Coast cities, Alaska’s mainland hub network enables expanded nonstop flights from cities Hawaiian currently lacks. Expect new nonstops to cities like Austin, Raleigh-Durham, Nashville, Portland (Maine) and Milwaukee.
This growth will acceleration Hawaiian’s pre-merger expansion plans, bringing island vacations within nonstop reach of millions more mainland residents.
3. Joint Loyalty Program and Benefits
While the details haven’t been announced, Alaska and Hawaiian will almost certainly integrate their mileage plans as sister carriers. This will let members earn/redeem across both airlines’ networks plus 29 airline partners already in Alaska’s plan. Expect reciprocal elite benefits too.
For loyalty members this merger promises many new redemption opportunities. Alaska elites gain access to Hawaiian’s exceptional first class cabins on lie-flat flights to Hawaii. Top tier elites may also receive priority access to extra-legroom economy seating.
4. Codesharing and Connections
Even ahead of full integration, Alaska and Hawaiian will likely expand codesharing allowing passengers to book single itineraries on both carriers. Connections through Alaska’s Seattle and San Francisco hubs open new one-stop routes like Boise-Kona that previously lacked online options.
This codesharing will eventually give flyers access to the merged carriers’ full networks on either website. Whether going to Hawaii or the mainland, passengers will find more online options than ever.
What Does the Future Hold for Employees and Communities?
Alongside the customer benefits, the merger promises new opportunities for Alaska and Hawaiian staff while also boosting local economic impacts.
While workforce adjustments often accompany airline mergers, Alaska has stated that Hawaiian employees will have “long-term job opportunities” under the unified company. Alaska has already begun hiring pilots, flight attendants, mechanics and airport staff to support its pre-merger growth.
Both airlines also have strong track records supporting local communities through donations, fundraising and sponsorship. These programs will continue under the merged entity.
“Alaska Airlines has long served Hawaiʻi, and has embraced the culture and values so important to us,” said Hawaiian Airlines CEO Peter Ingram. The new partnership will build on this shared commitment.
Full Integration Still Years Away
While frequent flyers may cheer this blockbuster merger, it will likely take 12-18 months just for full regulatory approval. Actual operational integration of systems, networks and workforces will occur gradually over several years.
Alaska only fully integrated Virgin America recently in 2022 after a 2016 merger. Now core Virgin systems have been discontinued in favor of Alaska’s platforms. The Hawaiian transition promises to be equally complex.
But for travelers the most exciting changes happen much sooner. New routes, reciprocal benefits and booking options should appear long before total integration is finished.
So while today’s headline merger news marks a major milestone, this is just the first step on a long journey to ultimately reshape Pacific travel. Stay tuned for many more updates as Alaska and Hawaiian blend into the newest global airline powerhouse.