“It’s not like you’ve got the same dynamics at play,” said Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst for Atmosphere Research. “No one is going to look at this merger and say, ‘Oh, we’re about to lose a budget airline.’”
While Alaska bounced back from the pandemic relatively quickly, Hawaiian has struggled to return to profitability. At first, it suffered from strict state Covid restrictions on incoming visitors, which discouraged travelers. After those restrictions were lifted, demand began to recover, but Americans soon shifted focus to international travel. More recently, the airline has been challenged by delays in deliveries of new airplanes and the wildfires in Maui, which led to a drop in traffic this summer.
The sale will also diversify the fleet of planes owned by Alaska, which operates only two types of aircraft, the Boeing 737 and the Embraer 175. After acquiring Virgin America, Alaska inherited some Airbus planes, but phased those out over several years. Hawaiian operates both Airbus and Boeing planes, and it will probably be years before Alaska decides how and whether to rebalance that fleet, Mr. Minicucci said.
“They’ve got the right airplanes to fly the markets that they’re in today,” he said.
Unions representing thousands of workers at both Alaska and Hawaiian, including pilots, flight attendants, office workers, airport workers and other employees, refrained from supporting or opposing the deal, saying that they would work closely with the airlines to make sure that workers benefited from the sale.
“Our first priority is to determine whether this merger will improve conditions for flight attendants just like the benefits the companies have described for shareholders and consumers,” the Association of Flight Attendants, which represents 9,000 Alaska and Hawaiian workers, in addition to thousands more at several other carriers, said in a statement. “Our support of the merger will depend on this.”
The airlines said they expected to put the deal to a vote of Hawaiian investors sometime in the first three months of next year. If approved, they said, the transaction is expected to take 12 to 18 months to close. Alaska will retain its Seattle headquarters and will continue to be led by Mr. Minicucci, who became chief executive in March 2021.