Change Your Altitude

Delta and Korean Air to Enter into Joint Venture?

It’s been no secret that SkyTeam members Delta Airlines (DL) and Korean Air (KE) have long had an icy cold relationship, and it shows – KE is a Tier 4 partner for Delta, meaning no MQMs are earned for Korean Air marketed tickets purchased by Delta Medallions. Only recently did the two finally start offering codeshares(!) for select routes between North America and Asia, meaning Delta Medallions could fly on Korean Air-operated flights and earn elite qualifying miles. But wait, is there more?


The Scoop

The fine folks at Bloomberg reported that Korean Air President Walter Cho disclosed that a joint venture may be in the works between the two frenemies airlines, though wouldn’t drop hints on further details.

What does Delta have to say in the matter? It’s too soon for Delta to comment, apparently, according to the carrier’s corporate communications department in Japan.

A Delta Airlines Boeing 767-400 in the SkyTeam Livery

A Delta Airlines Boeing 767-400 in the SkyTeam special livery. Credit: SkyTeam


The Atlanta-based carrier has slowly but surely been trimming their operations in Asia, including decreasing flights to Narita International Airport (NRT), a longtime hub for the new-defunct Northwest Airlines, which merged with Delta in 2010; cutting premium routes like New York to Tokyo. The focus has been to move to Haneda Airport (HND), and while this is much closer to Tokyo’s city center, DL still only offers nonstop flights to HND from Los Angeles and Minneapolis.

Delta has been trying shifting much of their Asia-bound passenger traffic through Shanghai Pudong International Airport (PVG), thanks to a small (3.55%) stake they have in China Eastern Airlines (MU). A joint venture with Korean Air would offer Delta passenger more options when flying to Asia (and frankly, a better option). Meanwhile, this partnership would offer Skypass members more options for getting to US cities not currently services by Korean Air.


The Takeaway

I really hope this is more than just a rumor. As Delta continues to shrink their footprint in Asia, this would offer an amazing option for getting to business-driven destinations in Asia. Medallions looking to earn elite qualifying miles/dollars/segments currently have China Eastern or China Southern (CZ) as options – and the latter at a lower accrual rate. Neither are great options – and I say this after having flown CZ last year.

While Delta and Korean Air offer a few codeshares through KE hub Incheon International Airport (ICN), they are still few and far between – and not available for every route. Medallions may end up flying the less convenient flight just to fly on board Korean Air.

Korean Air SkyTeam Livery

A Korean Air Boeing 777-200 gets towed out of the hangar with a fresh coat of paint Credit: SkyTeam


In the meantime, I’ll keep hoping – but who knows how long it’ll be before anything materializes. With the Seoul Winter Olympics just around the corner in 2018, Delta would be wise to ink this deal before the end of 2017 (um, but sooner, I hope). Is this a sign of good things to come? Fingers crossed. 

Anyone else penciling in Korean Air into travel plans (if you haven’t already – I mean, Prestige Suites, anyone)?

Featured image credit: Delta

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