Skift Take

Based on calculations of the operating margins of all the major U.S. airlines, a merger between Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines could be a win-win situation for the two carriers.

A merger between Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines would place them as the fifth- or sixth-largest airline depending on whether the proposed merger of JetBlue and Spirit goes through. 

But that’s based only on revenue.

Where does Alaska-Hawaiian stack up on profitability?  

Alaska-Hawaiian together is less profitable than Alaska by itself but significantly more profitable than Hawaiian, which has struggled since the pandemic. 

It may seem that Hawaiian comes out as the biggest beneficiary profit-wise, but Alaska is betting on a boost from greater access to Hawaii, and potentially even Asia. 

Alaska chief financial officer Shane Tackett said during an investor call on Sunday that the airline didn’t need Hawaiian to bolster its profits.

“We don’t view a combination as required to continue to compete for operational and margin leadership in this industry,” Tackett said. “We view it as a unique opportunity to enhance the value and growth proposition of Alaska.”

A merged Alaska-Hawaiian airline would have an operating margin of 5.1%, placing it in the middle of the pack of major U.S. airlines. 

Here’s where Alaska-Hawaiian ranks in profitability, trailing 12 months to September 2023:

Sun Country12.6%
Allegiant Airlines12.0%
Delta Air Lines11.6%
United Airlines10.5%
American Airlines9.0%
Alaska Airlines8.6%
Alaska Airlines/Hawaiian Airlines5.1%
Southwest Airlines1.6%
Frontier Airlines1.3%
Spirit Airlines-3.0%
Hawaiian Airlines-7.9%

In 2017, Hawaiian reported the highest margins in the U.S. industry at 18.8%. But it has faced a number of issues in recent years: The Maui wildfires, a sluggish recovery of the Japanese visitor market and issues with Pratt and Whitney turbofan engines that affected its Airbus A321neos. 

Alaska is paying a premium for Hawaiian, and it may be hoping that Hawaiian can return to pre-pandemic margins, when the carrier was at peak profitability, partially driven by a strong Japanese yen, which spurred a boom in inbound Japanese tourism to Hawaii. 

Alaska CEO Ben Minicucci said he believed the issues affecting Hawaiian were temporary during the Sunday investor call. 

“You look at some of the things that are going on right now that have depressed some of the demand to return to Hawaii that was traditionally part of Hawaiian’s business,” he said. “They’re all temporary and they’re going to normalize.”

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Tags: alaska airlines, hawaiian airlines

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