American Airlines, oneworld Increased Offer to Japan Air Lines May Not Be Enough

Last Updated Jan 18, 2010 12:00 PM EST

It smells like desperation near Dallas/Ft Worth these days as American Airlines (AMR) struggles to hold together the oneworld alliance that it has been desperately trying to build. Things aren't looking good as Japan Air Lines (JAL) looks closer to defecting to Delta (DAL), and American really doesn't have much to offer right now.

Last month, American and its oneworld partners got together to offer a mega-package to Japan Air Lines to help it pull out of its money-losing spiral. Delta was also doing its best to woo JAL away from oneworld and into SkyTeam, and the rumors were out there that JAL wanted to go with Delta. oneworld bumped its offer up to counteract that effort, but it still looks unlikely that JAL will stick around.

American and TPG will now add another $300 million into the pot to give JAL $1.4 billion. American will also offer $300 million in revenue guarantees while British Airways will offer $200 million in "revenue enhancements" including some slots at Heathrow.

Here's the problem, JAL doesn't necessarily need the money. It can arrange financing with the government, even if bankruptcy is required (and good for Japan for seemingly allowing the airline to go bankrupt soon) - it's all about saving face and creating future commercial viability. It's likely SkyTeam can provide the latter better than oneworld.

Remember, this "open skies" agreement between the US and Japan only goes into effect if the US approves antitrust deals between JAL and ANA and their US counterparts. ANA has already applied for antitrust immunity with Continental (CAL) and United (UAUA), so that leaves JAL trying to figure things out.

If JAL goes with American, it can certainly benefit, but it still has to compete with a strong ANA and a strong Delta. If it goes with Delta, then I have to assume that Delta will pull back much of its Tokyo hub. American won't have much to build on there, so there will only be two competitors in the market. And that's why I put "open skies" in quotes. This will just restrict competition further, but it's good for JAL.

And where would that leave oneworld? Well, I'll talk about that tomorrow. It's not pretty.