What should we make of the Delta/American rivalry?

American Airlines executives have been tweaking Delta recently in public comments. Photo: American Airlines. 

American Airlines executives have been tweaking Delta recently in public comments. Photo: American Airlines. 

When I spoke last month about the Los Angeles market with American's chief marketing officer, I asked him about his impressions of Delta, American's top competitor in Southern California. 

Rather than giving a boring answer, as most executives do, American's Andrew Nocella surprised me. "I don't look the rear-view mirror," he said into my tape recorder, "so I can't say I worry about that much."

This was the second time in a year I got a mild zinger from American about Los Angeles. Eleven months earlier, Fern Fernandez, American's vice president for global marketing, told me American wanted to win in Los Angeles - and he was emphatic about it. 

"There's no such thing as No. 2," he told me in February 2015. "You are either No. 1 or you go home."

I hadn't thought much about the aggressive words until I read Ben Mutzabaugh's USA Today story this week about American's global rivalry with Delta. The world's two largest carriers seem to enjoy tweaking each other in federal filings and in the press. 

"The U.S. airline industry is full of historic rivalries," Mutzabaugh wrote. "Pan Am and TWA fought for dominance on international routes. American and Braniff went toe to toe over Dallas. American and United have done the same in the past over Chicago O’Hare. Delta has held several notable turf battles during the past decade, with the most-recent coming against Alaska Airlines over Seattle. But it may time to move American-Delta to the top of the list of potent U.S. airline rivalries."

Delta has a nice rivalry going with American. Photo: Delta. 

Delta has a nice rivalry going with American. Photo: Delta. 

The USA Today piece credits industry website Airline Weekly for highlighting the Delta/American spat in a recent long article. Here's one interesting observation from Airline Weekly piece:

Last week, you could even hear it during American’s conference call with investors and journalists. Executives made no mention of American’s longtime rival in Chicago, United. Nor did they talk much about low-cost carriers. Instead, they ripped Delta for losing billions of dollars from fuel hedging. They acknowledged Delta’s operational superiority but downplayed its extent. They noted how American’s pilots earn 7% more per hour than Delta’s pilots. They scoffed at Delta’s reliance on profit sharing to compensate workers. They alluded to Delta’s eventual need to spend heavily on fleet modernization, a process well underway at American. And they attributed Delta’s stronger underlying profits at the moment, excluding fuel hedges, to the simple fact that seven years have passed since the Delta-Northwest merger—it’s been just two since American merged with US Airways, implying lots of unharvested synergies yet to come.

I don't think this rivalry will matter much to travelers, though it is possible the airlines could start a fare war, which would be nice for consumers. But as a journalist, I am already intrigued, even if prices don't drop. It's much more fun watch rivals tweak each other than spout boring corporate speak. 

What do you think of this public rivalry? Have you ever seen one like it?