After a few months of deliberation, the U.S. Department of Transportation has given the green light to a full-on joint venture between Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic (not to be confused with its domestic counterpart Virgin America, which is a separate company). To the common person, the mere mention of such a transaction probably triggers a rolling of the eyes, or perhaps a fear of what it actually means for those flying. Fret not, weary travelers — allow us to break down what the partnership means for consumers, including more destinations and more flexible timing.
More destinations: The reason that this venture was approved is simple. Presently, around 60 percent of the airline slots at London Heathrow Airport are controlled by British Airways and its joint venture partners. So, whether you’re flying Delta or Virgin Atlantic, your options are already hampered by another airline’s dominance. Starting March 30, 2014, Delta and Virgin Atlantic will operate a harmonized schedule between New York-JFK and London Heathrow. Why is this important? Now that the two airlines are syncing their schedules, passengers flying into either city will experience easier, smoother connections. Hence, if you’re just passing through London or New York en route to other destinations, you’ll be able to go more places in a single day, with less daunting layover times.
More flights: Prior to Delta and Virgin Atlantic cooperating, New York-to-London flights were frequent but still somewhat limited. Delta itself only flew a couple of flights per day, and they were all overnight flights. Now, the two plan to operate 32 round-trip flights per day between North America and the U.K., of which 24 flights will operate between London Heathrow and popular U.S. destinations such as Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, and Washington. Strictly looking at the new schedule between London and New York, you’ll find seven nonstops in both directions, including a new flight that will depart from New York in the morning and arrive to London on the same day.
Better prices: Increased competition typically leads to lower prices for the consumer. British Airways and its partners have long dominated the New York – London market, giving them little reason to lower prices. The Delta/Virgin Atlantic joint venture may have an impact on airfares from other airlines that operate the same route; and while specific fares have yet to be set, frequent pond-hoppers will likely notice a difference.
Mileage earning: The partnership also means that members of frequent flyer SkyMiles (Delta) and Flying Club (Virgin Atlantic) loyalty programs have more opportunity to earn and use miles / points, while premium and business-class customers have reciprocal access to Delta Sky Club and Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounges. In addition, business class passengers receive priority check-in, boarding, baggage handling and additional baggage allowance on all Delta and Virgin Atlantic operated flights worldwide, including those outside of the codeshare agreement. Best of all, the two plan to “unveil further product enhancements later in the year,” which rival airlines will need to match or best in order to remain competitive.