Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic Airways welcomed the decision by the U.S. Department of Transportation to approve the carriers' joint venture by granting antitrust immunity on routes between North America and the U.K.
The airlines said DOT's ruling is confirmation of the clear consumer benefits of the partnership and will allow the carriers to deepen their cooperation, offering more flight choices for travelers on both sides of the Atlantic and in particular improving the travel options for business customers in the New York to London market. The new JFK-LHR schedule will be available for sale on October 5.
Ed Bastian, Delta's president, said, "The freedom to cooperate fully with Virgin Atlantic will initiate a new era of greater competition in the New York to London market where it is much needed. We have a proven record in making joint ventures succeed and we look forward to building our relationship with Virgin Atlantic."
In their filing to the DOT, Delta and Virgin Atlantic noted that nearly 60 percent of the slots at London Heathrow Airport are controlled by British Airways and its joint venture partners.
As a result, the carriers dominate air travel between the U.S. and the U.K, including the New York-London market, the most important business market in the world. By combining Virgin Atlantic's Heathrow slots and U.K. brand strength with Delta's powerful U.S. network, the joint venture will offer significant competition in the market and benefit consumers on both sides of the Atlantic, the carriers said.
Craig Kreeger, Virgin's CEO, added, "Our partnership with Delta means we will be able to offer convenient aligned schedules and a much broader network, giving the best possible travel choices and on board experience to trans-Atlantic passengers. "
The airlines unveiled a new schedule for the competitive New York to London travel market designed with business travelers in mind and offering a total of nine daily nonstop flights.
Effective March 30, 2014, Delta and Virgin Atlantic will operate a harmonized schedule between New York-JFK and London Heathrow featuring seven daily nonstop services at convenient time slots. The new schedule will include departures every 30 minutes during the early evening peak and then hourly until 22:30 from New York-JFK to London Heathrow and a spread of seven daily flights from London Heathrow to New York-JFK, including two late afternoon and early evening departures. These services will be complemented by two daily nonstop flights between Newark Liberty International Airport and London Heathrow.
The two airlines sad they will work together to coordinate other schedule and network opportunities. Combined, the airlines will operate a total of 32 peak daily nonstop flights 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.
Business customers will also benefit from a high-quality product: Delta and Virgin Atlantic's business class uniquely includes forward-facing full flat-bed seats with direct aisle access on every flight. In addition, both airlines will offer a premium economy product on its trans-Atlantic services.
Customers will benefit from codesharing across 104 routes offering seamless connections to 63 destinations across North America and the UK, the airlines said.
The partnership also means that members of frequent flyer SkyMiles and Flying Club loyalty programs have more opportunity to earn and use miles/points, while Premium customers have reciprocal access to Delta Sky Club and Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse lounges.
Delta and Virgin Atlantic said they will unveil further product enhancements later in the year, appealing to the business customer and improving the travel experience of customers across the trans-Atlantic.