A key aspect of Delta taking a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic was gaining access to the British carrier’s slots and routes at London‘s Heathrow airport. More than just that, however, was the value the two companies hope to derive from operating their trans-Atlantic route networks as a joint venture rather than as independent airlines. That plan took a major step forward this week when the US DoT formally approved their plans; the application was tentatively approved in August.
The two airlines have announced part of the changes we can expect to see. Most notable is the revised schedule for service between New York City‘s JFK airport and Heathrow effective 30 March 2014:
A Delta official indicated that the two carriers will maintain their current split of operations with Delta running three of the flights and Virgin Atlantic running four, but the specific times for each have not been announced.
They are not saying which carrier will operate which flight, and the GDS updates do not appear to have been filed yet. The statement does say they expect to start selling under the new schedule on 5 October 2013.
The release also includes this interesting note:
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.
Yes, they are the only carriers operating all flights in that market with forward facing, aisle access flat beds on all flights. But the claim about premium economy is an interesting one. Virgin Atlantic actually has a premium economy product. Delta does not. Their Economy Comfort seats are a bit of extra legroom and some free drinks, but it is still sold as an economy class seat. Calling it premium economy may introduce some interesting effects with respect to the APD charges and different classes of service. Or they’re just a bit misleading in their marketing pitch.
A request for comment from Delta is pending at this time. A Delta representative has now confirmed that nothing is changing in their on-board configuration, “It’s the current [Economy Comfort] product. No change.”
The approval of the JV is not a surprise and it should bode well for Delta and Virgin Atlantic. They are still competing with the BA/AA behemoth which has nearly double the lift in the JFK-LHR market and with United across the Hudson which offers up another five daily frequencies though a much smaller number of total seats (both DL/VS and AA/BA have service from EWR, too).
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