The rise of Delta Atlantic

Delta Air Lines is wasting little time in leveraging its investment in Virgin Atlantic to serve the combined carriers’ trans-Atlantic market strategy. Following on a relatively quick approval for codesharing and joint venture operations the two are now adjusting routes served and the shift is heavily towards the Atlantic Ocean. As reported by Virgin Atlantic’s service to Vancouver, Tokyo, Mumbai and Capetown will all be cut starting early in 2015 while new operations will be launched, mostly serving Delta hubs or otherwise augmenting the TATL route network.


When the changes are complete Virgin Atlantic will have only 6 destinations east of London.

Routes Virgin Atlantic is dropping in 2015
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

The new routes being added include a collection of Delta hubs – ATL, DTW, JFK, LAX – and also a few other cities with seasonal leisure demand like SFO and MIA. One of the two daily EWR flights will shift from Virgin Atlantic to Delta metal and Virgin Atlantic will take over operations on Manchester-Atlanta, replacing the Delta flight on that route.

New routes (seasonal in purple, year-round in green) for Virgin Atlantic starting in 2015
Map generated by the Great Circle Mapper - copyright © Karl L. Swartz.

Operating as solely a long-haul carrier is very, very, very challenging. Even with a home base at London’s Heathrow airport and their minimal short-haul feeder flights on Little Red the reality is that Virgin Atlantic cannot survive without feed to help fill those long-haul planes. Adding that feed from the east is not particularly viable so instead it will come from the west as Delta can push passengers into the Virgin Atlantic planes at nearly all of the new US points. And with the joint venture in place for those routes the two will be able to coordinate fares and scheduling, allowing for theoretically better yields.

This move does increase the significance of London as a destination for the combined pair, but on average it is still just a handful of new daily flights (4 year-round; 3.7 additional seasonal) so it doesn’t completely skew the capacity curve. And there’s the part where Delta and Virgin Atlantic still have different service levels and styles on board. Adding the dual service options to Delta hubs gives passengers more choices not only on flight times/frequencies but also in the type of passenger experience they have across the pond. And more choices generally is a good thing for travelers.

The shift also allows the combined carriers to adjust capacity in certain markets as they alter which aircraft are serving the routes. The Newark adjustment is a great example. Delta could swap in a 767-300 for Virgin Atlantic’s A340-300, trimming capacity if desired. Similar shifts, including adding a proper premium economy cabin in some markets, can also take place, by putting Virgin Atlantic aircraft into those markets.

And, in the mean time, Delta can continue to grow its feed into London with the “Delta Atlantic” operation, proudly operated by Virgin Atlantic. It almost seems like they may as well change the name now the way the capacity is shifting.

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Where it hurts me is the LHR-BOM flight. That is another option gone for BOM. I am also surprised about NRT since DL has a lot of asian flights from NRT. I am not a very knowledgeable person on routes but that was impression from a year or so ago.

    1. I agree with you Narayana. NWA had a mini hub in NRT for its Asian routes that DL now has after its merger with NWA.

  2. For those Delta flyers and especially elites flying in the economy cabin, the change of many routes to VIrgin Atlantic is not a great positive as they have no equivalent of Delta Economy Comfort.

        1. Not completely unrelated as both sit between regular economy and business class. The question is whether you’re willing to take only marginally better legroom for free or pay a bit for legitimately more space. Lots of people on both sides of that discussion.

        2. Yes, it is a bit. In that it is rather less expensive than business class. And, depending on the coach fare you’re buying it might not actually be that much more to get to PremE.

          As for the award redemption part, I expect that will be solved soon enough. Not this week and not next week, but soon.

          1. Perhaps, perhaps not. And at some point in time doesn’t help right now as the flight changes have already started.

  3. Delta did inherit the NW hub at NRT. But they’re scaling it back these days. The SEA hub allows overflights to more destinations in Asia direct from the USA rather than via NRT. And I doubt that VS was connecting many passengers to DL in NRT. Their joint operations was only on TATL routes so the NRT connections would be end-on-end as I understand it. And those are rarely efficient fares.

  4. This makes financial sense for VS, but unfortunately it means a lot of routes to the east of London are cut.

    NRT I’m surprised this doesn’t stay on O&D alone. CPT was probably doing poorly anyway. The rumor was that YVR hurts DL on SEA-LHR. LHR-BOM is large but low-yielding with 3 carriers nonstop and at least 15 carriers serving it one-stop. My guess is that AMS-BOM will benefit from this cut.

    Moreover, as they repeatedly stress in the press release, DL needs the VS planes to fund the US flying. The second DTW was wanted by DL for a long time. If BA is looking at restarting DTW, then they better act fast. ATL, JFK, LAX, summer SFO are all very low risk moves given the DL connections and sales power.

  5. Bummed that Virgin Atlantic is dropping Vancouver. Will Virgin Atlantic begin flying between Seattle and London?

    1. DL flies SEA-LHR. Unlikely that there is support for a second frequency on VS for that route. I could see them trying to play games with capacity shifting between DL and VS planes based on season but that’s not here yet.

      1. If SEA-LHR does well, it would be nice to see SEA-MAN – or, in general. more service to MAN. MAN is a nice, efficient airport, with embedded mainline train service and hotels with an easy walk to the terminals. I much prefer MAN to LHR for UK trips (excluding downtown London).

        1. Good luck with that plan…MAN and LHR are very, very different markets.

          Manchester has less than a third the passengers of Heathrow and less than a fifth of London in total. Seems quite unlikely to me that MAN-SEA has a chance. Maybe a 787-8 type of route, but even that’s unlikely.

  6. As a name, “Virgin Atlantic” actually makes more sense after the capacity adjustments, with a higher proportion of flights being on trans-Atlantic routes.

  7. Had my first Virgin Atlantic experience last week and first time a business class has really excited me. Flying back to NYC from BOM, will be a shame to lose that route, for the 50+ km from my hotel to the airport I am curious to see what vehicle they provide for the free transfer.

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