UK carrier Virgin Atlantic Airways will introduce its first flights between London Heathrow and Atlanta Hartsfield-Jackson International after agreeing with its US business partner and shareholder Delta Air Lines to make a switch to their transatlantic networks to provide more choice and variety to customers flying between Europe and North America. As part of the arrangement, which will take effect from the start of the Northern winter schedules later this year, Delta Air Lines will also introduce flights between Los Angeles International and London Heathrow.
The schedule changes from October 26, 2014 will see Delta start operating one of Virgin Atlantic’s two daily flights between London Heathrow and Los Angeles. This new Delta service will mark the airline's first non-stop flight between the airports and will be its seventh non-stop destination between London and the United States.
From the same date Virgin Atlantic will begin operating one of Delta's three daily flights between London Heathrow and Atlanta. The new services will provide greater choice for travel between the UK and North America and the two airlines will codeshare on each other's operated services, allowing customers seamless access to the expanded network.
"It's great to see how our partnership with Delta is already proving fruitful to our customers," said Craig Kreeger, chief executive officer, Virgin Atlantic. In less than a year the carriers have co-located key business routes, delivered schedule changes to benefit customers and provided enhanced experiences to frequent fliers. “This is just the beginning of demonstrating how a true joint venture between airlines should be operated to benefit customers," added Kreeger.
This latest announcement also shows how the partnership, which launched on January 1, 2014, is increasing the network of each carrier. Virgin Atlantic will have access to Delta's Atlanta hub, the busiest airport in the world, for the first time, providing greater access for the carrier to offer connections through to points throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico and the Caribbean. The airline will now be able to offer more than 100 additional international and domestic connections bringing the total number of connections available through the partnership to more than 200.
"From the outset we said that our partnership with Virgin Atlantic was about improving services while offering more destinations and schedule choice," said Ed Bastian, president, Delta Air Lines. "Expanding access to London's Heathrow Airport has long been at the top of Delta's list of priorities, while Virgin Atlantic has long wanted greater access to North America. This announcement shows how we're delivering this shared commitment to increase connectivity on the Transatlantic."
Combined, Virgin Atlantic and Delta operate a total of 32 peak daily non-stop flights between North America and the UK, including 24 flights between London Heathrow and popular US destinations. Delta recently co-located its New York, Boston and Seattle routes into Terminal 3 – Virgin Atlantic's home at Heathrow Airport (its Atlanta, Detroit and Minneapolis services continues to operate from Terminal 4). This move provided additional choice and flexibility to customers while reducing onward transit times.
The route switch will strengthen the carriers’ activities against its main rivals in these two markets. British Airways is currently the only other provider of flights between London and Atlanta, with it and Delta both making the switch from Gatwick to Heathrow airport for the route during the 2000s.
According to UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) statistics, 540,054 passengers flew on the route in 2013 (up 19.4 per cent on 2012) with MIDT data estimating an O&D demand of 202,000 for the same period, highlighting the additional onward traffic flows. Delta had an estimated 65.9 per cent share of this traffic, up from 59.7 per cent the previous year. Virgin Atlantic will deploy an Airbus A330-300 on the route, replacing the older Boeing 767-300ER or 767-400ER currently used by Delta on this rotation.
There is significantly more competition on the London – Los Angeles market and alongside Virgin Atlantic, Air New Zealand, American Airlines, British Airways and United Airlines offer flights from Heathrow and Norwegian plans a new low-cost service from Gatwick. Air France even attempted to break into this market in March 2008 but suspended its flights after just one season in November the same year.
According to UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) statistics, 1.33 million passengers flew between London Heathrow and Los Angeles in 2013 (up 2.7 per cent on 2012) with MIDT data estimating an O&D demand of 202,000 for the same period. Virgin Atlantic had an estimated 32.3 per cent share of this traffic, down from 38.3 per cent the previous year. Delta will deploy a Boeing 767-300ER on the route, replacing an Airbus A340-600 currently used by Virgin Atlantic on this rotation.
In our analysis, below, we look at O&D demand on these two transatlantic routes over the past ten years.