US carrier Delta Air Lines is to launch a four times weekly seasonal link between Portland International Airport and London Heathrow from next summer as part of a further revision of its transatlantic joint venture partnership with Virgin Atlantic Airways. This will see the UK carrier take over responsibility for Delta’s daily Seattle – London Heathrow route, adding capacity in the process, as well as its link between New York and Manchester.
Delta already offers a transatlantic link from Portland to Amsterdam, while Icelandair and Condor also link Oregon’s largest city with Reykjavik and Frankfurt on a seasonal basis. The new flight will operate between May 26, 2017 and October 29, 2017 and will be flown using a Boeing 767-300ER.
Home to four Fortune 1000 companies, Portland's growing economy outpaces the US average, and London service will complement Delta's existing long-haul international service to Amsterdam and Tokyo for Portland's business customers. Portland is also a popular tourist destination for travellers from Europe.
Sabre’s Market Intelligence estimates that around 60,000 non-directional passengers a year are flying between the UK and Portland International Airport, with the market growing by 13.8 per cent between 2014 and 2015. Delta is already the market leader with a 32.2 percent share of the O&D demand, rising to 39.1 percent when you also include Virgin Atlantic’s indirect traffic.
As part of the route switches, Delta will also replace Virgin Atlantic’s single daily flight on the Detroit – London Heathrow route with a second of its own branded rotations from March 26, 2017. Similarly, Delta will take over the second daily service currently operated by Virgin Atlantic on the Atlanta – London Heathrow route from May 25, 2017. This will mean Delta will offer three flights per day versus Virgin Atlantic’s single daily service on the city pair.
Delta and Virgin Atlantic’s joint venture is based around offering customers more options and a seamless experience between the US and the UK. The airlines are continuously evaluating their joint Transatlantic network to match the right aircraft to the right destinations and the summer 2017 route switches are a clear example of this.
Seattle was actually one of the first new Transatlantic markets to result from the joint venture when Delta began services in March 2014. The route had previously been flown by Northwest Airlines up until January 2009, but since then British Airways has held a monopoly on the route.
The switch from a daily Delta 767-300ER to a Virgin Atlantic 787-9 will take place from March 27, 2017. The introduction of the Dreamliner will add more than 50 flights per day between Seattle and London with the UK carrier configuring the modern generational airliner with 31 Upper Class, 35 Premium Economy and 198 Economy seats.
"We are looking forward to broadening our presence on the West Coast of America by introducing the Virgin Atlantic experience to customers in Seattle," said Erik Varwijk, executive vice president of commercial, Virgin Atlantic.
"It is because of our joint venture with Delta that we have been able to optimize our routes and touch down in Seattle next summer using our newest, most fuel efficient Boeing 787-9 aircraft with additional capacity,” he added.
With effect from March 25, 2017, Delta and Virgin Atlantic’s joint summer 2017 schedule will include a total of 42 peak daily non-stop flights between the US and the UK. Of these, 28 flights will operate between London-Heathrow and popular US destinations such as Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta and Washington, and 14 flights will operate between Manchester, Glasgow, Belfast, London Gatwick and Edinburgh to popular US destinations.
The route switch will also see Virgin Atlantic takeover Delta’s current New York – Manchester service for summer 2017. The UK carrier will inherit the route from May 25, 2017, albeit it is planned to revert back to Delta operation in winter 2017/2018.
This will further increase the Virgin Atlantic brand at the growing northwest England airport. The airline already offers mainly leisure flights to Barbados, Las Vegas and Orlando, but has grown its business links with a daily Atlanta service from March 2015 and new flights to Boston and San Francisco due to commence next year.
Like the situation in London this could free Delta to introduce additional seasonal flights into the UK from other points across the US. According to industry sources, the airline is understood to be looking at flights between Detroit and Manchester among other markets under consideration.