Virgin Australia and United Airlines have formed a new codeshare partnership on Australia-US routes, meaning Virgin Australia is splitting from long-standing US partner Delta Air Lines.
Virgin and United will begin codesharing from April 2022, subject to regulatory approval, and the two airlines will also cooperate on their loyalty programs and airport lounge access. This relationship will replace the Virgin-Delta alliance that has existed for more than a decade and included a joint venture (JV) for transpacific flying. The JV was paused in 2020 amid the COVID-19 pandemic following Virgin cutting its Los Angeles (LAX)-Sydney (SYD) route.
“We’d like to thank Delta Air Lines for their long-standing commitment and relationship with Virgin Australia,” Virgin Australia Group CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said in a statement. “As a strategic partner with Virgin Australia for many years, Delta Air Lines has shared a wonderful journey with us, and we appreciate and value the many achievements we made together.”
The United partnership will more than triple the number of US destinations available to Virgin passengers, the Australian airline said. Virgin passengers will have one-stop access to 92 US destinations via United. The Chicago-based airline said it will enhance its Australian network through access to Virgin’s domestic network, specifically citing new access for United passengers to Adelaide (ADL), Brisbane (BNE) and Perth (PER).
Virgin stressed that United has more flights to Australia than any other US airline. United offers daily flights from San Francisco (SFO) and LAX to SYD, with its Houston Intercontinental (IAH)-SYD service and routes to Melbourne (MEL) set to resume in 2022.
Delta operates an LAX-SYD route.
The United partnership is particularly important for Virgin since it is no longer offering its own flights to the US. Virgin operated transpacific flights using Boeing 777s before the pandemic, but during its restructuring last year it decided to phase out its long-haul network and its Airbus A330 and 777 widebodies.
Virgin has previously said it intended to restart US flights in the long term and would consider placing a new widebody aircraft order to do so. However, at a CAPA event on Dec. 8, Hrdlicka said it was “an open question” whether the carrier would go back into the US market with its own aircraft.
“The United States and Australia share a special bond and I'm especially proud that United was the only airline to maintain a vital link between these two countries throughout the pandemic,” United CEO Scott Kirby said. “Looking ahead, Virgin Australia is the perfect partner for United. Our partnership provides considerable commercial value for both airlines and a shared commitment to offer the best travel experience.”