Last updated: 04:00 PM ET, Tue May 31 2016

Delta and Virgin Atlantic Seek to Dominate US-UK Routes

Airlines & Airports | Delta Air Lines | Josh Lew | May 31, 2016

Delta and Virgin Atlantic Seek to Dominate US-UK Routes

Photo courtesy of Delta

Fresh off the successful launch of its new year-round service between New York and Edinburgh, Delta, along with its partner Virgin Atlantic, has announced that it will be launching a number of new flights to the UK next year. The flights will serve both smaller markets and larger hubs. 

New flights and changes

Delta will begin seasonal service between Portland and London on May 26, 2017. This is major news for the Oregon hub, which is mostly served by Alaska Airlines and offers relatively few international options. Delta will start a second Detroit-London Heathrow flight on May 26. This new service is meant to replace the Virgin Atlantic flight with the same city pair. 

Delta, which already operates daily flights to London Heathrow from Atlanta, will also take over one of Virgin Atlantic’s daily Atlanta-London flights. Virgin will continue to operate one daily service on the route from Atlanta.  

Virgin Atlantic, meanwhile, will start service from Seattle to London on May 26 next year. This will replace the flight that is currently offered between the two cities by Delta. 

Virgin will also take over Delta’s JFK-Manchester route next year. However, Delta is planning to also offer service on the route during the winter of 2017.  

READ MORE: Delta Will Add Full Premium Economy Product Next Year

What do these announcements mean? 

For the smaller markets, Portland especially, the addition of an international flight, even a seasonal one, is a major development. For now, the airport’s international options are limited. Delta flies to Tokyo Narita and Amsterdam, Icelandair offers season flights to Iceland, and Condor flies seasonally to Frankfurt.

For the airlines, it is the next move in what has become a progressively closer relationship. Delta already owns 49 percent of the UK-based member of the Virgin group, so the fact that the two are taking over each other’s services on certain routes does not come as a surprise. 

A partnership that offers flexibility to Delta

Working closely with other airlines means that Delta can have flexibility to arrange its flight schedule and route offerings in a way that makes the most sense for its bottom line. 

Delta's Senior Vice President Trans-Atlantic, Dwight James, explained the closeness of the relationship between the two carriers in a release announcing the new flights. “The flexibility to adjust our operations on routes between the U.K. and the U.S. is a solid reflection of the cohesive strategy we have across the trans-Atlantic. Since 2014, we have been building a partnership that is centered around the needs of our customers while providing network synergies for our airlines." 

READ MORE: Delta Launches New Year-Round Service to Edinburgh

A dominant position?

By next summer, the two airlines, who are calling their transatlantic partnership a “joint venture,” will have a peak of 42 daily flights between the United States and the UK. A majority of these flights (as many as 28) will be to London Heathrow. Other cities will also be served. Delta/Virgin flights will also take off and land in Manchester, Glasgow, Edinburgh, Belfast, and London Gatwick.

This shows the airlines’ willingness to at least attempt to build routes to smaller markets on both sides of the Atlantic.

The partnership with Virgin will give Delta a stronger position in the transatlantic marketplace. It will need this as it competes with the growing number of low-cost long-haul flights.  

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