Virgin Australia’s Joint Venture relationship with Delta Air Lines is being put on ice, following Virgin’s decision to halt its Los Angeles flights and retire its Boeing 777 fleet.
While the Joint Venture (JV) remains paused, the airlines will continue codesharing on each other’s flights: but returning to a full commercial partnership would only be possible if Virgin Australia returned to Los Angeles.
For that, Virgin would need to order a new type of aircraft, such as the Boeing 787, to replace the Boeing 777s exiting its fleet.
Speaking exclusively with Executive Traveller on the sidelines of this month’s CAPA Australia Pacific Aviation Summit, Clare Black, Delta’s General Manager of Australia, New Zealand and the Virgin Australia Joint Venture, confirms that “the JV is reliant on Virgin Australia flying to LA again.”
“That’s why we’re saying we’re pausing the relationship,” as opposed to terminating it, “because we both anticipate that Virgin Australia will fly to Los Angeles again: and when that happens, we look forward to restarting the Joint Venture.”
“We’ve remained in very close contact with Virgin Australia throughout the whole COVID-19 pandemic and Virgin’s administration process, and they do remain a very long-term strategic partner for us,” Black assures.
Delta flying solo across the Pacific
With Virgin Australia not currently serving Los Angeles, Delta’s own flights between Sydney and LA will continue as planned, with Virgin Australia codesharing on those services and beyond across North America.
Currently running three days each week, Delta’s Sydney-LAX route gets a bump to five weekly flights from October 2 2020, ahead of a swap from Delta’s current Boeing 777s to the modern Airbus A350s from October 25.
The A350 offers a very similar experience in business class (Delta One) and premium economy (Delta Premium Select) as the Boeing 777, with private suites and reclining seats, respectively, which the airline plans to bring back to a daily service from 2021.
With Virgin Australia withdrawing its own flights to the United States – including routes from Melbourne and Brisbane to Los Angeles, on which Delta previously codeshared – it poses the question whether Delta would expand its network to cover the gap.
However, while Delta “always continues to monitor opportunities to expand our network globally … given the current environment we’re operating in, there are really no plans to look at any new routes at this point in time,” Black imparts.
Delta’s interim partnership with Virgin Australia
When Virgin Australia’s Velocity Frequent Flyer members do travel with Delta – and likewise, when Delta SkyMiles members fly with Virgin Australia – the experience for frequent flyers will remain similar as before, albeit with a few short-term compromises.
For example, “those that are eligible to access lounges will still be able to do so,” Black confirms, although Virgin Australia lounge access for eligible Delta SkyMiles members remains paused for now: as it does for Velocity members, given the lounges themselves remain closed.
Similarly, Delta SkyMiles members can still earn and burn miles on Virgin Australia flights, and Velocity members can earn Velocity Points (and status credits) – but currently, not burn Velocity Points – on Delta services.
“When Virgin Australia went into administration, they did have to make changes to their Velocity program,” Black acknowledges, which included blocking new points-based bookings on Delta and other partner airline flights: a restriction that remains in effect.
Being able to book Delta flights using Velocity Points once more – as well as using Velocity Points to upgrade on Delta, as was possible prior to COVID-19 – “all depends on what happens moving forward with Bain Capital,” Virgin Australia's buyer.
For now, Velocity members can continue “to earn Velocity Points (on Delta) … and Velocity elites will still get benefits” on Delta flights that they’ve enjoyed in the past, such as Sky Priority check-in, security screening and boarding, as well as lounge access and more.
Delta remains open to restoring its frequent flyer partnership with Velocity in full, and continuing with that partnership, Black confirms, with the ball now in Bain Capital’s court.