Delta made a power move to increase its transatlantic presence earlier this week, announcing that it will acquire an equity stake in Virgin Atlantic. Though Virgin Atlantic president Richard Branson made it abundantly clear that his airline's brand and all of its hip trappings are not going anywhere (he even bet British Airways head Willie Walsh £1 million to that effect), the partnership does signal a significant shift in transatlantic alliances—one that has implications for Delta fliers.
More options into Europe. By gaining a strong foothold in London's notoriously tough-to-get-into Heathrow, Delta can now offer customers nine daily round-trip flights from the New York area to Heathrow, and 31 flights a day between North America and the United Kingdom. For the first time, Delta fliers can look to London (rather than, say, Amsterdam or Paris) as a viable European gateway. And they can get there in style via Virgin Atlantic's much-vaunted new Upper Class cabin.
Reciprocal frequent-flier benefits. This is key: The miles you earn on Virgin Atlantic, you can spend on Delta and vice versa. Similarly, elite fliers from both airlines will have privileges at one another's club lounges.
Seamless integration in one of North America's best terminals. That would be JFK's Terminal 4, already home to Virgin Atlantic's stylish JFK Clubhouse, complete with a Dr. Hauschka spa and Bumble & Bumble salon. Delta will be moving in by spring 2013, when its $1.2 billion revamp of the terminal is complete. On the horizon: new gates, better shopping and dining options, state-of-the-art technology, and a massive 24,000-square-foot SkyClub.
The possibility of an expanded SkyTeam alliance. Right now, this partnership is limited to Delta and Virgin Atlantic. But although independent-minded Virgin Atlantic has traditionally resisted joining a global alliance, the door has definitely been opened for aligning with the other carriers of the SkyTeam network, which includes Air France-KLM.
Alas, analysts say one thing this partnership won't likely result in is lower fares. But Delta fliers can take some comfort in knowing that their beloved Deltalina may soon be reaching a wider audience across the pond.