Virgin Atlantic, the edgy British carrier with a hub in London, announced Tuesday that it would join the SkyTeam airline alliance in the coming year, deepening its existing ties with Delta Air Lines, Air France and KLM.
“As a member of SkyTeam, Virgin Atlantic will benefit from increased opportunities to expand its global network through partnerships and synergies: customers will have more ways to earn and burn miles while enjoying the service for which Virgin Atlantic is renowned,” SkyTeam CEO Kristin Colvile said in a statement. “Virgin Atlantic shares SkyTeam’s values, caring for our customers, our employees, and the world in which they live, and we are excited to have them as part of the SkyTeam family.”
Here’s what passengers can expect once the new partnership is finalized.
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What it means for travelers
Frequent flyer program elite members are likely to notice the biggest benefits, according to Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research, a travel industry strategic research firm.
SkyTeam status holders will get perks on Virgin that they already receive on other airlines, like priority boarding, seat assignments and upgrade availability.
For Virgin’s customers, the expansion in benefits will be even more noticeable.
“They will have much greater flexibility in terms of earning and redeeming their frequent flyer miles,” Harteveldt said.
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Because Virgin Atlantic’s airport lounges tend to be smaller than some of its SkyTeam partners, elite access rules may still have to be ironed out.
Harteveldt added that Virgin and other SkyTeam airlines may work to adjust their schedules or create new flights to increase connectivity.
“I expect some airlines will add more flights to London to connect with Virgin,” he said.
SkyTeam airlines will also be in a stronger position to compete against British Airways and its oneworld partners at Heathrow, a major global hub, once Virgin is fully integrated into the alliance.
Virgin’s existing partnerships
For many industry watchers, the announcement came as no surprise.
“I got the same reaction from people that you heard an elderly celebrity died and you thought that person had already passed away,” Harteveldt said.
Because Delta Air Lines already owned a 49% stake in Virgin Atlantic, and the two companies were in an existing transatlantic joint venture with Air France-KLM, Virgin’s entry into the SkyTeam alliance seemed to many like an obvious move.
The even closer partnership will give all of those joint venture companies more flexibility to rebook passengers if something goes wrong, according to Harteveldt.
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Timeline for integration
In a press release, Virgin Atlantic said it expects to finish full integration into SkyTeam by early 2023, a timeline which Harteveldt said is “aggressive” but may be reasonable nonetheless.
“Because Delta and Virgin are already so closely aligned, it’s possible that the IT development may take Virgin slightly less time to be SkyTeam ready than might be the case for an airline when there’s no preexisting business arrangement,” he said.
To fully become a member of the alliance, Virgin customers need to have the technical ability to do things like check their bags through on partner airlines, or receive boarding passes for multiple carriers on the same itinerary at a single check-in point.