Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Line’s partnership is helping passengers access domestic US cities more easily than ever before, the British carrier has told Business Traveller.
Reuben Arnold, Virgin’s senior vice-president of marketing and customer experience, was speaking at the launch of the airline’s new route to Detroit earlier this month (see news, April 22).
Arnold said that Virgin is “the only British carrier to fly direct… the resurgence of Detroit resonates very much with us and our brand – that start-up culture makes it a really exciting place and to get in there early on is very exciting for us”.
Nevertheless, the emphasis was on Detroit being a major US hub for Delta as “connectivity is really important”.
Passengers can use Delta’s services onward out of Detroit Metropolitan airport to connect to major cities such as New Orleans, St Louis, Indianapolis, Salt Lake City and Nashville.
Speaking of other possible new routes for both Virgin and Delta from the UK to the US, Arnold said: “We continue to look at who should fly where. Atlanta is another great connecting point for us. [Virgin launched a second daily London Heathrow to Atlanta service in March (see news, December 2014)].
“It’s about optimising our network and offering more connectivity on both sides of the pond – for UK customers it’s about more access to the US interior, and for US customers it’s about more direct gateways.”
The benefits of what both airlines are calling a “smarter partnership” include “a more seamless experience for our customers like co-location at Heathrow T3. Particularly for our premium customers who want to make the most of that regular schedule to JFK so if you miss one flight you can get another one half an hour later from the same terminal.
“Quite often with a joint venture you might end up getting two flights within ten minutes of each other to the same destination, but we have worked very hard to align our schedules so there is a good frequency.
“This means that from a business customer’s perspective, if your plans change and you need to shift from one flight to another, there is a much more logical schedule.”
Arnold confirmed that New York remains Virgin’s strongest route.
He said: “We have a really unique proposition in terms of frequency and our Clubhouse. LA, which has a new lounge, is also great. [Click here to read a review]. The US generally is performing really well and our partnership with Delta makes us a strong proposition.”
Speaking about new aircraft deliveries, Arnold said: “We have five Dreamliners serving Boston, Shanghai, LA, Delhi and New York Newark from London, but they are coming fast and furious – we are taking 17 in total with an option for three more.
“Other routes we might consider putting the B787 on would be Shanghai, Jo’burg and Hong Kong.
“Meanwhile, as we are taking delivery of our B787s, our A340-600s will be gradually retired along with our B747s. But we are still investing in those aircraft to keep them fresh, particularly in Upper Class, which we are refreshing to give a similar look and feel to the B787.”
Onboard connectivity is also on the menu.
Arnold said: “We have wifi on all our B787s and three of our A330s. It is being progressively rolled out across the whole fleet for completion by the end of next year.
“In the meantime, on our A330s and B747s we have an Aeromobile product that allows for calls, texts and limited data on customers’ own devices, which is instead of wifi. But the benchmark is wifi – that is what our customers are asking for.”