While going through some old notes, I found one of interest from Virgin Blue’s AGM last November.
A shareholder asked if Canada was on Virgin’s radar.
Chief executive John Borghetti responded:
Absolutely Canada is in the plan but we have got the alliance with Delta. I think you’ve got to watch that space a bit, but it’s very much in our planning.
Borghetti’s statement was not much, but I do see insight. Mentioning the Delta alliance as a “but” suggests a hinderance, even though Delta offers no direct flights to Canada from Los Angeles, the only North American port V Australia serves.
With Delta not likely to offer help, I see V Australia with three options, some more likely than others. It’s important to frame the Canadian market as important to V Australia, but not as important as other networks under development, notably in Asia.
The first option is to codeshare out of Los Angeles with a partner, ideally a Canadian one, so that leaves Air Canada and Westjet as the major players. Air Canada is a member of Star Alliance, a partnership with whom may not please SkyTeam-aligned Delta.
Although Westjet is not a member of a major alliance, it does partner with American Airlines, the oneworld carrier Qantas is seeking closer ties with.
(One route of note is Virgin America’s San Francisco-Toronto service. Once Qantas announced it was axing its San Francisco route, the first question for many was if V Australia would move in and pick up the slack. If–if–it did, Virgin America’s Toronto route would be handy, but not sufficient alone.) EDIT: Since this post was written and pre-set, Virgin America has suspended its Toronto service.
Second is for V Australia to do the heavy lifting itself and fly to Canada. V Australia would surely need a Canadian partner for local traffic, so see above.
Before V Australia could consider local feed, equipment is an issue. There are no further aircraft deliveries planned and the existing fleet by March will be tied up to LA and Abu Dhabi routes. I don’t see V Australia pulling an aircraft for the comparatively weaker Canadian market.
V Australia could serve Canada via Los Angeles, or any future US port; as part of its proposed alliance with Delta, V Australia flagged it envisioned US routes to destinations outside of California.
V Australia’s Sydney-LA flight for the first year or so had a short layover at LAX, at the expense of an ill-timed evening arrival into LA from Sydney, but this has since been adjusted to a morning arrival, leaving the aircraft on the ground long enough to potentially fly to western Canada. That’s what Qantas did for a few years from San Francisco before pulling the Vancouver tag-on. Qantas obviously did not find the route to work. I suspect lack of feed was the issue.
Third, V Australia could codeshare on existing routes: Air Canada’s Sydney-Vancouver service or Air New Zealand’s Auckland-Vancouver flight. Although V Australia could theoretically receive more revenue by having passengers transit through Auckland (on either itself or JV partner Air New Zealand), that would not be attractive to Sydney-based passengers.
Again, these are all mere possibilities with some more likely than others. As Borghetti says, watch his space.