Virgin Blue’s US-Canada codeshare with Delta gives clues to Delta-V strategy

Delta tails
A line of three Delta Boeing 767-400s parked at London Heathrow’s T4. Photograph: AirSpace user Allan

The Canadian Transportation Agency this month has approved a three year agreement for V Australia to codeshare on Delta’s flights between the United States and Canada.

The approval is for Delta flights operated by the Atlanta-based carrier or its regional contract carrier SkyWest (not to be confused with Australia’s Skywest, who Virgin also has an agreement with).

Initial codeshares routes with V Australia will be from Utah’s Salt Lake City to Calgary and Vancouver,
according to SkyWest’s application to the US Department of Transportation. SkyWest also applied for codeshare authority with V Australia to Mexico’s Guadalajara as well as five domestic routes from Los Angeles: Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco, Las Vegas, and Phoenix.

Neither carrier has said when the codeshare flights may commence but the CTA has approved Delta’s request for exemption from the requirement to file the application at least 45 days before the first planned flight.

The CTA has separately approved V Australia to codeshare on direct Australia-Canada flights. Air Canada is currently the only operator between the two countries but no official announcement has been made. The carriers could not be reached for comment. (Note V has not applied, or received approval, to operate its own flights to Canada.)

The approvals beg one to wonder–more at the end of this post–if this agreement signals more to either Delta or V Australia’s plans, namely Delta adding Canadian flights out of LAX, or V Australia looking to serve a key Delta hub outside of California, a statement it made in its initial JV application and is expected to uphold.

The CTA decisions follow chief executive John Borghetti acknowledging at Virgin Blue’s AGM last November that 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.” V Australia currently codeshares with Alaska Airlines to Vancouver and Delta to Ottawa. It is not clear how the agreement will affect Alaska Airlines, although Alaska and Delta have their own partnership.

For the Delta codeshare, only passengers with a V Australia-coded trans-Pacific flight may book a codeshare flight on a Delta. Once V Australia and Delta start code-sharing across the Pacific, the CTA approval will permit passengers on Delta-operated, V Australia-coded flights to codeshare with Delta from the US to Canada.

Delta and its subsidiaries do not offer any direct flights between Canada and Los Angeles, the only point for Delta and V Australia’s trans-Pacific flights. Delta’s Canada flights primarily operate out of Salt Lake City for the western destinations of Vancouver and Calgary, and out of eastern hubs (Minneapolis, Detroit, New York) for the eastern Canadian cities of Toronto and Montreal, amongst others.

For Vancouver and Calgary, flying from LAX to Salt Lake City and then onwards to Canada adds 300 extra miles, making the trip 28% longer than flying direct from LAX.

One option, previously discussed here, is for V to codeshare with Canadian operator WestJet, who does serve LAX and has previously said it is interested in forging ties with an Australian operator. The carrier has not confirmed any specific interest in the Virgin Blue Group. As for a further partnership with Alaska Airlines, Vancouver is the only Canadian city Alaska serves direct from LAX. Its other Canadian flights originate in Seattle.

Update: WestJet and American Airlines, a member of the oneworld alliance with Qantas, have since announced a codeshare arrangement. This would suggest WestJet will be closer with Qantas than V.

Delta’s poor Canadian connectivity begs the question if the Canadian approval is a piece in a larger puzzle that centres around Delta adding Canadian flights out of LAX or if this approval is related to Delta and V’s pending JV under which one of the two carriers (likely V) would operate US flights to a point outside of California. That opportunity was mooted in the Delta-V JV application and, sources familiar with the situation say, is still very much the case.

With Delta having a hub at Salt Lake City, including for Canadian flights, is Salt Like City a contender for a new V Australia service?

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2 Responses to Virgin Blue’s US-Canada codeshare with Delta gives clues to Delta-V strategy

  1. Damien March 29, 2011 at 1:26 am #

    Salt Lake City seems like quite a random destination.. Maybe VA is doing something similar to what QF does on the SYD – LAX – NYC or whatever flights? I think it would make more sense, offering connections to 2 virtual networks in both the US and Canada.

  2. Will Horton March 29, 2011 at 9:46 am #

    SLC is Delta’s largest westernmost hub serving 88 destinations at present. LAX by comparison only serves 32. A high proportion of trans-pac passengers do not make LA their final destination as they take onward connecting flights. A SLC hub, and this is only a reckoning, would be along the lines of Qantas’s DFW flight in that it would offer better connectivity (if you can get the 77W to make it).

    As for onward domestic flights, it’s to my understanding that is not being considered at present as V prefers codesharing.

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