Delta Air Lines and Virgin Atlantic Airways, which last month set up a codesharing agreement after the US carrier bought a 49 percent stake in Richard Branson-owned airline, plan to expand their partnership to include the Middle East in the near future, a source told Arabian Business.
However, some analysts have dismissed the move, saying it will have little impact until both carriers build up a sizeable presence in the region.
The transatlantic codesharing agreement will cover 108 routes across North America and the UK and coincides with Delta acquiring a 49 percent stake in the London-based airline, marking the next step towards a full joint venture between the two carriers.
“This is a strategic investment that enhances Delta’s network with greatly improved access to London Heathrow, the leading marketplace on the trans-Atlantic,” said Ed Bastian, Delta’s president.
“As we unite two leading global airline brands in an innovative partnership that focuses on delivering enhanced benefits and services for our customers, we also become a more formidable competitor across the Atlantic,” added Craig Kreeger, CEO of Virgin Atlantic.
While a source told Arabian Business “there is a long term view to roll the partnership across the entire network” and the Middle East will be added in due course, Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, said it would have little impact on the region.
“Personally I don't see how either carrier will really benefit. Virgin has scant presence in the GCC as it is, and US airlines are too frightened to serve the region directly because they know they simply can't compete with the more efficient runnings of Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad,” Ahmad said.
“To me, it’s a silly PR fad that is as devoid of substance as Virgin is of routes in the Middle East. Perhaps when US airlines like Delta have the bottle to serve the region by direct flights from the USA, I'd give them credence - as it is, this chatter is worthless,” he added.
At present, Virgin Atlantic flies Dubai to London and Delta flies to Bahrain and Muscat from Amsterdam.