Regulators Approve Deal Between Delta, Virgin Atlantic

Delta Airlines has just completed its purchase of 49 percent of Virgin Atlantic. Beginning early next month, the two airlines will begin marketing each others flights. They hope to become a formidable competitor on transatlantic routes.

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News now of another airline agreement that's been approved by regulators. This latest deal sees Delta Airlines and Britain's Virgin Atlantic partnering on flights and marketing.

NPR's Wendy Kaufman reports.

WENDY KAUFMAN, BYLINE: Beginning early next month, the two airlines will jointly sell tickets on more than 100 routes. In addition, passengers can earn and redeem miles on either carrier, and passengers with elite status on one airline will be offered the same benefits on the other. Those with airport lounge privileges can use the facilities of both airlines.

The partial integration of flights and services stems from Delta's purchase of a 49 percent stake in Virgin Atlantic.

Industry analyst Richard Aboulafia says the deal, first announced in December but just finalized, gives Delta something it had long sought.

RICHARD ABOULAFIA: Delta gets to grow its market share of the North Atlantic market, particularly to the U.K. and especially to Heathrow Airport; they get more passengers, particularly high-end business passengers that account for the majority of profits on these routes.

KAUFMAN: At the same time, Virgin Atlantic will be able to seamlessly funnel its passengers onto Delta's huge domestic network. Together, the two airlines hope to become a formidable competitor. American Airlines and British Airways already have a similar agreement.

Virgin, which is owned by British billionaire Sir Richard Branson, is seen as a luxury brand, and yesterday, the airline's chief executive insisted that Virgin's brand identity would not be subsumed by Delta and that Virgin would remain true to its roots.

Wendy Kaufman, NPR News.

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