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Virgin-United partnership marks new milestone

written by Hannah Dowling | January 7, 2022

Virgin Australia and United Airlines have jointly filed for approval from the US Department of Transportation for their previously announced upcoming codeshare agreement.

According to reports, the paperwork was filed with the DOT this week, ahead of the planned launch of the partnership in April 2022.

It comes one month after the airlines revealed their partnership plans, and marks a major move for Virgin Australia, as it drops previous US codeshare partner Delta Air Lines.

Pending all regulatory approvals, the codeshare agreement would see United and Virgin codeshare on all flights to and from Australia as well as flights within both Australia and the US.

The two airlines specified to the DOT that they have already reached an agreement on which routes will be on codeshare.

It will see United’s network expand out from just Sydney and Melbourne to more than 40 Australian cities and regions, while Virgin – not currently servicing its own long-haul international network – will sprawl to the US, Mexico, South America and the Caribbean.

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Virgin noted it will also soon submit a formal notice to the DOT on the termination of its current codeshare and frequent flyer partnership with Delta, ending a longstanding agreement between the two carriers that lasted more than a decade. Virgin has promised that existing bookings will be honoured.

Additionally, the new Virgin-United partnership would allow customers from both Velocity and United MileagePlus loyalty programs to earn points and miles on codeshare flights, redeem rewards and purchase flights and upgrades using their points on both airlines, plus other frequent flyer perks, such as lounge access and priority boarding on both carriers.

When the new alliance was announced, Virgin CEO Jayne Hrdlicka said, “Virgin Australia customers will have significantly more options for travel from Australia to the States, with more than three-times as many services available to them, which is great news for Australian travellers.”

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The move appears strong on the part of the new Virgin CEO, who took on the top role when Virgin exited administration in November 2020.

United was the only US airline to continue flying commercially across the Pacific to service Australia during the height of the pandemic, and still today offers more flights than any other US carrier.

United currently offers daily direct flights from San Francisco and Los Angeles to Sydney, with flights from Houston and direct services to Melbourne expected to resume later this year.

It comes after Virgin resumed flights under its short-haul international network, with flights to Fiji restarted on 16 December.

Virgin will expand its international network over the coming months, with the resumption of services between Melbourne and Brisbane and Fiji, before returning to Bali and Queenstown, New Zealand this new year.

Prior to the airline’s exit from administration in late 2020, many believed that Virgin would shy away from any international destinations and focus on becoming a more budget-style domestic carrier only, much like the airline’s predecessor Virgin Blue.

However, Hrdlicka repeatedly affirmed the reborn Virgin’s intentions to become a “hybrid” mid-market carrier, retaining a short-haul international network to the Pacific Islands and South-East Asia, and maintaining its current business class offering and airport lounges.

The airline has slimmed down part of its offering by no longer providing complimentary snacks for economy passengers, and has offloaded its entire widebody Boeing 777 fleet – meaning a return to long-haul international travel is likely off the cards, at least for now.

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