Virgin Atlantic Eyes Joint Venture With Air France-KLM & China Eastern

Virgin Atlantic has announced a new partnership with China Eastern, which also includes the Air France-KLM group. The partners are forming a joint venture to operate flights between Europe and China, leveraging China Eastern’s powerful presence in the Asian nation.

Virgin and China Eastern intend to form a joint venture along with Air France-KLM. Photo: Delta/Virgin/Simple Flying

Although the deal is still to be formally approved, Virgin is positive that it will go ahead. The new joint venture will replace the JV currently in place between China Eastern and Air France-KLM. This will see Virgin working even closer with its European neighbor, following the purchase of a 31% stake in the UK airline earlier this year.

The announcement is well-timed, as Virgin is currently celebrating its 20th year of flying to Shanghai. In a press release, Chief Commercial Officer at Virgin Atlantic Juha Jarvinen commented,

“Our announcement today regarding our intention to enter into a joint venture with China Eastern and Air France-KLM truly emphasises our commitment to China and our growing portfolio in the Far East. The move clearly reflects our mission to offer our customers enhanced connectivity and choice by working with the best partners in the business.  We have a strong heritage of flying to China and I’m delighted that this announcement comes at a time when we celebrate 20 years of flying between London and Shanghai, further cementing our dedication to the region for another generation.”

Details of the joint venture

Virgin Atlantic has said that the new partnership will launch in early 2020, with codeshare flights available for the first time on China Eastern flights between London and Shanghai. Passengers will be able to earn and redeem miles on these flights with both partners, and will avail of greater frequency of services thanks to this also.

Virgin 787-9
Virgin flies to Shanghai with a 787-9. Photo: Virgin

Both Virgin and China Eastern have a daily flight between Heathrow and Shanghai. China Eastern also flies three times a week from Gatwick currently, but has said it will increase this frequency to daily from later in October.

Beyond Shanghai, China Eastern has a solid network across China, encompassing around 188 destinations. This comprehensive route offering will make travel even easier for connecting passengers looking to access other parts of the Asian nation.

Delta’s worldwide non-alliance

While Delta, Air France-KLM and China Eastern are all in the SkyTeam alliance, Virgin is famously alliance-less. They are to be joined by LATAM, following Delta’s investment in the South American airline. LATAM has already said they will not look to join SkyTeam following their departure from oneworld.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian has been outspoken on his belief that airline alliances no longer deliver the benefits they should. Adding a joint venture between its powerful partners in Europe and major Chinese carrier China Eastern is yet another slick move by the Delta chief, who is quietly forming his own international non-alliance that could end up being more powerful than anything we’ve seen before.

China Eastern
China Eastern is a key partner for Delta. Photo: China Eastern

Delta Air Lines has holdings of 49% in Virgin Atlantic and Aeromexico, along with 8.8% in Air France-KLM, 3.55% in China Eastern and 4.3% in Korean Air. And, of course, 20% of LATAM. This has given Delta and its partners a strong foothold in some of the world’s biggest markets, with only Australia and Africa left wanting a local airline.

Perhaps, in the future, Delta too will abandon SkyTeam in favor of its own self-made alliance, a move that would not be completely inconceivable given Bastian’s strong feelings on alliances. For the time being, this latest development will come as welcome news to travelers between China and Europe, with more options for codesharing and miles earning potential.