United Airlines and Virgin Australia announced a new partnership in mid-December. On Monday, the two airlines filed with the US Department of Transportation (DOT) for codeshare approvals, laying the groundwork for their collaboration. After receiving the required government approval, the two airlines plan to roll out a partnership that will include connecting itineraries and frequent flyer benefits.
United and Virgin Australia file for codeshares
United Airlines and Virgin Australia have made a joint filing with the DOT requesting codeshare approvals for the following circumstances:
- Virgin Australia displays United’s UA code on intra-Australia flights
- Virgin Australia International displays the UA code on flights between Australia and third-country points
- United Airlines displays the Virgin Australia VA code on flights between the US and Australia, intra-US flights, and flights between the US and third-country points.
The VA code on United’s flights will go on domestic flights and routes to Mexico, the Caribbean, and South America. This would create the ability to book one- and two-stop itineraries. This creates an ease of access in terms of the ability to modify flights if cancellations or delays occur and benefit from checking bags through the itinerary.
The two airlines are eager to roll out the partnership as international travel resumes from Australia. The carriers indicated to the DOT that they are looking to roll out the codeshare partnership as soon as government approval comes through. The two airlines have already reached an agreement on the routes and plans they have for codesharing.
Setting the stage for more connections between the US and Australia
The codeshare agreement will set the stage for more connections between the US and Australia. Virgin Australia maintains approvals to operate flights between Australia and the United States. United Airlines is already operating between the US and Australia.
The United States and Australia have an Open Skies Agreement, allowing for a liberalized air market that allows airlines to launch and schedule flights without needing specific, prior government authorizations. Virgin Australia is not prohibited from returning to its transpacific operations. It is a different story given the fleet, as Virgin Australia does not have widebodies to run international flights to the United States.
United Airlines has the largest footprint of US airlines between the US and Australia. The airline currently runs daily nonstop flights from San Francisco (SFO) and Los Angeles (LAX) to Sydney (SYD). Flights from Houston (IAH) to SYD and flights from Melbourne (MEL) to SFO and LAX are also expected to resume this year. Under the codeshare agreement, United will be able to offer connections to Brisbane, Perth, and Adelaide.
United Airlines has shown that it is willing to leverage partnerships to launch new flights. It would not be surprising to see United add flights to new destinations in Australia that Virgin does not serve, like Brisbane. Virgin Australia, alternatively, could use the partnership to return its transpacific market.
Delta winds down as United winds up
Virgin Australia affirmed to the DOT that it would be winding down its codeshare and frequent flyer programs with Delta. The airline anticipates filing a notice of termination with the DOT regarding its Delta partnership as the airlines end their cooperation.
However, United and Virgin have expressed urgency in their desire to market the codeshare services and get the partnership rolling out early this year, ahead of United’s expansive return to Australia. If there are no objections and the DOT believes the codeshare is in the interest of the traveling public, it would not be unthinkable for the two airlines to roll out codeshares and frequent flyer benefits by spring, if not before then.