Change Your Altitude

Delta and Virgin Atlantic expand ties and codeshares with India’s Jet Airways

A new trifecta is in the SkyTeam house

And then there were three: Spot the difference…a new trifecta is forming within the SkyTeam house

India’s premier private international carrier has been Jet Airways (9W) – they’ve been the flag bearer for this prestige for nigh on two decades now. While they’ve enjoyed great successes in the massive domestic Indian market, offering a superior hard product on brand new planes and a much more reliable full service option to that of state owned air India, 9W has had varied levels of success on the international front. They’ve had their struggles on the South East Asia regional routes to Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore, continually shifting and changing between B737, B777 and A330 service to each of these destinations, which usually meant wildly differing inflight product offerings month to month.

But where they have really struggled is tapping into the North American market. We know the demand is there from India to the United States. It’s booming, in fact. At the moment Air India is taking massive strides and enjoying success on their new non-stop routes from India. At the same time the likes of Emirates, Singapore Airlines, Lufthansa, Qatar Airways, KLM and British Airways are taking the lion’s share of the more price sensitive one-stop traffic to various points in America.

And yet Jet has pulled out of the American market completely – their only surviving North American route is Toronto (via Amsterdam).

They’ve pulled their scissor hub in Brussels that served as their stop on their flights to various US ports – as such their relationship with Star Alliance member Brussels Airlines (SN) has soured.

There was an attempt to cozy up with oneworld member American Airlines (AA) in New York to provide feed to and from India to the many secondary and tertiary cities that AA serves from one of their hubs at JFK. That didn’t work.

So now that leaves us with SkyTeam. And the behemoth in the room – Delta. The main reason Jet Airways closed their scissor hub in BRU was that they’ve now moved a bit north up to Amsterdam, home and monster hub of KLM, a very close DL partner. This has largely been seen as paving the way for the eventual return of Jet Airways into the North American market on their own aircraft, except this time through Amsterdam. The flight will have much stronger support this time round, with KLM’s presence in Europe and Delta’s presence out of Amsterdam and into the US (DL flies to a whopping eight stand alone destinations from AMS).

Now there’s a new threesome on the street by way of Virgin Atlantic (VS) through London Heathrow (LHR). The three airlines have decided to work alongside each other and in recent times have established even closer ties so that benefits that some SkyTeam elites were calling out for have now come to fruition. This is especially pertinent as neither Virgin or Jet are actual SkyTeam members but rather ‘partner’ airlines (aka Delta plants).

Per Delta’s press release, that starting today, November 2:

Effective Nov. 2, Jet Airways customers flying between India and North America will be able to connect through London Heathrow on to nine U.S. destinations operated by Delta.  These destinations include:  Atlanta, Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Salt Lake City and Seattle.

In turn, Delta and Virgin Atlantic customers flying between North America and India  will be able to connect with Delta codeshare onto Jet Airways’ flights to Mumbai and Delhi via London Heathrow and onward to 20 destinations within India.    The new Delta codeshare destinations include Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bengaluru, Calicut, Chennai, Cochin, Coimbatore, Goa, Hyderabad, Indore, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mangalore, Pune, Trivandrum and Vadodara.  The new routes complement Delta and Jet Airways destinations available through existing codeshare agreements via Amsterdam Airport Schiphol and Paris Charles de Gaulle.

Delta and Virgin are quick to note that the airlines’ partnership is no new thing:

Virgin Atlantic already operates a successful codeshare with Jet Airways on flights between five Indian cities and London Heathrow via Delhi.

But Virgin does on to say:

Erik F. Varwijk, EVP Commercial for Virgin Atlantic, said: “We are pleased to announce an extended codeshare with Jet Airways which will provide even more options for our customers in North America and India. From spring 2017 we will offer seamless connections between five Indian cities and ten U.S. destinations via London Heathrow – helping to further boost tourism and trade and attracting more customers to Virgin Atlantic.”

That is a huge upgrade and expansion on the initial agreement. More cities, more destinations that can be codeshared and ticketed is always a great thing for the customer. This is especially great given the product Jet offers – often touted as the best in India and amongst the most solid in the world, this is a nice option to have as an alternative to your Air France’s and KLM’s of the world. It all comes down to preferences in the style of seat (direct aisle access in Biz) and service (modern and warm Indian hospitality).

But you know what’s the most important takeaway from this newest development for SkyTeam passengers? Flying on a partner airline code share flight really doesn’t reap much benefits by way of frequent flier redemptions, earning bonuses or use of premium facilities if not flying in Biz or First. So many times this is a deal breaker for elites. But not the case here:

As well as the codeshare agreement, Delta SkyMiles, and Jet Airways’ Jet Privilege members will soon be able to enjoy network-wide, reciprocal mileage earning and redemption privileges.

Boom. So basically flying on Jet flights with either a VS, KL or DL code on it is as good as flying on any other actual SkyTeam member. I suppose my two follow up questions to this would be how soon is “soon”?  And at this point, why not just get Jet Airways onboard as a full SkyTeam airline – lord knows the alliance needs a good partner in India. Our guess answer would probably be – soon.

This isn’t any normal codeshare folks – this is a comprehensive agreement that basically gives you almost full access to all three airlines’ frequent flier programs. This gives you one or two stop access to basically every Indian city that has an airport that can handle commercial flights, all from either the United States, London or Amsterdam. This gives you cheaper tickets (with possibly better service?) to the subcontinent and at more variable departure and arrival times. This also may be the beginning of integrating two more reputable airlines into the SkyTeam alliance, covering up a gaping hole that SkyTeam has in the Indian market.

And who knows what the future will hold with the way things are moving at the moment – maybe Jet will start accepting Delta Global Upgrade Certificates on their own flights to India? Well, we can only dream.

What say you? For those of you SkyTeamers who travel frequently to India, this is a game changer for you? Or will you stick to the existing KL and AF options? 




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