Virgin wins approval on Delta ticket deal

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The Independent Online
THE Government has approved a ticket code-sharing deal between Virgin Atlantic and Delta Air Lines of the US under which Delta will buy at least pounds 100m worth of seats every year on Virgin flights to London.

The announcement follows informal talks between John MacGregor, Secretary of State for Transport, and Federico Pena, the US Transportation Secretary. Mr MacGregor said he hoped the approval for the airlines' proposals would smooth Anglo-American air traffic relations.

Virgin and Delta are still awaiting approval from the US authorities. Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic, said he hoped the arrangement could be put in place by November as planned.

The deal will give Delta access to London Heathrow airport where the main transatlantic carriers apart from Virgin, are British Airways, United Airlines and American Airlines. The question of wider access to Heathrow for US companies has been at the centre of the air disagreement between both governments.

United Airlines, American Airlines and TWA have all lobbied against the Virgin/Delta link. Mr Branson said that those who objected to the deal had done so to protect themselves from fair competition.

Under the proposals, Delta will buy seats into Heathrow on Virgin flights but will independently price and sell them in competition with Virgin. The deal covers flights between Heathrow and Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York's JFK and Newark airports. The plan will also operate on flights between Gatwick and Orlando, Boston and Miami. Passengers will be told they are flying on the UK airline.

Virgin and Delta are also planning a frequent flyer partnership that will give Virgin passengers access to many more destinations.