Delta-Virgin takes up battle for New York-London fliers

Sun Mar 30, 2014 7:10am EDT
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By Karen Jacobs

ATLANTA (Reuters) - Delta Air Lines (DAL.N: Quote) has been making inroads in the dogfight over the lucrative market for business travel between New York and London, but the newly merged American Airlines Group (AAL.O: Quote) is fighting back.

Delta is hoping to attract customers through its new partnership with Virgin Atlantic, known for its high-tech and non-traditional approach to flying, and its own boosted profile in New York, where it expanded flights and renovated terminals.

Now under new management, American is trying to bounce back from years of under-investment and market share losses, drawing from its recent merger with U.S. Airways.

The New York-London route is popular with Wall Street executives who are willing to pay for the priciest seats and who often travel at the last minute. Eager for their business, airlines are using their best planes on the route and investing in upgrades such as satellite WiFi and seats that turn into flat beds.

The alliances provide more flights under one banner, and better links to other U.S. and European cities. That convenience can win over corporate accounts, locking in lucrative business travelers.

"This is a battle royale," said George Hamlin, an aviation consultant in Fairfax, Virginia. "This is about who gets the greatest number of the passengers who pay the most money."

American and joint venture partner British Airways (ICAG.L: Quote) have an estimated 59 percent share of seats flown between the United States and London's Heathrow airport, compared with about 24 percent for Delta and Virgin, and United Continental Holdings Inc's (UAL.N: Quote) 14 percent share, according to a U.S. government filing by Delta and Virgin.


Delta planes line up at their gates while on the tarmac of Salt Lake City International Airport in Utah September 28, 2013. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson