V Australia Will Get You To Seattle with Alaska, Not Virgin America

I received a note from a reader down under recently pointing out that Aussies can now book flights to Seattle on the V Australia website. Is this the long-anticipated codeshare with Virgin America finally showing its head? Nope. It’s actually a codeshare partnership with Alaska. For some reason, I don’t remember this deal being announced. Did I miss something?

If you’d like to check it out, you have to go to the V Australia site in Australia. You can’t book trips from Seattle, at least not yet, but those in Australia can fly to either LAX or beyond to Seattle. What happens if you choose Seattle? Take a look.

09_02_03 vaustraliaalaskalink

It doesn’t appear to be a codeshare, because it shows as an Alaska Airlines flight number, but you can book the entire itinerary on the V Australia site. This just seems so strange to me. V Australia’s Sydney flight gets you to LA at 430p (that shifts to 5p later on in the year). Those flying to Seattle come over to Terminal 3 at LAX, but instead of taking the 710p flight to Seattle on Virgin America, they’ll take one of several Alaska flights around the same time.

On the way home, Alaska makes you sit at LAX for almost 4 hours before the V Australia flight goes back to Sydney. On the other hand, Virgin America could get you to LA with only 1 hour 10 minute layover, something that’s just about perfect for a domestic to international connection that doesn’t require changing terminals.

I’m not sure why Virgin America isn’t carrying this traffic, but it absolutely should be doing it. Why hasn’t this codeshare happened yet?

[Updated 2/2 @ 528p to fix codeshare language]

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20 Responses to V Australia Will Get You To Seattle with Alaska, Not Virgin America

  1. Skinny says:

    Could this be a sign of concern from Virgin over the future of Virgin America?

  2. Hmm.. Hasn’t V Australia basically given Branson et al the finger, since I think they’re not owned in any way shape or form by Branson. Maybe they want Virgin America to fail?

  3. CF says:

    Skinny – Interesting theory, but I imagine with Branson behind both of these there would be some pressure for them to couple.

    Nicholas – Actually, as a wholly-owned subsidiary of Virgin Blue, I believe V Australia is at least 25% owned by Branson still. I know he’s involved to some extent – I’m going to the launch even at LAX on Friday and he will be there. So I doubt they want Virgin America to fail, especially since they’ve co-located in the same terminal at LAX.

  4. Oliver says:

    I am anticipating the codeshare. It makes perfect sense that there would be a partnership. I wonder if they’re keeping things in the dark for now. There could still be all that red tape that VX is trying to take care of right now…let alone be a profitable carrier on their own.

  5. Todd says:

    1. Perhaps V Australia went with AS because AS has better frequency to SEA and still shares T3 at LAX. AS certainly is prone to partner with other airlines liberally.

    2. Perhaps V Australia went with AS to avoid antitrust problems.

  6. eponymous coward says:

    The quote from an AS insider on FT was that it’s a prorated fare, not a codeshare. Please note that the AS flight number is listed on that page, whereas you’d think a codeshare would read something like “Virgin Australia flight (some high four digit number) operated by Alaska Airlines” (which is how QF codeshares with AS show up, as actual QF flight numbers).

    I would assume the VX-VA codeshare happens at some point.

  7. Michael Wardlow says:

    The AS arrangement is a Special Prorate Agreement, not a codeshare. The reason they’re not selling the 1:10 layover on the return per your suggestion: it’s not a valid connection. Minimum connect time is 90 minutes domestic to international @ LAX.

    Speculating here – even under ‘open skies’ bilateral agreements, some codeshares may still require regulatory approval, and that may not have happened yet – esp. considering V Australia hasn’t yet inaugurated service. Also, SPA agreements are pretty easy to set up under IATA standards; codeshares and especially FFP agreements require a great deal more negotiation, therefore time.

    More speculative: a closer relationship between VX and VA might raise questions among US and Australian regulators about who really calls the shots at both airlines – whether they’re really US/AU owned carriers.

  8. CF says:

    I was wondering why people were pointing out it wasn’t a codeshare when I said that in the third paragraph, but then I realized I said it was a codeshare in the first. Thanks for catching that. I fixed that point.

    Michael Wardlow – Where are you getting the minimum connect time for Virgin America to V Australia? Ninety minutes seems extremely long, especially since you wouldn’t have to re-clear security. And since they don’t yet cooperate, I’d be surprised that minimum connecting times would be published.

    Anyway, interesting thought about needing codeshare approvals, but they could have at least put together a prorate deal and sold tickets on each other’s sites. They’ve already stated their intention to codeshare, so they clearly aren’t worried about political issues.

  9. Hmm, Michael I think the view from down here (in Australia) is that control shouldn’t be an issue. The Australian government’s long held policy on ownership is that as long as the head office is in Australia and 51 per cent is owned by Australian shareholders, there generally aren’t any other conditions. It may be an issue on the US side (especially given the DOT didn’t like the original VA chief), but when it comes to working with a foreign carrier, surely it shouldn’t pose an issue. Of course, I am happy to be proven wrong on that front.

    It’s a long shot, but maybe there is a systems integration issue here. I think V Aus is running on a Sabre developed system while Virgin America is on Aires (??). Sometimes it takes a while to get the systems talking to each other, and so while V Australia might take on some sort of relationship with Virgin America, it may depend on getting all the ticketing working together. It may have just been easier to go with Alaskan for a time to test the market before adding/replacing Virgin America to provide feed at LAX.

  10. Sfeastbay says:

    Right now VA only has ticketing agreements with AS, CO, NW, DL so they couldn’t do anything with VX right now since they wouldn’t be able to issue tickets (paper or electronic) on them.

    Someone mentioned connection time which is set at 1hr 30mins connecting from a AS domestic flight to an outgoing international flight. 2hrs is needed from VA international arrive to a domestic connection. That is from Apollo and Sabre checking LAX connection time between AS and VA.

  11. Michael Wardlow says:

    CF – 90 minutes is the minimum connect time distributed in the GDS for SEA-SYD via LAX. Travel agencies would see a prompt when they tried to book it, and online systems shouldn’t be able to display or close the record with a 1:10 connection. Without a valid MCT, the airline(s) would not be responsible for reaccomodating passengers. I can see some travelers saying ‘OK but 70 minutes is no problem’ – but they would also have to know that if their VX flight was slightly delayed and they missed their connection, there would be no sympathy for them at the counter.

    Ellis – like I said, speculative. Only, as the guy from AS pointed out in the FT forum, it doesn’t make much sense for VA to be pimping its ‘partnership’ with AS. SPA contracts like that are common as dirt among airlines. If AS is a ‘partner’ then any airline with whom VA has a SPA is a ‘partner’ – and anyone who has an interline baggage agreement, etc. Which will eventually be, in theory, most airlines in the world as VA grows into other markets. It would be like me advertising my ‘partnership’ with the guy who delivers our bottled water.

    It’s a third-world airline kind of thing to do, which doesn’t seem very much like Virgin Group’s style. But if one wanted to reassure regulators that there was nothing hinky to see in the growing web of Virgin Group carriers, then one might tiptoe around relationships with VX etc and aggressively promote one’s ‘partnership’ with homegrown airlines. Remember a lot of people in AU freaked out when BA was going to buy QF – it is an even bigger issue here in the US, esp. with the new government.

    Of course, it could be a thousand other things – technology, prorate disagreements between VA and VX, etc. If VA and VX are truly separate carriers, then it would follow that they might not see eye to eye. And AS as noted in the FT forum is really easy going about codeshares so long as it’s not with a Star Alliance carrier – their CS agreements out of SEA and LAX are pretty broad. There may be a richer relationship in the pipeline, therefore a shout out from VA about the partnership.

  12. CF says:

    Michael – I always thought that Minimum Connecting Times were created by the airlines, no? I don’t see why Virgin America couldn’t file a 60 minute MCT for SEA-SYD via LAX. The 2 hour intl to domestic is fine with the existing schedule.

  13. Michael Wardlow says:

    MCTs for connections between flights of a single airline, yes – but even this can be incredibly complex. The governing airport authority and regulatory/security officials can and usually will be involved. And frequently, airlines won’t want to invite or create connections because they can get higher yields off of the individual segments.

    When it’s two different airlines – and VA and VX are definitely two different airlines – then you have a host of other issues – especially baggage – to deal with. But as Sfeastbay pointed out, VA and VX don’t even issue each others’ tickets. VX in fact doesn’t appear to have interline ticketing agreements with anybody but (oddly – GSA agreement?) Air Astana.

    Meaning VX is sticking to its LCC model. And adhering to that politically correct bright line of separation between themselves and the other Virgin Group carriers. I suspect that, one fine day when the Obama adminstration has settled in and is busy with other matters (AA strikes, perhaps?), VX will discreetely, casually – nothing to see here! – change their SEA (and other) schedules, for whatever reason. And they’ll discover – how’d that happen??? – that they can now interline with VA.

  14. CF says:

    Michael – VX is not purposefully sticking to their LCC model, because they’ve specifically said that they will be codesharing with V Australia. This just means that they haven’t been able to put it together yet. The connectivity post was a good one – that may very well be the problem.

  15. Robert says:

    Think this has anything to do with the Virgin America financial statements released today?

    To me it looks as if the Virgin company plans on cutting Virgin America.

  16. CF says:

    Robert – Nah, I doubt it. These financial statements are now several months old, so Virgin has known how that airline has been trending for a long time.

  17. 250Kflier says:

    According to a Virgin executive I spoke with, the issue here is the AiRES reservations system that VX uses.

    For now, it appears that VX can’t do interline ticketing in AiRES. They’re working on system improvements that will allow both interline and codeshare. I’m told there are no government issues/concerns with VX and V Australia. The US government focus has been and appears to remain on the relationship between VX and VS, since Sir Richard has a higher ownership stake in VS.

  18. CF says:

    250Kflier – I spoke with Brett Godfrey at the V Australia launch yesterday and he said the same thing. I’ll have more on this including a video of a four minute interview with Godfrey in my Monday post.

  19. Papa Pancho says:

    I dont think the above statement is entirely correct that VX cannot and will not do business with VA. The system integration testing has already commenced and the business will soon flourish. No worries.

  20. CF says:

    Papa Pancho – Yep. Virgin Blue CEO Brett Godfrey confirmed that for me in an interview last month.

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