Delta Ditching SkyTeam Partners at London Heathrow, T3 Bus Terminal Arrival Lounge to See More Traffic, and What About Your Award Tickets?

Delta has been running a split operation at London Heathrow. New York JFK, Boston and Seattle flights have operated from T3 with Virgin Atlantic. Atlanta, Detroit, Minneapolis, Salt Lake City and Philadelphia flights have been at T4 with SkyTeam partners and will relocate to T3 effective September 14, 2016, Delta has announced.

Delta’s executives talk up connections with joint venture partner Virgin Altantic, with no mention of SkyTeam:

“Our joint venture with Virgin Atlantic is all about making it easy for our customers to connect between our airlines and having our Heathrow service under one roof is crucial to delivering a synched-up, more convenient service,” said Nat Pieper, Delta’s Senior Vice President – Europe, Middle East and Africa.  “This enhances the travel experience for customers flying from Heathrow, one of the world’s most important international gateways, and marks a major milestone in our joint venture.”

To me, London Heathrow is the worst airport experience in the world. Taking only transit security, no effort is spared to maximize the number of passengers to miss their connections. Switching terminals makes things worse.

The current Delta split operation is confusing and I am glad to see consolidation in one terminal. Neither option is ideal and there are ramifications down the line to details such as minimum connect times, reports Runway Girl Network.

Key impacts to passengers:

  • Connections to Virgin Atlantic’s handful of international destinations will avoid terminal changes (Virgin Altantic has no domestic service from Heathrow)
  • Connections to SkyTeam partners Garuda and Middle Eastern Airlines will avoid terminal changes as they operate out of T3
  • Connections to all other SkyTeam partners must trasnfer to T4 – take the time you think a terminal change should take at a normal airport and triple it, at least
  • Delta Diamonds, Platinums and business class passengers on nonstop trans-Atlantic flights can access the Virgin Atlantic Clubhouse, where previously those flying out of T4 had to make do with the SkyTeam lounge and No. 1 Traveller Lounge (Delta Golds in economy can only use Virgin Atlantic Clubhouses in the US)
  • Delta Diamonds, Platinum and business passengers will all arrive T3 and can access the Virgin Revivals Lounge*
  • Delta has its own T3 arrival lounge at a bus stop outside

Delta LHR Arrivals Lounge

* Revivals lounge access guidelines are not published by Delta or Virgin Atlantic. In my visit in May, the agent confirmed access is on the same basis as Clubhouse, except, “Since Delta has opened its own arrivals lounge, of course they prefer their customers to go there, however if you come here and we are not too busy, we will not turn you away,” see my post with details. With traffic set to increase I expect Virgin to tighten up access.

What about award tickets?

Virgin Atlantic awards are the most reliable Delta SkyMiles award across the Atlantic. They price at the partner level and have good availability. In contrast, Delta’s own flights often have silly pricing and Air France/KLM are often blocked from any awards.

Virgin Atlantic has few non-US routes from Heathrow: Delhi, Dubai, Lagos, Johannesburg, and Shanghai. No UK. No Europe.

Onward awards often require a London – Paris/Amsterdam/Rome hop to pick up further Skyteam flights. All these will require transfer to T4. Minimum connect times of allowed bookings will increase, reducing eligible flights and increasing transit hassle.

Good for London, not so hot for the world

Delta’s rationalization to one terminal at Heathrow is to be applauded for customer sanity. Passengers will have the same terminal regardless of Delta flight destination. This will help facilitate rebooking in irregular operations situations (or regular operations situations such as Heathrow security finding an ominous paperclip in your carry-on and having you wait an hour or two for secondary baggage inspection).

Teaming up with Virgin Atlantic, as Delta said, is about the “travel experience for customers flying from Heathrow.” Diamond, Platinum and premium cabin passengers will benefit from Virgin’s departure and arrival lounges.

Connecting passengers will face increased minimum connect times for their flight options and more difficult Heathrow connections.

In my travels across the Atlantic I book London connections only as a last resort.

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  • Lack

    “Delhi, Dubai, Lagos, Johannesburg, and Shanghai” seems like more destinations then “Paris/Amsterdam/Rome” – that you could very well have traveled non-stop from most US Virgin ports at least..

  • @Lack – my point was that for award tickets to Europe on Delta you typically cannot get seats on AirFrance/KLM and those Delta nonstops typically price much higher, so getting to European destinations on SkyMiles often involves transit of LHR and then AMS/CDG/FCO to get to a final destination. SkyTeam serves plenty more cities out of T4 that the 5 that Virgin Atlantic does, and for awards, even if wanting to travel the long way, I don’t think Delta award rules allow travel US to East Asia via Europe, so Shanghai is out.

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