Air travellers in the UAE and Australia will see instant benefits to the code-share deal signed yesterday between Etihad Airways and Virgin Blue. The deal will integrate Etihad's Guest frequent flier programme with Virgin Blue's Velocity rewards system, meaning passengers of each airline can now earn and redeem miles when they fly on either carrier.
The code-share deal covers more than 100 destinations and comes into effect on October 1. The relationship will deepen in February, when Virgin Blue's international arm, V Australia, launches direct services to Abu Dhabi. That will allow Etihad to increase its connectivity into Australia, crucial to boosting its traffic on the UK-Australia "kangaroo route" beyond its official allotment of flights under bilateral agreements signed by the UAE and Australia.
"Australia is a critically important market for Etihad and we are very pleased to be able to provide more capacity on our Australian routes through this partnership," James Hogan, the chief executive of Etihad, said yesterday. "Each business will immediately gain from reciprocal traffic flow," said John Borghetti, the chief executive of the Virgin Blue Group. A code share is an agreement between two airlines that allows them to share resources, put their code numbers on a single flight and sell tickets regardless of which carrier's aeroplane and crew are used.
In many agreements, such as the one between Etihad and Virgin Blue, both airlines also allow customers to earn and redeem frequent-flier miles. In the past three years Etihad's code-sharing alliances have grown from three to 23, with the focus coinciding with the tenure of Mr Hogan, who joined in October 2006. Benefits of code-sharing for passengers include being able to purchase a single ticket for an itinerary with multiple legs, and checking bags in just once at the start of the journey.
Starting in October, Virgin Blue services will be available to Etihad customers, comprising 44 destinations in Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific islands, and to Asia and Los Angeles. Virgin Blue Group customers can also access Etihad's network of 65 destinations across North America, Europe, Asia, the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent. Etihad and V Australia plan to build up a frequency of 27 weekly services between Abu Dhabi and Australia, including double-daily services between Abu Dhabi and Sydney, daily Melbourne-Abu Dhabi flights and six frequencies per week between Abu Dhabi and Brisbane, Etihad said. From February, V Australia will operate three Sydney-Abu Dhabi services a week. From February 2012, the airline will also operate three Brisbane-Abu Dhabi services a week using a new fleet of Boeing 777-300ER long-haul aircraft.
V Australia will become the first Australian carrier to operate to the Middle East since 1991 when it launches its Abu Dhabi flights. The integration of the two frequent flier programmes will allow members to earn all forms of frequent flyer points immediately, as well as other benefits such as lounge access. Meanwhile, the ability for members to redeem miles on either carriers will come into effect from October 1.
Under the agreement, the two airlines will look at other ways of co-operating. Etihad said it would apply for authorisation from the Australian competition and consumer commission for the two airlines to co-operate in other commercial functions. firstname.lastname@example.org