Delta plans to form a joint venture with Virgin Atlantic so they can sell seats on each other's flights, share the costs and profits, and set the flight schedules in ways that help both airlines. American Airlines has a similar deal with British Airways.
Delta is aiming to have the joint operation running by the end of 2013.
The deal won't add flights between the U.S. and Britain. But travel will be more seamless. Travelers would be able to buy one plane ticket from, say, Lansing, Mich., on Delta and connect in New York to a Virgin Atlantic flight to London. Travelers from Europe will also have a smoother transition onto Delta flights to locations inside the U.S. Delta said their frequent-flier programs would be linked, too.
Combined, Delta and Virgin Atlantic have 31 flights a day in each direction between North America and the U.K., including nine each way between Heathrow in London and Kennedy Airport in New York and Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey.
By itself, Delta has only three flights a day straight from New York to Heathrow. Delta has loads of travelers coming into its New York hubs at JFK and LaGuardia. But without more flights to bring those travelers on to London, Delta is at a serious disadvantage.