Delta gets antitrust immunity for expanded U.S.-Europe joint venture

The U.S. Department of Transportation has finalized its decision to grant antitrust immunity to an expanded U.S.-Europe joint venture between Delta Air Lines and Air France, KLM and Virgin Atlantic.

The new joint venture replaces two previously  approved deals -- one between Delta and Air France-KLM and another between Delta and Virgin Atlantic -- that have been operating in parallel.

Antitrust immunity will allow the airline partners to coordinate on prices and schedules and to share revenue on flights in the U.S.-Europe market, instead of competing against each other.

The DOT said the final order adopts its decision published in August, which it said includes conditions to "protect competition, promote public benefits such as additional flights and increased seat availability" and will enable the DOT to monitor the effects for consumers.

Atlanta-based Delta said the DOT approval is “the final regulatory step for the airlines to begin to work together to offer customers the best streamlined travel experience across the Atlantic.” The airline said the expanded joint venture will launch “in the near future.”

The pilots union at Delta Air Lines, which is in contract negotiations with the company, had asked for additional conditions to be placed on the joint venture to prevent the airline from outsourcing flying to a foreign airline partner.

The DOT responded that it is beyond its scope in the matter to adjudicate labor arrangements between Delta and its pilots union, but directed the partner airlines to discuss the subject in a future self-assessment report on the joint venture.

JetBlue had argued that the public benefits of the expanded joint venture between Delta and its partners were insufficient to warrant a grant of antitrust immunity. The DOT said it looks for evidence the benefits are occurring and noted it is requiring the partner airlines to submit a self-assessment report.