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Delta, Virgin Get U.S. Approval to Align Fares

Delta Air Lines Inc. and Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd., the carrier majority owned by billionaire Richard Branson, won U.S. antitrust immunity to let them coordinate fares and schedules on flights across the Atlantic.

Today’s approval by the U.S. Department of Transportation lets the airlines combine their networks and complete a commercial relationship driven by Delta’s June purchase of a 49 percent stake in the U.K. carrier. No other airlines opposed the tie-up, the DOT said today in a filing.

Delta and Virgin Atlantic began a code-share agreement earlier this year, enabling them to book passengers on each other’s jets on a single itinerary. Antitrust immunity will let them deepen ties by sharing costs and revenue as though they were a single entity. U.S. and European laws ban foreign majority ownership of airlines.

The move is also a challenge to British Airways and AMR Corp.’s American Airlines, which now control more than half of trans-Atlantic service. Delta, based in Atlanta, bought the stake in Virgin from Singapore Airlines Ltd. for $360 million this year to add trans-Atlantic flights, the world’s richest market for premium passengers.

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