Virgin Atlantic is tipped to join the Star Alliance airline network in the near future, a move likely to fuel speculation that sibling Virgin Australia will follow suit.
Speaking to Forbes, Sir Richard Branson confirmed that "There is likely to be an announcement of an alliance coming very soon”.
All three of Branson's Virgin airlines – Virgin Atlantic, Virgin Australia and Virgin America – have stayed out of the alliance game until now, preferring to forge strategic codesharing alliances with other airlines to suit the needs of their individual markets.
That's especially been the case with John Borghetti's vision of the Virgin Australia 'virtual network', which relies on ties with Air New Zealand, Singapore Airlines (both of whom belong to Star Alliance), Etihad and Delta to feed passengers to Australia's key international markets.
While Branson remained mum on which alliance would win his favour you can all but rule out Oneworld, to which nemesis British Airways belongs (on local turf, the same applies to Qantas).
This leaves Star Alliance and SkyTeam, and the smart money is on Star Alliance – of which Singapore Airlines (which holds 49% of Virgin Atlantic) is a member, along with nine Virgin Atlantic partners.
And Virgin Australia, too..?
Earlier this month Kai Peters, outgoing general manager of Lufthansa Australia and then-chairman of the regional Star Alliance steering committee, was optimistic on the chances of Virgin Australia joining Star Alliance and filling one of the most noticeable holes in its network map.
“Air New Zealand has got closer to Virgin, Singapore had got closer to Virgin" Peters observed. "There’s good cooperation and that’s always a good first step to coming closer together.”
However, in announcing the Virgin Australia - Singapore Airlines partnership in June this year, Virgin Australia chief John Borghetti told Australian Business Traveller that joining Star Alliance or indeed any alliance was not on his to-do list.
"We've got so much stuff going on at Virgin Australia that that is really not in our thinking at the moment, that is something we'll think about in 2012 and beyond."
About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.