Delta and Riyadh Air Announce Strategic Partnership

Delta Air Lines and new, full-service Saudi Arabian carrier Riyadh Air announced today that they have signed a Strategic Cooperation Memorandum of Understanding. The stated goal of this agreement is to open up a variety of benefits to customers traveling between North America, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and beyond.

Delta and Riyadh Air Plan Strategic Partnership
Delta and Riyadh Air have announced a strategic partnership between the two airlines.

Riyadh Air isn’t expected to start operations until sometime in 2025, so details of the agreement are somewhat light, but here’s what we do know:

  • Delta and Riyadh Air will strengthen connectivity and harness future growth opportunities for both carriers.
  • The agreement will enhance competition with an array of new travel choices for consumers, including future Delta service between the U.S. and Riyadh.
  • Delta will serve as Riyadh Air’s exclusive partner in North America, while Riyadh Air will be Delta’s exclusive partner in Riyadh and beyond.

Delta CEO Ed Bastian said this about the new partnership during the signing agreement in Atlanta:

“This partnership with Riyadh Air will further Delta’s mission of connecting the world and open an array of new choices, benefits and destinations for our customers traveling to and from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Most importantly, Riyadh Air shares Delta’s commitment to providing an elevated customer experience, which is why we’re looking forward to building and expanding this partnership in the months and years ahead. We appreciate the opportunity to work with the Riyadh Air team and the Public Investment Fund of Saudi Arabia as they transform the transportation economy in the Kingdom.”

Ed Bastian, Delta CEO
Tony Douglas and Ed Bastian sign a partnership agreement between Delta and Riyadh Air
Tony Douglas (left center) and Ed Bastian (right center) signed the agreement at Delta’s headquarters in Atlanta.

As part of the agreement, the airlines plan to have interline and codeshare agreements along with loyalty partnerships and maintenance, repair, and overhaul services. In the future, the airlines have stated that they intend to explore a joint venture agreement to expand upon the partnership down the road by collaborating on network planning and growth in the region.

Riyadh Air CEO Tony Douglas said this about the partnership:

“We look forward to enjoying a very warm and productive relationship with Delta Air Lines, one of the largest and most successful airlines in the world. Riyadh Air and Delta Air Lines share common goals and pursue the highest standards in many areas including guest experience, loyalty, and sustainability, built upon great networks and strong connectivity.”

Tony Douglas, Riyadh Air CEO

What Will This Partnership Look Like

When I first saw the announcement I did a double take. Delta was historically very against competition from the big three Middle Eastern carriers (ME3), even taking out full page ads in magazines to call out what they saw as anti-competitive practices. Though, in recent years, their tone has softened. Other major U.S. carriers have developed partnerships with the ME3; American and Qatar Airways are both members of the OneWorld alliance and Emirates and United have developed a close partnership.

While many people thought that a partnership with Etihad would make sense, Delta and Saudi Arabian flag carrier Saudia are both members of the SkyTeam alliance so there is some familiarity with the market.

This agreement makes Delta Riyadh Air’s exclusive partner for all of North America, which is quite a broad geographic area. Meanwhile, Riyadh Air will be Delta’s partner in Riyadh “and beyond”. This seems pretty open ended for Delta while locking down what is likely to become a major player in the Middle East for travel and connectivity within North America.

Delta A330-900neo at New York-JFK
Delta plans to launch flights to Riyadh as part of this agreement.

With Riyadh Air not expected to begin service until next year, we have very limited information on what this partnership will look like. It will be interesting to watch what happens as Riyadh Air nears launch as Delta has typically made an investment in the airlines with whom they have joint venture agreements. Only time will tell if Delta looks to invest in Riyadh Air in this partnership, or vice versa.


Delta and Riyadh Air have announced their plans to form a partnership once the Saudi Arabian carrier begins flying in 2025. Current details on the partnership are sparse but will likely come into focus as Riyadh Air gets closer to launch. The agreement, signed today in Atlanta, goes as far as to mention a potential joint venture between the two carriers down the road. It will be interesting to see how this partnership advances and what it means for passengers on both sides.

(Images courtesy Delta Air Lines)

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