Flight Mode

Riyadh Air inks deal with Delta for U.S. connection

The partnership makes Riyadh Air Delta's exclusive partner in Riyadh while offering hundreds of destinations in the U.S. to Riyadh Air’s customers

An American flag waves as a Delta Airlines Airbus A321-211 aircraft departs San Diego International Airport in California. (Photo: Getty Images)

Riyadh Air has yet to embark on its maiden voyage — that’s scheduled to depart sometime in 2025 — but it’s already changing the air space over Saudi Arabia. The startup carrier, marketed to the business class crowd flocking to the Gulf these days in search of deals, inked its own agreement on Tuesday with Delta Air Lines. 

The partnership deal will introduce the only non-stop service on an American airline between the U.S. and King Khalid International Airport in Riyadh, and marks Delta’s first foray into the Middle East market. 

Signed at Delta’s headquarters in Atlanta, Ga., the partnership makes Riyadh Air Delta’s exclusive partner in Riyadh while offering hundreds of destinations in the U.S. to Riyadh Air’s customers. The partnership, still subject to regulatory approvals, will also allow coordination on flight times and routes while enabling passengers to book tickets on both carriers’ flights.

Delta, the world’s largest publicly traded airline by revenue, is getting in at a good time: airlines in the Middle East recorded a 33% increase in air passenger traffic in 2023 compared to 2022, according to the International Air Transport Association.

A number of factors are coming together to boost air travel in the region, in addition to improved airport infrastructure in a part of the world that serves as a transit hub connecting East and West.

Government tourism campaigns are also encouraging travel. Saudi Arabia for example, is pouring $800 billion into developing its tourism sector. 

Riyadh Air, which is owned by the Public Investment Fund, aims to fly to more than 100 destinations worldwide by 2030.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways said it will run daily nonstop flights between Boston and the UAE capital starting in October in response to the route’s strong performance flying four times weekly.