Alaska Airlines has publicized their long term plan for integration of the Virgin America airline and its brand. One of the biggest questions on customer’s minds is if the Virgin America brand would exist in any form as a part of the new airline The answer to this is an emphatic NO. The new airline will retain the name Alaska Airlines and no dual-branding will be used. A specific date has not been published for this retirement, but it is estimated to occur in 2019.
Alaska Airlines made a couple announcement via press releases, via their blog, and both the Alaska Airlines and Virgin America websites. The following are the main points of today’s announcements:
- The future name of the airline will remain Alaska Airlines
- In 2019 the Virgin America brand will be discontinued – no two-brand strategy
- Alaska Airline’s news release states Alaska Airlines will adopt many brand elements from Virgin America
- Alaska will retire the Airbuses as the leases expire in 2020 and forward, and will eventually become a primarily Boeing fleet
- Virgin America Elevate to be discontinued in 2018 and replaced with Mileage Plan; this puts an approximate date on this change and 2017 will be the last year to earn status in Virgin America Elevate
- Food and drink to be upgraded across the fleet, and the airline will offer pre-select meals
- Complimentary upgrades on Airbus aircraft will start in late 2018
- In 2019 new employee uniforms for both Alaska Airlines and Virgin America
- Alaska Airlines maintains a focus on the West Coast market
- Alaska Airlines will introduce new cabin interiors across the fleet, both Boeing and Airbuses.
- Alaska Airlines will introduce significant changes to Virgin American first class including; seat pitch decreasing from 55″ to 41″, new seats will not be motorized, increase from 8 to 12 seats
- Premium economy to get adopted into Airbus fleet (no more main cabin select)
- The airline will upgrade the entire fleet’s connectivity to high speed satellite based WiFi, first with the Boeing 737s and then with the remaining Airbuses
- The future Alaska Airlines will have “Free Chat” to connected friends and family on the ground via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and iMessage
- Red, Virgin America’s inflight entertainment system will be retired and replaced and will move to entertainment on guest devices, or at least detached “digiplayers”
- SFO will combine in Terminal 2, and American Airlines will move to Terminal 1 in 2019
- Virgin America LAX will combine with Alaska Airlines in terminal 6 at LAX in May 2017
- Significant changes to Lounges – The Loft at LAX will close with the move, Virgin America Elevate Gold will have access to the board room at LAX. Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles will be increasing lounge size; San Francisco and JFK New York will be getting new lounges
My initial thoughts:
Today’s announcement is a real disappointment to those of us you enjoyed the Virgin American brand. A lot of what made Virgin America different from the legacy carriers is going away. We really have a limited amount of time to enjoy what’s left of the airline. Alaska Airlines has also lost an opportunity to make some more radial product changes. The future Alaska Airlines looks like todays Alaska Airlines, with the addition of mood lighting, music, texting and the promise of better food.
The first class product of the future airline will be markedly different than what Virgin America offer’s today. Today’s Virgin America’s first class is a unique and enjoyable domestic first class product. With the white leather seats, motorized controls, and 55″ of pitch there’s no other recliner product like it in the sky. Although not on par with some of the competitions lie-flat products, Alaska and decided to go backwards with a less remarkable offering.
In many ways Alaska Airlines and Virgin America are quality airlines, but both of their lounge products is underwhelming. Alaska seems to be addressing this with sizeable upgrades in square footage and a couple new locations. I’m holding back judgment until more information is available.
Whether you agree with future direction of Alaska Airlines or not, it is a good thing that strategy is announce and consumers know what to expect. Onward with the assimilation. Resistance is futile.