The special More to Love livery at SFO - Photo: Alaska Airlines

The special More to Love livery celebrating Virgin and Alaska becoming one – Photo: Alaska Airlines

It’s no secret that I’m a fan of Alaska Airlines. I feel that they provide consistent, friendly service while having a nice product. They are like your really great friend that you always look forward to hanging out with.

Even though Alaska and I have a friendly relationship, they know I see other airlines from time-to-time. Often it is just for price or timing, but I end up back to Alaska. Mostly.

When Virgin America came to the Seattle market, things changed. Here you had a hip, friendly, cheap airline with more bells and whistles than any other domestic airline at the time. WiFi? Yup. In-seat entertainment? Of course. Fancy cabins? The fanciest. Great food? Yummy! Fun toys? Yes to all that and more. Virgin America spiced up my airline life.

A Virgin America Airbus 319 – Photo: Bernie Leighton

Virgin America was like the hip friend that would come into town every once in a while. The one who wants to get me out to have a good time, and at first I say no, but then am really happy that they did.

Quickly my loyalty changed from Alaska to Virgin America when heading down to San Francisco (SFO) or Los Angeles (LAX). Sure, I wasn’t getting my Alaska miles (I am not a miles hound), but tickets were typically the same cost, so why not go with the airline giving you more?

When I flew with Virgin, I felt like the cool kid heading down the west coast. Those purple cabins, techno music, and fancy new planes — I was hooked and started racking up miles. I was even willing to fly through SFO or LAX to destinations east just to fly them (vs. non-stops with Alaska). But just like hanging out with the uber cool kids, it can start to get a little old. You aren’t looking to go party on a Tuesday night anymore, and you want to start hanging out with your more comfortable friends. I started to miss my Alaska.

Horizon/Alaska Q400

Back in the day, Virgin offered the best domestic product in first and economy. No question. But other airlines started to catch up, and purple lights only go so far. After about two years, even with prices being the same, I found myself back to choosing Alaska. I went back to the comfort of my old friend and we went right back to where we left off.

Each airline had their own pluses and minuses, but they were very different from one another. This is why it was pretty surprising to me when Alaska stated that they were purchasing Virgin America (yes, obviously much more in this than just personalities — routes, finances, competition, etc).

Will Alaska become more hip? - Photo: Alaska

Will Alaska become more hip? – Photo: Alaska

At the time, Alaska said they weren’t sure what they would do with the Virgin brand. That seemed odd to me. Not that I wanted to see it go, but why have two brands, when they are so different? Especially when they would have to pay royalties to keep the Virgin name. Plus,  the Alaska Air Group already juggles two brands (Alaska and Horizon) and I wouldn’t think they would want to add a third.

More recently, Alaska confirmed that it will be doing away with the Virgin American brand, but not all of their culture. And this appears to be much more than just words. Alaska is using this opportunity to upgrade their product and become a bit more hip. According to the airline, they “will adopt many of the brand elements that Virgin America enthusiasts love about their favorite airline, including enhanced in-flight entertainment, mood lighting, music, and the relentless desire to make flying a different experience for guests.” I can buy into that.

Over the next few years, it seems that Alaska is going to be taking on some of the fancy that was Virgin America. Improved cabins, trendy music, better uniforms, and more. Based on the changes I am seeing, I think we are all going to be happy — at least I hope.

The “Proudly All Boeing” on the nose of a 737-800.

So what about those Airbus aircraft that will be joining the Alaska fleet? They are sticking around at least for a while. They still have 5-6 years left on their leases and the airline is not sure what will happen when the leases are over. Currently Alaska’s 737 fleet has “Proudly All Boeing” on each of their noses. For now, that will stay and it seems Alaska’s commitment to Boeing likely to last into the future.

“Boeing produces some of the best airplanes in the world,” Ann Zaninovich, Media Relations Manager for Alaska Airlines & Horizon Air, explained to me. “The 737 will be the core of Alaska’s fleet for a long, long time.” Although it appears that much of what will happen with the Airbus fleet is still up in the air.

I will miss you Virgin America… but I feel confident you have found a nice new home. It is a bit of a scary time I am sure for many that work for Virgin, but I have faith that Alaska will do right, where and when they can. That is the benefit of having a good friend!

Some other good Alaska / Virgin reads…

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EDITOR-IN-CHIEF & FOUNDER - SEATTLE, WA. David has written, consulted, and presented on multiple topics relating to airlines and travel since 2008. He has been quoted and written for a number of news organizations, including BBC, CNN, NBC News, Bloomberg, and others. He is passionate about sharing the complexities, the benefits, and the fun stuff of the airline business. Email me: david@airlinereporter.com

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9 Comments
Michael

David,

I can’t tell if Alaska plans on retrofitting their -800s with an after market “sky interior like” cabin? Have you heard if that’s their plan in terms of incorporating LED lighting etc? The images they published, and that you included here, are not the production Boeing Sky Interior

Speedbird

Wouldn’t getting rid of the Busses involve expensive retraining of crew? Honestly this sounds more like a way to buy out competition then a genuine merger of two airlines…

Michael

I don’t think Alaska has been secretive about their desire to expand on the West Coast, and absorb VA’s slots at SFO and LAX.

They’d be weighing the cost of operating 2 fleet types vs retraining crew. Retraining crew would be purely non-recurring costs. The recurring cost of operating 2 fleet types is likely far greater than retraining crew. Think of all the different spare parts, etc.

Alaska has has almost twice as many 737s than VA has a320s

Plane-Crazy Joe

Flightglobal.com reported, yesterday, in their online “news” that AS will retain their Busses until thru 2024, at least. In fact, AS will receive five 321 NEOs this year and a further five of the type next year. The article reports that AS has yet to decide about the 30 additional Busses on order. So, although I’ve not seen a report in print confirming this, I expect AS to repaint their Busses into full Alaska colors!

Here’s the link to that article:

https://www.flightglobal.com/news/articles/alaska-to-fly-virgin-americas-a320s-through-2024-435692/

Seriously, what’s so great about Alaska? I’ve flown 100+ trips on them and find nothing remarkable if not extremely overrated. Their slimline seats are like Link on Sound Transit. Their wifi is atrociously slow. And like any airline, their in-flight service depends on who you get.

Boarding music and mood lighting is hardly an ode to Virgin America. Let’s see:

>no more luxury first class seats with massive recline & fully extended leg rests. Maybe AS will be generous and provide more than their industry trailing 5 degree recline in first class.

>No more Red in-flight video.

>No more ordering food on demand. Trust me this isn’t coming back – AFA Union would have to approve the work changes. Good luck with that.

>No more pre-flight first class full drink service. Whether it’s SFO-LAS or SFO-JFK, you get a cocktail before leaving the gate. On AS, you’re lucky if you get a bottle of water. The flight attendants standing at door 1 chatting for 40 minutes is free though.

>Pillows & blankets in Virgin America first. AS? Nothing. They still try and push their “health” reasons for not offering either.

>Young, hip crew. Median age of Virgin America in-flight service crew is low-30’s. AS is 15 years older.

Positive? Mileage Plan a far better frequent flier program. Massive upgrade.

I’ll take the seasoned AS inflight crew over their tarted-up VX counterparts in the event of an actual emergency. “Young” and “hip” are for night clubs and coffee houses, not the airline industry.

So just like that you discredit the safety training of all VX crews because they are hip? Doesn’t make much sense to me.

satyajitters

I am surprised that Alaska wants to fold the Virgin America brand. The smarter thing to do would be to have a dual brand strategy similar to Jet blue and Mint. Rename Virgin America to something else to avoid the naming royalties and keep all the brand elements of Virgin America (and the premium customers). Operate the major Routes out of SFO,LAX and even a few from SEA to BOS, NYC etc. while Alaska+Horizon gets to do all the grunt work. By trying to ‘upgrade’ Alaska’s service standards to Virgin America levels, the only thing Alaska achieves is increased cost across its fleet and dilutes the experience of the Loyal Virgin Customer willing to pay a premium.

PCMP1985

They should strike a deal with Virgin to reduce the royalty fees, that’s always sited as a big reason for getting rid of VA.

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