A classic Alaska Airlines Boeing 727-200 taken in 1989 – Photo: Aero Icarus | FlickrCC
The United States’ fifth-largest air carrier – Alaska Airlines – traces its roots deep into American history; in fact, the airline began in its namesake’s state nearly 27 years before Alaska achieved statehood. The formerly localized west coast regional air carrier boasts an impressive route structure, serving 116 destinations with over 1,200 daily departures. After the 2016 acquisition of San Francisco-based Virgin America, Alaska Airlines began a new phase of operations, utilizing its inheritance of 67 Airbus aircraft and dozens of new routes. When mainline service is combined with wholly-owned subsidiary Horizon Air and contracted carrier SkyWest Airlines, Alaska Airlines proudly boats the honor of operating the “Most West Coast” flights each day.
However, Alaska Airlines and its affiliates have carefully expanded their daily operations far beyond the western United States, serving eastern seaboard destinations from Boston to Ft. Lauderdale. In 2014, 25% of all Alaska Airlines daily departures traveled across North America; after the Virgin America acquisition a mere four years later, that figure has nearly doubled. Simultaneously, growth to areas outside of the continental U.S. remains relatively stable and, in some cases, diminished. After connecting Bellingham, Washington to various Hawaiian destinations for nearly a decade, Alaska Airlines announced cessation of all Bellingham nonstop flights except service to Seattle-Tacoma. Growth within the airline’s namesake state of Alaska remains stagnant; service to Mexico faces a similar outcome.
Horizon Q400s at Seattle
Alaska Airlines, alongside subsidiary Horizon Air and its partner SkyWest Airlines – through a capacity purchase agreement – has strategically eliminated under performing routes over the recent years. Instead, Alaska has elected to beef up its west coast hubs to maintain a stronghold among residents along the west coast. After the 2008 merger of Delta and Northwest, ferocious competition rose in former Alaska Airlines strongholds, specifically Seattle and Portland. Delta Air Lines maintains an expansive international network from Seattle, leading to recent growth and additions in domestic service and direct competition with Alaska Airlines. To combat, recent Alaska Airlines strategic decisions can be categorized into three distinct categories: Streamlined regional operations, acquisition of Virgin America, and an ever-expanding route network.
Hello beautiful! My Alaska Airlines VIP Airbus A321neo. Yes, it is weird typing “Alaska Airlines” and “Airbus” together.
Change is inevitable — especially in the airline business. Change can be all fine and dandy when you are talking about it conceptually, but when the time comes, it is not always easy. As you probably know by now, Alaska Airlines and Virgin America merged, and the red/white Virgin livery is quickly being retired. Virgin was known to be a bit risky in their branding and marketing…. and Alaska played it a bit more safe. Although Alaska will be sending the Virgin America brand into the history books, it has been important for Alaska to incorporate some of the Virgin culture into the new merged airline. Not just for the customers who loved the Virgin product, but also for the employees who are in the process of getting to know their new family.
Ironically, the Alaska 737 with the ‘More to Love’ livery celebrating their merger with Virgin was parked next to our A321 at SFO – Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren | JDLMultimedia
I was recently invited to fly down to San Francisco (SFO) to get a first hand look of the new Alaska Airlines product that will soon be found across the fleet. At gate 54B, the airline had set up walls, and inside were a variety of new products to be experienced. Also, there were experts to answer your questions about what was new. There was a special treat, too. What better way to put it all together than to take a special VIP flight on one of their Airbus A321s (that previously flew for Virgin America, obviously)?
I was interested to see the balance Alaska decided on, and get a better idea of my hometown airline’s future.
Beautiful intake fan blades on the Airbus A321neo
Recently, America lost an airline. Well, sort of. The happy Eskimo on Alaska Airlines’ tail got hungry and decided to gobble up Virgin America, the relatively small but much beloved Bay Area-based carrier. As Alaska adopted the fleet and people of Redwood (Virgin America’s old callsign), it started repainting Virgin planes and making plans to replace aircraft interiors with a consistent Alaska product.
But at least for now, remnants of Virgin America’s unique style can still be found … if you know where to look. Try Alaska’s new A321neos, originally ordered by Virgin America. We experienced one firsthand on a transcon flight from Washington Dulles to San Francisco, and were delighted by the spacious seats, cabin comfort, and the very purple Virgin sense of style.
Read on for more photos and videos from this new-yet-nostalgic ride.
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.