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It’s been just over three months since Alaska Airlines closed its acquisition of Virgin America. Since then, the two airlines have enabled frequent flyer account linking and transfers, integrated elite benefits, and, most recently, added the ability for Alaska Airlines Visa Signature credit card cardholders to redeem their annual companion certificate for flights operated by Virgin America.
But perhaps the most significant merger-related move has remain unconfirmed until today: What will Alaska do with the Virgin America brand? Well, now we know. It’ll soon be no more.
According to an Alaska press release and blog post, the carrier will be “retiring the Virgin America name likely sometime in 2019.” But, perhaps more importantly, the spirit of Virgin America will live on. Alaska explains:
The combined airline 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. The goal is to create a warm and welcoming West Coast-inspired vibe.
Alaska Airlines Changes and Improvements
Let’s break down those aforementioned enhancements:
- In-flight entertainment — Travelers can now stream movies and TV shows to their own devices for free when flying on Boeing aircraft, and the same content will be available on Airbus planes via the Red IFE system in August.
- Mood lighting — It might seem like a minor detail, but considering that Virgin’s known for its fun cabin vibe, it’s worth noting that Alaska plans to add “expressive blue mood lighting” to its retrofitted Boeing fleet.
- Music — One of the ways Virgin differentiates itself is through onboard and in-airport music, and Alaska plans to adopt that as well, with “music from fresh new artists” being featured at check-in, at the gate and on board.
- West Coast-inspired vibe — Expect to experience a “warm and welcoming West Coast vibe throughout the guest journey” beginning this year. Additionally, Alaska will be rolling out new and improved dining options, craft beers and premium wines. First-class passengers on Boeing planes will be able to pre-select meals by this June, with this feature rolling out to economy travelers (prepaying for meals) early next year. Airbus passengers will eventually be able to take advantage as well. Ground and flight crew members will also sport new Luly Yang-designed uniforms beginning in 2019.
Other changes include:
- Premium seat expansion — Alaska’s new(ish) Premium section, introduced in late-2015, will be added to Airbus planes in late-2018. These former Virgin America aircraft will each get 18 Premium seats, which offer 35 inches of pitch, along with free beer, wine and cocktails. Additionally, Alaska will be retrofitting Airbus planes with 12 new first-class seats (replacing the 8 currently installed), though these seats will offer reduced pitch (41 inches, compared to the 55 inches offered in Virgin America first class today).
- Alaska Mileage Plan — Virgin America’s Elevate program will fade away ahead of the brand, with all customers using Alaska’s Mileage Plan beginning in 2018. And later next year, Alaska’s free elite upgrades will roll out to Airbus (former Virgin America) planes as well.
- Speedy Wi-Fi — While the new electronics ban will make it challenging to remain productive on some international flights, you can still bring your laptop and tablet on flights within the US, making speedy in-flight internet a priority for business (and leisure) travelers. Alaska will be outfitting its fleet with Wi-Fi that’s “fast enough to watch movies or TV shows via your favorite streaming service.” While the provider hasn’t been announced, I’m putting my money on ViaSat, which currently offers service on select Virgin aircraft, along with select United Boeing planes and JetBlue’s entire fleet.
- Lounge expansion — Alaska will be refreshing lounges in Los Angeles, Portland and Seattle beginning in 2019, and will be adding new lounges at San Francisco International and New York-JFK, with plans to double the square footage of the airline’s existing lounge network.
It’s definitely an exciting time to be an Alaska Airlines elite. While the retirement of the Virgin America brand will definitely be disappointing to some, there’s no question that these changes are overall positive for Alaska customers.
What’s your take on this latest Alaska-Virgin America merger news?
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