In its bid to dominate the U.S. West Coast, Alaska Airlines will fully absorb Virgin America by the end of 2019, dropping its brand and logo.
Alaska Air Group’s move was announced just three months after completing the $2.6 billion acquisition of the California-based airline owned by billionaire Richard Branson and known for its blue mood lighting as well as high-tech onboard entertainment.
Integrated Airline Brand
Since the acquisition, Alaska Air Group has been running the two carriers as distinct subsidiary airlines. It even previously explored the idea of maintaining both brands for combined powers against bigger rivals.
In an apparent change of plans, however, the group sought to form an integrated airline for West Coast travelers.
"While the Virgin America name is beloved to many, we concluded that to be successful on the West Coast we had to do so under one name - for consistency and efficiency, and to allow us to continue to deliver low fares,” said VP for marketing Sangita Woerner in a statement.
The combined operation will lead to a fleet of 286 planes covering 118 destinations. The two carriers also employ 19,000 at present.
Keeping Virgin America’s Well-Loved Features
While Virgin America will cease to operate in 2019, its most popular features will be kept for fliers to keep enjoying. These include its signature mood lighting, music, and enhanced in-flight entertainment.
These old features will be paired with a number of enhancements, according to Alaska Air Group. Alaska Airlines will redesign its cabin to incorporate new seats and Virgin America’s blue lighting in some planes, while their staff will also wear new uniforms made by fashion designer Luly Yang.
Beginning fall 2018, the entire fleet of Boeing 737 aircraft will be equipped with satellite Wi-Fi, with the rest of the Airbus fleet following suit shortly afterward.
In addition, the airline mulls making permanent its temporary promotion offering passengers free access to over 200 movies and television shows. It will also expand the free onboard chat service to Airbus-operated flights this August, allowing guests to connect with loved ones on the ground via Facebook Messenger, iMessage, and WhatsApp.
Virgin America launched in 2007 and has developed a loyal following of young business travelers flying between Los Angeles and San Francisco, along with those going from the West Coast to New York and Washington DC.
Its troubles began in the recession and the succeeding years, when it did not report its first profitable year until 2014.
While Virgin has reaped several awards and made its mark in the industry, experts are convinced that the combined operation makes sense.
Airline industry analyst Henry Harteveldt told LA Times that Alaska’s plan is no longer surprising, given the potential to streamline flight schedule, get to more destinations, and fight a better fight against bigger airline rivals.
He stressed, however, that the two brands are so different and maintain “very different cultures,” thus the likelihood that Alaska would be unable to keep all customers favoring Virgin.
In a previous radio interview, Branson — whose Virgin Galactic is reportedly giving physicist Stephen Hawking a chance at space travel — said he hopes the Virgin America “never goes away.”
Last year, Virgin’s acquisition was set to signal the first commercial airline merger in the United States since US Airways combined with American Airlines in 2013 to form the largest carrier in the world.