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Alaska Airlines “Creating an Airline People Love,” except for Virgin America Customers

Last week, we learned the fate of the Virgin America brand.  Alaska Airlines announced last Wednesday that it plans on retiring the Virgin America brand in 2019.  Pretty much everyone saw this coming.  There was no way Alaska Airlines management was going to operate two separate airlines.  It’s inefficient, it’s costly, and it’s unnecessary.

Of course, I was holding out hope that either the Virgin America brand would operate into the next decade or Alaska Airlines would take aspects of Virgin America and improve their onboard product.

According to Alaska Airlines, they’re creating an airline that people will love.  The airline has already released a series of promos highlighting their “new” product.  Alaska Airlines claims that they’re taking what people loved about Virgin America and putting it into Alaska Airlines.  However, it’s clear that this is not the case.

Alaska Airlines Guts Virgin America, Continues to Operate Subpar Product

When Alaska Airlines announced that they’d be retiring the Virgin America brand in 2019, the airline subsequently released new cabin renderings.  These new cabin renderings showed a slightly updated Alaska Airlines Boeing 737 with absolutely nothing inspired by the Virgin America brand.

New Main Cabin

Alaska Airlines’ new main cabin is pretty much their old main cabin.  Other than updated seat covers, a cup holder, and some new branding, nothing’s new.  Virgin America featured some of the best legroom, seatback entertainment, on-demand ordering from your seat, and sleek cabins. The “new” Alaska Airlines and Virgin America will share just two aspects of main cabin service; wi-fi and power outlets.Keep in mind Alaska Airlines is promoting this as their new cabin experience.  However, fleetwide power outlets and wi-fi have been in the works for years.  The only new thing about their main cabin experience is the new seat covers and carpet.

Keep in mind Alaska Airlines is promoting this as their new cabin experience.  However, fleetwide power outlets and wi-fi have been in the works for years.  The only new thing about their main cabin experience are the new seat covers and carpet.

What Virgin America frequent flyers loved about Virgin America is the premium feel of even their most basic seat.  Each seat had seatback in-flight entertainment, a power outlet, generous legroom, the ability to order a drink from the back of your seat, and of course that sleek mood-lighting.  Alaska Airlines’ main cabin is nearly identical to what’s found on American, United, and Delta.  There’s nothing special about their new cabin whatsoever, and therefore, it completely misses what Virgin America flyers loved about Virgin America.

Premium Class

The best thing to come of this merger was Alaska Airlines’ Premium Class.  Premium Class was announced months ago before Alaska Airlines, and Virgin America announced their plans to merge.  It’s another pre-merger improvement that Alaska Airlines is marketing as a result of the merger.  Regardless of why Alaska Airlines added Premium Class, it’s a fantastic addition to their fleet.

However, Premium Class and Virgin America’s premium economy product, Main Cabin Select, are very different.  In Main Cabin Select, you boarded just after First Class, received free and unlimited premium drinks and food, and could access all of Virgin America’s onboard entertainment.  That’s not to mention the unrivaled 38 inches of pitch and nearly 18-inch seat width.

With Alaska Airlines Premium Class, you’ll receive three inches less pitch and lose an inch of seat width.  Of course, you’ll also lose the service that came with Main Cabin Select including access to seatback entertainment and premium ground service.  Alaska Airlines’ Premium Class also consists of 18 more seats than Virgin America making it a far less exclusive and premium product.

First Class

Perhaps the biggest loss that came of this merger is what will happen to Virgin America’s First Class product.  Alaska Airlines decided not to incorporate a single aspect of Virgin America’s First Class product into their “new” product.

I’ve flown Virgin America First Class dozens of times, and I’ve loved every flight.  Virgin America First Class consisted of eight seats with 55-inch pitch, a leg rest, and 165-degrees of recline.  It’s arguably the best short-haul and medium-haul domestic First Class product in North America.  Rather than maybe add a leg rest, maybe some legroom, or recline, Alaska Airlines decided to add a new seat cover.  Bravo Alaska Airlines, you really know us Virgin America flyers.  The one thing we hated about your First Class cabins wasn’t the pitiful legroom or subpar service; it was the seat cover.

Update: Alaska Airlines is actually increasing seat pitch in First Class to 41-inches.  Still falls short compared to Virgin America’s 55-inches of pitch.  No word on leg rests, added recline.

It goes without saying that Alaska Airlines’ new First Class product doesn’t come close to Virgin America’s plush white leather seats.  However, I will say that it is a minor improvement over Alaska Airlines’ current First Class product.

The Good that Comes of this Merger

Alaska Airlines has a superior route network and frequent flyer program.  That’s not even something that can be argued about.  Alaska Airlines’ route network is expansive and extends from Alaska to Florida.  Additionally, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan is an award-winning frequent flyer program with over a dozen airline partners.  Mileage Plan also offers elite frequent flyers the ability to upgrade often.  Mileage Plan is a great program.

Alaska Airlines is allowing Virgin America elites to retain status at Alaska Airlines and convert Virgin America miles to Alaska Airlines miles for a 30% bonus.  Virgin America Gold frequent flyers will finally be able to upgrade for free.

I can appreciate the new branding (Image: Alaska Airlines)

I can appreciate the new branding (Image: Alaska Airlines)

Alaska Airlines is also using this merger as an opportunity to build a more modern and competitive brand.  Though Alaska Airlines’ new cabins don’t come close to offering the comfort and services that Virgin America’s cabins can, Alaska Airlines is finally giving the big 3 (America, Delta, and United) a run for their money.


Alaska Airlines failed to entice Virgin America flyers.  Alaska Airlines completely missed why Virgin America flyers love Virgin America.  It wasn’t their loyalty program, it wasn’t their airline partners, and it surely wasn’t the seat covers.  Virgin America flyers didn’t even care if they got upgraded because they were delighted just to fly in Virgin’s main cabin.

Virgin America’s culture was a culture that recognized each passenger as a guest.  Their crew members were enthusiastic and motivated.  It was a niche brand but if fit the niche perfectly.  Pink and purple mood lighting, gigantic First Class recliners, in-flight entertainment, and tasty onboard treats were staples of Virgin America.  However, the amenities were just part of why Virgin America flyers loved Virgin America.  There was a culture and niche that Virgin America promoted and Alaska Airlines failed to even come close to winning over the Virgin America frequent flyer.

Not even Alaska Airlines’ sad attempt at cabin mood lighting can win over a Virgin America flyer!  RIP Virgin America.  You truly were, a “Breath of Fresh Airline.”

What do you think about Alaska Airlines’ attempt to win over Virgin America flyers?