Alaska Airlines have just announced that they will form a combined carrier, as the company solidifies its status as the West Coast’s premier airline. While sadly the Virgin America brand will be absorbed by Alaska Airlines, the partnership seems to have rubbed off on the longer-lasting of the two carriers.
There’s still a good amount of time before the Virgin America brand finally disappears in 2019, but in the meantime, Alaska will start adopting enhanced in-flight entertainment, mood lighting, music and the relentless desire to make flying a different experience for guests.
“We spent the last 10 months conducting extensive research and listening carefully to what fliers on the West Coast want most,” said Sangita Woerner, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of marketing. “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.”
While we are sad to see Virgin America disappear, the recent brand refresh of Alaska means they have a good basis on which to build this newly imagined passenger experience. Virgin America shook up the North American market, just like it’s competitor JetBlue, and between them actually managed to get the main legacy carriers in the US adopt a more customer-friendly passenger experience.
Virgin America did have its day and certainly made its mark. It’s cabins and mood lighting are now being replicated by other carriers, and the trademark white leather first class seats are starting to show their age. While Alaska have managed to take design cues from their partner and is offering a contemporary new interior, we hope that the same design sensibilities will make their way to Alaska’s multiple lounges across their expansive network.
The new enhancements include:
- Modern, warm and welcoming vibe – Guests will start to see some of the new Alaska brand personality come to life throughout 2017, to create a warm and welcoming West Coast vibe throughout the guest journey. Music from fresh new artists will be featured on planes, in airport lobbies and at gates. In 2018, Alaska will debut an entirely redesigned cabin with new seats and amenities, and has already started to retrofit select Boeing aircraft with expressive blue mood lighting. Modern, stylish uniforms by fashion designer Luly Yang will roll out in mid-2019 for flight attendants, customer service agents, pilots, mechanics and ground crew.
- Satellite connectivity – Alaska’s entire fleet of Boeing 737 passenger aircraft will be equipped with high-speed satellite Wi-Fi beginning in fall 2018, with the remainder of the Airbus fleet to follow. Both fleets are expected to be fully satellite-equipped by the end of 2019.
- More premium seats – Building on Alaska’s new First Class and Premium Class seating sections that debuted earlier this year, premium seating will be expanded across the Airbus fleet beginning in the fourth quarter of 2018. The number of First Class seats will increase by 50 percent (going from eight seats in the Airbus First Class cabin to 12) and are customized for enhanced comfort, featuring 41 inches of pitch, improved seatback storage pockets, cup holders, footrests and personal power outlets throughout the cabin. The redesigned Airbus cabins will also feature 18 new Premium Class seats with 35 inches of pitch and complimentary beer, wine and cocktails.
- The country’s top-ranked frequent flier program – In 2018, Alaska Mileage Plan will become the sole loyalty program for both airlines, offering guests more rewards, an expansive global partner network and the only major airline loyalty program that still rewards a mile flown with a mile earned on Alaska and Virgin America flights. Members of Alaska Mileage Plan enjoy some of the most generous benefits in the industry including complimentary upgrades, award travel starting at 5,000 miles one-way (plus taxes and fees) and a faster path to elite status compared to other airlines. With Alaska and Alaska Global Partners, members can earn and redeem miles to more than 900 destinations worldwide.
- Complimentary upgrades – With 50 percent more premium seats being introduced to the Airbus fleet, elite loyalty members will enjoy the most generous complimentary upgrades in the industry. Mileage Plan MVP Golds and above are upgraded to First Class or Premium Class 75 percent of the time (based on average historic system wide rates of upgrade) on Alaska Airlines flights. Complimentary upgrades on Airbus aircraft will debut for the first time ever in late 2018.
- Free movies – In January, Alaska launched a temporary promotion offering its entire catalog of more than 200 movies and TV shows for free. Starting now, free entertainment on guests’ own devices will be a permanent feature on its Boeing fleet and the same free library of movies and TV shows will expand to Airbus aircraft via Red entertainment system in August 2017. Guests on Airbus aircraft will continue to enjoy access to early release movies for purchase.
- Free Chat™ – In January 2017, Alaska became the first and only U.S. airline to offer Free Chat onboard and will expand Free Chat to Airbus-operated flights in August 2017. Guests can stay connected to friends and family on the ground via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and iMessage.
- West Coast-inspired food and beverage – Alaska and Virgin America continue to enhance their fresh, healthy, West Coast-inspired onboard food and beverage menus. Guests of both airlines enjoy craft brews, premium wines and delicious food options. By June 2017, Alaska First Class passengers will be able to pre-select meals before they fly, and by early 2018, Alaska’s Main Cabin passengers will be able to pre-pay for their meals before they fly. Food pre-ordering will be extended to Airbus flights sometime in the future.
- Lounge expansion – By early 2019, guests will be able to relax in refreshed and expanded airport lounges in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles, as well as new lounges in San Francisco and at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The expansion plans will double the square footage of Alaska’s airport lounges. Members also currently enjoy access to more than 60 partner lounges throughout the United States and around the world.
You may notice from the CGI renderings there are a few elements which haven’t been brought across to Alaska’s 2018 fleet redesign, including the IFE monitors, and with it the ability to order drinks and food from your seat. That is, unless Alaska can build this into their WiFi portal for BYOD guests.