Change Your Altitude

Alaska Airlines and Virgin America Are Finally Officially One

Well, one of the more talked about mergers of the year has been finalized officially, as reported by Alaska Airlines. There was some buzz here and there that things were awry and that the combined airline was facing some headwinds from the federal government but as far as it looks, all’s well that ends well in this story: Alaska and Virgin are officially one.

The Scoop:

So Alaska Airlines (AS) has said that it has completed its USD$2.6 billion merger with Virgin America (VX) to create a combined airline (which as far as we currently know will be under the Alaska name but wait with bated breath when and what will actually happen) that operates over 1,200 flights per day with about 286 aircraft.

Okay we’re going to be superficial for a moment here – Alaska has since changed their mood lighting on their newer 737 fleet with the amazing Boeing Sky Interior to purple, red and blue – a nod to Virgin America’s brand identity (so everything must be true). That started from this morning’s flights so the response time was fast, it was meant to be anything symbolic in the first place.

But let’s get to the real stuff.  Here’s what affects you as a Alaska or Virgin America elite:

Starting next Monday (December 19, 2016), frequent fliers of both airlines will be able to collect miles and points toward free flights and elite status. Virgin’s flights will also become available for purchase through Alaska’s website. Elite flyers will be able to use priority check-in desks and boarding lines on both airlines. On January 9, Virgin’s elites will officially be invited into Alaska’s frequent flier program.

So it seems as though the passenger experience is about to become seamless at least on a front facing view – given that the merger was only officially approved by the government in April, this is relatively fast movement on the part of the combined airlines to do this.

There are some kinks to be ironed out though.

Alaska Airlines now commences the difficult and challenging process of fully integrating Virgin America crew and staff into their own company, figuring out seniority rules in the process and then there’s the (not so small) deal of incorporating an all Airbus fleet to what is essentially an all Boeing fleet at Alaska.

CNN Business juxtaposed the two companies well when they said:

Virgin, which has been in business only nine years, has catered to younger and higher-income passengers. It has courted the California tech and entertainment community with flights that went up and down the West Coast and to the East Coast.

Alaska is more than 80 years old. It is a Pacific Northwest favorite for its highly-ranked customer service, but it doesn’t have the flash that Virgin’s customers might expect.

It’s a fair assessment to make and the merger was definitely a marriage of not so equals depending on what fronts you looked at. Regardless it’s happened and now the only direction to look at is forward, which is exactly what the combined airline is doing.

The combined network of Virgin America and Alaska Airlines added with their strong brand loyalty amongst their respective passenger bases paints an optimistic picture for the future. The airlines together can work.

The Takeaway:

Thus far, there isn’t much to glean from what’s happened. The development basically means that legally Alaska Airlines is now allowed to formally start the process of incorporating Virgin America into it’s “parent company”. It also allowed Alaska to start merging and recognizing Virgin America Velocity members into their own Alaska MVP program and offering them reciprocal benefits on all AS flights which is a great development.

Now where the new hubs might be, where the Boeing v Airbus aircraft might be based and how the two (very different) crew segments will be handled is a whole other issue that will continue to be dealt with as negotiations go on.

That’s the internal stuff.

As far as customer facing issues go, it’s business as usual apart from the more than normal recognition of passengers between Virgin and Alaska and the fact that flying on one or the other is essentially the same now. Which is a massive step.

But it’s all a bit awkward, isn’t it? I mean the airline(s) admit it themselves:

The new airline, so far, is embracing those differences. It handed out salted caramel candy on its flights on Wednesday, and bacon donuts to arriving passengers. Cards given to customers said the pairing of the two airlines “was an unlikely combo, too.”

So as of now, it’s much ado about something but not that much really – the pro’s and con’s of this merger are yet to be brought to light – we’re not sure the folks at Virgin or Alaska know themselves yet. All we know is that officially, as of today, Virgin America and Alaska Airlines are, in the eyes of the law, ONE.

How do you feel about the merger as an Alaska or Virgin frequent flyer? Does it do more harm than good or the opposite?


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