Alaska Airlines has announced plans to retire the Virgin America name sometime in 2019, although parts of the brand will live on in Alaska Airlines’ updated onboard experience.
Alaska Airlines and Virgin America merged in a $2.6 billion deal last year in a move that aimed to help it compete more effectively with larger airlines. The deal created the fifth-largest carrier in the United States and allowed the newly combined company to expand its route network from Pacific Northwest hubs Seattle and San Francisco. Earlier this month Alaska Airlines announced 21 new markets with 25 new daily departures out of San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Jose, California, the largest route addition in the company’s history.
That put the combined airline in heavier competition with Delta, which has also been adding flights from Seattle – the two airlines plan to end their rewards partnership and codeshare agreement this May.
After the Virgin America name officially retires, however, Alaska Airlines said it plans to preserve elements of the brand in its guest experience, with the goal of creating a “welcoming, West Coast-inspired vibe,” according to a statement announcing the decision. Plans call for music from new artists to be featured on planes, in airport lobbied and at gates. In 2018, Alaska will debut a redesigned cabin with new seats and amenities. It has started the process by retrofitting select Boeing aircraft with blue mood lighting. In 2019, the airline will roll out new uniforms by fashion designer Luly Yang.
In other updates, the airline’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.
The airline will also expand premium seating across its Airbus fleet starting in the fourth quarter of 2018, increasing the number of First Class seats by 50 percent and adding 18 new Premium Class seats.
In 2018, Alaska Mileage Plan will become the sole loyalty program for both airlines, and the airline will add complimentary upgrades for loyalty members on Airbus aircraft for the first time in late 2018.
In terms of onboard entertainment, the airline is making free entertainment on guests’ devices free permanently on its Boeing fleet, building on a temporary promotion that launched in January offering more than 200 movies and TV shows for free. The same entertainment library will expand to Airbus aircraft on the Red entertainment system starting in August, as well as the airline’s Free Chat feature that launched in January.
In meal updates, 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.
Finally, by early 2019, the airline will have refreshed and expended its expanded airport lounges in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles, as well as added new lounges in San Francisco and at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.