One of the big issues that Virgin America and Alaska Airlines need to address as they integrate operations is that their facilities are split up at many airports. This makes connections more difficult, sure, but since Alaska tends to operation more point-to-point routes it also makes it harder to re-accommodate passengers in the event of a delay or cancellation.
Today Alaska announced that both airlines will be leaving their current homes at T8 and T4 at New York’s JFK airport. They’ll be consolidating at T7. This makes more sense for Alaska Airlines and Virgin America, which operate 13 daily flights to the West Coast. Alaska also plans to build a new lounge at JFK (presumably in the old space once used by United before it moved its p.s. operations to Newark).
At first glance I thought this was disappointing news. T8 is shiny and new and makes it easy to connect from Alaska to American. Now passengers will have to go outside to connect. However, Alaska’s expanding route network makes connections on American less important than they once were. The terminal relocation will instead facilitate connections to trans-Atlantic flights operated by BA. Two other Alaska Mileage Plan partners, Qantas and Icelandair, also operate out of T7.
T7 is still kind of dumpy. I wasn’t a fan when I used to fly out of there on United’s p.s. service, and I wasn’t a fan later when I flew first class on British Airways, trying to keep my bag upright on a steeply sloping ramp through TSA security.
But British Airways is planning to invest heavily in modernizing T7, which could make the move worthwhile. A $65M renovation is expected to be complete by 2018. BA says the investment will include:
- An enhanced, spacious check-in area for a fast, efficient customer journey.
- An exclusive new premium check-in zone with fast-track security lane.
- Redesigned and updated lounges with more space to relax, dine, and work.
- The introduction of an authentic New York culinary experience with local food and beverage concepts to satisfy a variety of tastes.
- An immersive retail environment for duty free shopping and concessions.
- New gate seating areas with additional power outlets, designed for customer comfort and convenience.
I think that positioning Alaska’s flights to facilitate international connections over domestic probably makes more sense in the long run. American Airlines is still next door, and the renovations will be a big improvement. Yes, Alaska Lounge members will lose access to the Admirals Club, but they’ll gain access to a new lounge of their own. Priority Pass cardholders will also have a new option (although capacity issues have become more frequent in recent months).
Images provided by British Airways.