Alaska Airlines and Virgin America today announced several key product enhancements that will roll out across the two airlines over the next several years. As the airline comes together as one, Alaska Airlines now plans to retire the Virgin America name in 2019. In the meantime, Virgin America will continue to fly while the airline unifies their fleets. By 2019, Virgin America Airbus planes will feature Alaska Premium class cabin and more first class seats and the fleets will become “one”.
Today’s media enhancements news 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.
Say Goodbye to Virgin America
We finally have heard from the horse’s mouth on the future of Virgin. The Virgin America name will be no longer come sometime 2019. The exact date is still unknown.
After careful consideration, the combined company will adopt Alaska’s name and logo, retiring the Virgin America name likely sometime in 2019. However, the combined airline will adopt many of the brand elements that Virgin America enthusiasts love about their favorite airline, including enhanced in-flight entertainment, mood lighting, music and the relentless desire to make flying a different experience for guests. The goal is to create a warm and welcoming West Coast-inspired vibe.
“Our goal from the very beginning of this merger was to become the go-to airline for people on the West Coast, with low fares, convenient flights, a premium product and genuine, caring service,” said Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Airlines Group. “Three months in, we’ve dramatically grown our presence in California and are united behind a new purpose: Creating an airline people love.”
Alaska has been actively growing the airlines’ newly combined networks since closing the merger in December. Earlier this month, the airline announced 21 new markets with 25 new daily departures out of San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Jose, California – marking the largest addition of routes in the company’s history.
“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.”
In addition to low fares, network growth and award-winning service, Alaska will spend the next few years making major enhancements to its already award-winning guest experience and incorporating favorite elements of the Virgin America experience.
New Cabin coming soon
Alaska Airlines has already made many changes to their aircraft in the last 5 years. Space bins, thinner economy seats, premium class, Free chat, in-seat power, and more has been added. The flying experience is only becoming more enjoyable. Now we can speculate base on the photo above that a new first class seat and cabin is coming. Last fall Alaska had a user group test new seats. No news or results have been shared since the user group study was done. But, those seats sure do look familiar to me. ?
Will there be lay flat seats for premium routes? That is still unknown and we can only speculate. All we know is that “In 2018, Alaska will debut an entirely redesigned cabin with new seats and amenities”. Hopefully this means lay flat seats for some planes. Probably not though. But we will see a new seat with more recline and new features. Every other major airline flying NYC-SFO/LAX has a lay flat seat, why wouldn’t the new Alaska? Time will tell!
The future of Virgin America’s first class cabin foot print is also growing. Airbus first class will grow from two rows to three to match the 737-800 fleet. We do not know what seats will be on the Airbus fleet, but I assume the same as the Boeing planes. In addition, once the airbus fleet is reconfigured, there will be 18 seats, or three rows of premium class instead of just 2 rows. In the future, we can look forward to more first class seats on Virgin and a soon to come way to upgrade for free! Although free upgrades are still over a year away, at least we know free first class upgrades are coming! In the meantime, elites will have to fight over the twelve economy “main cabin select” seats on the Virgin Airbus planes.
Who doesn’t love free? It is now a industry theme to offer free entertainment while flying. The major airlines offer free movies, so it’s now time that Alaska and Virgin plays catch up. Since the introduction of Free chat, Alaska has offered free streaming movies. There has been several surveys floating around on twitter, facebook, etc asking customers if they like free movies. Turns out, the responses were huge and now Alaska is rolling out free movies fleet wide!
Starting immediately streaming movies will always be free on Alaska’s Boeing planes, and my guess their e-175s too! Come August, Virgin America aka Alaska’s Airbus fleet will have free TV shows but offer new release movies for purchase. Free is free and this is a great enhancement to make flights fly by a little faster!
My Thoughts on the “Enhancements”
I could not be happier to see that Alaska Airlines is working hard to make for a seamless flying experience between Virgin America and Alaska Airlines. Other mergers have left hodgepodge fleets with different flying experiences depending on the aircraft. Years after the AA/US merger, American’s fleet still is disjointed. Legacy AA planes have power and main cabin extra, whereas legacy US planes do not. Alaska is breaking the industry mold and will ensure the flying experience is the same across Airbus and Boeing planes by the end of 2018!
Today’s unorthodox 5pm PST announcement from the airline brings real enhancements to the future Alaska Airlines. Many airlines call changes in their award programs and flying experience “enhancements” but are truly downgrades. However, this announcement truly does sound promising!
What enhancement are you the most excited for? Does this excite you for the future or worry you?