Virgin America is a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, but there is still a major difference between the two airlines. Over the last couple of weeks I have traveled to Dallas several times on both Alaska Airlines and Virgin America. Both offer different services on different plane types. I will break down the flying experience to Dallas Love Field on Virgin America vs Alaska Airlines.
Do note that Alaska Airlines and Virgin America fly from Seattle Tacoma to Dallas Love Field. Alaska Airlines also serves Dallas Forth Worth (DFW) from Seattle, Virgin does not.
Virgin operations at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport has been drastically scaled back since the merger. Virgin America now flies fewer flights between Seattle and LAX and SFO. Now, Virgin only offers 7 daily flights. Meanwhile, Alaska operates to 90+ cities nonstop from Seattle and offers hundreds of daily flights.
Virgin America check-in area is small and speedy. They have several self-serve check-in kiosks and two agents to help first class passengers and those checking bags.
Alaska Airlines has tons of self-serve check-in area and several rows of staff helping passengers needing full assistant or just dropping bags. The entire north side of the airport is dedicated to Alaska Airlines check-in.
Both airlines offer priority lane access to premium passengers. Although with TSA Pre-check, what frequent flyer needs that 😉? Once through security, passengers of both airlines in paid first class can use any of Alaska’s three lounges, including the new Alaska Lounge C Terminal.
Alaska Airlines operates from the North Satellite and concourses C and D. Virgin uses gates in the D concourse, whereas Alaska’s smaller regional planes use the C gates.
To board the Alaska flight to Dallas Love passengers must walk outside and on the tarmac. This can result in one getting wet, but thankfully most of the area is covered and protected.
Virgin America uses an actual gate with a jet bridge.
Do note, on arrival at DAL, Alaska uses Virgin’s gates and there are jet bridges for both airlines.
Pre-Flight Alaska vs Virgin
Once on board there is nothing special about being on Alaska Airlines. A water bottle awaits each passenger and there’s no other ground experience.
With Virgin America, passengers enjoy a complimentary pre-flight beverage of their choice in a plastic cup. Each seat also has a blanket, headphones, and a menu featuring the beverage and meal offerings.
Overall the ground experience is better with Virgin America. Virgin America offers faster check-in services, the same lounge access, an actual jet bridge, and a pre-flight beverage. There’s also other goodies on the plane like a menu and a blanket, but that will come later. +1 for Virgin.
Inflight Experience Virgin America vs Alaska
One onboard Virgin America, you instantly feel hip. Like a born-again Virgin, clean and fresh! Virgin America first class product is by far the best fleet-wide product offer the most space, recline, and spunk in North America. No matter the plane size, every Virgin America plane has just 8 premium first class seats. When I flew, an A319 was flying Seattle to Love Field. Each seat has 55 inches of pitch, are 21 inches wide, and feature a leg rest and a personal TV. In addition to an awesome seat, Virgin offers first class passengers premium blankets and headphones.
Alaska flies an Embraer 175 between Seattle and Love. Although this plane offers my favorite first class in Alaska’s network, the plane is not nearly as exciting as Virgin America. The plane offers standard first class seats in a 1×2 configuration. Seats are 21 inches wide also but the pitch is 13 inches less at only 42 inches. In addition, there are 12 first class seats. The larger cabin feels less premium. In addition, there are no extra goodies waiting for passengers when boarding. There are no blankets available to flyers nor person TVs or digiplayers. Instead Alaska offers bring your own device streaming. Digiplayers are availble on the 737 to DFW
Once again Virgin America Cabin and inflight offering wins!
Meals Virgin America vs Alaska Airlines
Meal service between the two airlines are also very different. Virgin America typically offers menu cards, whereas Alaska only offers menus on transcontinental and flights to Hawaii. Fortunately, Alaska’s E-175s are outfitted with ovens, so at least there’s a full meal offering. Yet presentation, serving size, and options are very different.
On every flight, Virgin America offers two meals. On my flight, I had the option between Steak or Miso veggies. Both were Asian fusion options.
First, a hot towel and drink was served. Second, the main course, bread, and salad.
Finally, Dessert came on it’s own tray with drink refills.
The meal was huge and I was extremely full after. Not to mention the miso veggies were flavorful and delicious! The dessert was good, but nothing exciting.
At any time during the flight a snack basket offers a plethora Dean & Deluca sweet and salty goodies.
Meanwhile on Alaska Airlines the meal offering is nothing exciting. On the morning flight, there is only one breakfast option and the serving size is much smaller.
On the return flight from Dallas, Alaska offers a more substantial lunch offering, but it’s still lighter for a four-hour flight. There is also no dedicated dessert.
Meal service begins with a drink and finish with everything else. All items are on the same tray, dinner, salad, and a dessert bar. About an hour before landing warm nuts are available to snack on.
Once again, I would say Virgin America offers a better meal experience. The serving size is much larger on Virgin America and more palatable. Not to mention, having more than one option is always a win. Finally, Alaska uses plastic glassware on the E-175, which cheapens the entire experience!
Alaska Airlines and Virgin America offer two very different products on the same route. The two airlines are not yet integrated and it’s great to see that Virgin America is still a trendy and exciting airline to fly. The only benefit to flying Alaska Airlines to Dallas is the free upgrades for Elites. Although these are not guaranteed, at least a free upgrade is available on Alaska. Virgin America only offers complimetary upgrades to Main Cabin Select (Premium Economy).
An upgrade on the Seattle to Dallas route on Virgin America is $199. If you are in Main Cabin Select, even via free upgrade it drops to $110. To me, $110 is worth it on a 3.5-4 hour flight. After all the full meal, free meal, and stylish comfy recliner is a huge win! If you are paying cash for a flight between Seattle and Dallas, FLY VIRGIN!