SAN FRANCISCO — Following a merger with Alaska Airlines late last year, Virgin America will be phased out sometime in 2019 to create a combined carrier.
According to an official statement from Alaska Airlines, the combined company will adopt Alaska’s name and logo, thus retiring the Virgin America name. The result will be an airline that will adopt “many of the brand elements that Virgin America enthusiasts love about their favourite airline,” including enhanced in-flight entertainment, music and mood lighting.
“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 Air 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 an open letter addressed to Virgin America on Virgin.com, founder Richard Branson wrote that “businesses come and go but beloved brands make lasting impressions and remain in your heart.” He assured that although the Virgin America name will be no more in the aviation industry, the Virgin brand continues to thrive through several upcoming initiatives, including a new Virgin Hotel in San Francisco later this year, the first Virgin Sport U.S. festival, the newly launched Virgin Pulse Global Challenge and, of course, the much anticipated Virgin Voyages, which has just started building the first of its three ships.
But Branson did lament the end of Virgin America, addressing the airline’s many passengers directly in his letter.
“To our wonderful guests, I speak for everyone at Virgin America when I say we are eternally thankful. For believing in the little airline that could. For believing that all airlines don’t have to be the same – and that experience matters. You would not believe the number of people who tell me how much they love flying Virgin America. Keep expecting – and demanding – more from your airlines!” he wrote.
Virgin America’s sister airlines – Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Australia – will remain, with the former starting service from London to Seattle next week, and the latter starting direct service from Melbourne to Hong Kong the week after that.
Alaska, meanwhile, will spend the next few years making major enhancements to its guest experience and incorporating favourite elements of the Virgin America experience. These include:
· An entirely redesigned cabin in 2018 featuring new seats and amenities onboard select Boeing aircraft
· Modern, stylish uniforms by fashion designer Luly Yang that will be rolled out in mid-2019
· Satellite connectivity onboard its entire fleet of Boeing 737 passenger aircraft in fall 2018, with the remainder of the Airbus fleet to follow and fully implemented by end of 2019
· More premium seats across the Airbus fleet beginning in the fourth quarter of 2018, increasing the number of First Class seats by 50%
· Streamlining the Alaska Mileage Plan to become the sole loyalty program for both airlines in 2018
· Expanded airport lounges in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles, as well as new lounges in San Francisco and New York-JFK by early 2019