On Tuesday, the last official Virgin America flights took off into the sunset. Moving forward, it’s going to be all Alaska Airlines, all the time. The spunky Virgin America brand will be gone.
Chris McGuiness (TravelSkills) at SFGate has uncovered a few things Virgin America regulars need to know about the change, plus the outlook for the next two years.
1) Starting April 25, Virgin America will adopt Alaska Airlines’ reservation system, which means only one reservation system, one set of passenger records, one set of seat inventories and a single flight network. This will (thankfully) eliminate the schizophrenic feel of making reservations, tracking flights or flying Virgin America lately.
2) Also starting April 25, there will only be one website, one call center and one type of kiosk for airport check ins. The VirginAmerica.com URL will be redirected to AlaskaAir.com. Virgin kiosks will be covered or removed.
3) All flights will bear Alaska’s two-letter code AS; Virgin’s VX code will be tossed into the dustbin of aviation history (unless, of course, someone decides to resurrect the brand, which Richard Branson has pondered).
4) As with other airline takeovers, physical changes at airports will literally happen overnight. “We’ll complete physical changes at 29 airports around the country that are served by both Alaska Airlines and Virgin America. All Virgin America branding and signage will be replaced with Alaska Airlines branding and signage including curbside locations, lobbies, ticket counters, gates and baggage areas,” according to a spokesperson.
5) While everything at the airport landside will convert to Alaska Air blue and teal, you’ll still see Virgin red out on the ramps and runways. It’s going to take until “late 2019” for Virgin’s fleet to be fulling absorbed. So by early 2020, passengers will see “a complete, single brand experience” – which includes aircraft exterior painting and cabin configurations, upgraded satellite wi-fi installed, and all front-line employees wearing uniforms created by fashion designer Luly Yang.
6) Get ready to pack your own screen. On Virgin’s older jets, the RED seatback entertainment system is old, grainy and sub-par, so it’s good to hear that Alaska Air will soon replace it. But the replacement is a streaming system that requires passengers to use their own devices. “A complete retrofit of the Airbus aircraft takes approximately 18 months. The upgrades will include the replacement of the current entertainment system with Alaska’s streaming entertainment service and the installation of all-new seats featuring integrated tablet holders, making it easier to enjoy our entertainment system,” said a spokesperson. She said that Alaska has already started to align the content offered on Virgin’s Airbus fleet to match the streaming entertainment service on its other jets by adding more movies and television shows. The Red system’s Live TV, games and music have been removed from Airbus jets, she said.
7) Buh-bye irritating “Safety Dance” video. It was cute, fun and groundbreaking back in the day, but thankfully, the Virgin America safety video will soon be retired. “Virgin America created a terrific, well-known safety video that has a permanent home on the Virgin America YouTube channel. (That account was frozen to any new content at the end of 2017.) Alaska prefers a live safety demonstration in the cabin before departure. We believe it aligns with our genuine, caring service philosophy. The Virgin America safety video will stop playing at the same time across the Airbus fleet sometime in October.”
8) Buh-bye on-demand ordering. One of Virgin’s coolest innovations was its seatback ordering systems where passengers could order food and drink from the seatback, which flight attendants then delivered to the seat. It eliminated having to eat on a set schedule, and the need to use the flight attendant call button to refresh a beverage or snack. It’s too bad Alaska has not yet found a way to keep that around beyond October when cabin retrofits begin.
In a bittersweet post on the Alaska Airlines blog this week, the carrier said, “Together, we’re a new Alaska, with more than 23,000 employees strong. We appreciate the infusion of ideas and creativity from Virgin America, and the passion for flying and travel shown by those who’ve joined us through this acquisition. We’re all working hard to continue creating an airline people love.”