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Alaska Airlines announced the fate of Virgin America on Wednesday: the brand will be eliminated by 2019. From Alaska’s press release:

“After months of research and in-depth conversations with fliers, we’ve made the difficult decision to retire the Virgin America name and logo likely sometime in 2019. However, many of the elements you love about Virgin America will live on, paired with Alaska’s unbeatable performance and top-rated customer service. Our colleagues at Virgin America built something truly amazing over the past decade, and it’s our goal to honor what they achieved while taking it one step further.”

This is sad news for many West Coast travelers. Virgin American has been a breath of fresh air among the rest of the U.S. airlines. By delivering top-notch customer service and in-flight amenities, Virgin became immensely popular among young business travelers. Many made the switch to Virgin and never looked back. The airline has been the top ranked U.S. airline in many surveys.

Richard Branson, the founder of Virgin America, called the day “sad” and “baffling”. Branson has written a great public “Dear Virgin” letter. He calls the time with Virgin “the ride and love of a lifetime.”

The spirit of Virgin America will live on

Alaska plans to do its best to keep the spirit of Virgin America alive by integrating some of the best of the airline into its own. The combined West Coast airline announced they’ll be “making each travel experience truly enjoyable.” Here are the attributes of Virgin you can expect to see on Alaska in the future:

  • Virgin’s mood lighting – You’ll be greeted by an “expressive blue” on the retrofitted Alaska aircraft. Alaska hopes to keep the “vibe” of Virgin alive and well on its fleet. The lighting will be debuted along with a redesigned cabin in 2018.
  • Music – Virgin has long stood out because of their music, and Alaska plans to adopt this feature, adding “music from fresh, new artists”, all the way from check-in to on-board.
  • West Coast-inspired dining – Alaska plans to focus on “fresh, healthy, West Coast-inspired on-board food and beverage menus” as it continues to improve its dining service. Drinks will continue to include craft brews and premium wines, as an homage to California and the Pacific Northwest. As early as June, passengers will be able to pre-select meals (starting with first-class).
  • Reliable high-speed internet – Alaska says they are listening to travelers on this one. Virgin has been a leader in in-flight WiFi. Alaska plans to retrofit their aircraft with high-speed satellite WiFi beginning in Fall 2018.
  • Free movies and free chat – While Alaska has already launched both of these, they are certainly still in the spirit of Virgin America. You can now chat for free on Alaska flights with Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and iMessage. We’ll see if the airline keeps the seat-to-seat messaging offered by Virgin.
alaska retrofit 1

Alaska’s redesigned interior

What else will we see?

Alaska also plans to expand its lounge network, with additions in San Francisco International and New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. Existing lounges will be refreshed.

The frequent flier programs for the two airlines will be completely merged by next year. You can already book Virgin America flights with Alaska MileagePlan miles and even redeem your Alaska companion certificates from the Alaska Airlines Visa Signature card on Virgin America flights. Alaska’s program offers fantastic value and is often considered the best among U.S. airlines, so there really isn’t any loss here.

Overall, I hope these changes are positive. Alaska’s announcement undoubtedly brought dismay to many Virgin America fans, but the spirit of Virgin will hopefully live on as a part of Alaska. We’ll wait and see if the new premier West Coast airline actually delivers.

Images courtesy of the Alaska Airlines press release. 

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