Alaska Airlines (ALK) announced Wednesday that it would officially eliminate the Virgin America brand. Virgin America will adopt Alaska’s name and logo when the airlines are fully combined in 2019.
This news comes nearly three months after Seattle-based Alaska Airlines acquired the trendy low-cost carrier for $2.6 billion. According to Sangita Woerner, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of marketing, the move is being done to improve the overall customer experience. “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,” she said in statement.
Reaction on social media was quick and mostly negative, with Virgin America fans sharing their collective disappointment. “When US airlines were scaling back, @VirginAmerica made flying cool again,” tweeted a user. “Sad to hear the brand is being sunset.”
Even Virgin CEO Richard Branson chimed in, calling the day “sad,” and sharing his own disappointment with followers. “Our people @VirginAmerica calling today ‘the day the music died’,” he tweeted. The billionaire CEO even bid farewell to the airline he founded in 2004 with an online letter entitled, Dear Virgin America.
While the Virgin America brand will disappear, it appears that some of its essence will remain. In an attempt to ease concerns, Alaska Airlines said the combined company would incorporate Virgin America mood lighting, enhanced in-flight entertainment, music and the “relentless desire to make flying a different experience for guests.”
Here are some changes travelers can expect to see over the next two years.
More flights. More routes.
The acquisition in December 2016 solidified Alaska Airlines’ dominance on the West Coast. Overall, their combined fleet of 286 planes makes 1,200 daily flights to 900 destinations around the world, and that number is growing. In March alone, Alaska Airlines announced 21 new markets with 25 new daily departures out of San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Jose, Calif. – marking the largest addition of routes in the company’s history.
Superior frequent-flier program
In 2018, the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan will become the only frequent-flier program for both airlines. This is an upgrade for Virgin America fliers, seeing as U.S. News and World Report identified Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan as the best frequent-flier program for US carriers in 2016.
If you’re currently a member of the Virgin America Elevate loyalty program, you can still continue to earn points for Virgin flights. However, if you convert your points over to Alaska Airline’s program now, you will get a 30% bonus in points. The last day you’ll be able to earn and redeem Elevate points is Dec. 31, 2017, and any remaining Elevate points will be automatically converted to Mileage Plan points in early 2018.
Due to the addition of 50% more premium seats (thanks to Virgin America’s swanky seat plan) elite loyalty members of the Mileage Plan will see more complimentary upgrades. In other words, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan MVP Golds and higher will be upgraded to First Class or Premium class 75% of the time. These complimentary upgrades will begin in late 2018.
Both Alaska Airlines and Virgin America are known for their stellar in-flight entertainment options, and that will continue as the airlines combine. Effective immediately, customers flying on Boeing planes (the Alaska Airline fleet) will be able to access free entertainment on their own devices. This service will be available on the Airbus aircraft (Virgin America fleet) in August 2017.
Alaska is the only US airline to offer Free Chat onboard, which allows travelers to send messages over WiFi on services like iMessage and WhatsApp. This will expand to the Airbus aircraft in August 2017.
Chill vibe. Updated cabins
One of the coolest things about flying on Virgin America is the purple mood lighting on the plane, giving flights a bit of a nightclub feel. While that brand is going away, it looks like the chill factor will remain. In 2018, Alaska Airlines will debut revamped airplane cabins equipped with blue mood lighting, fresh amenities, and new seats. A new “Premium Class” with extra room economy seats will be available on certain Boeing aircraft in 2017. Premium Class will be available on the Airbus fleet beginning in late 2018.
The flight attendants are also getting a makeover. New uniforms designed by Seattle-based Luly Yang will roll out in mid-2019.
Brittany is a reporter at Yahoo Finance.