There was an interesting TIME article on Thursday about how Virgin America is failing. In their short five years they’ve posted net losses of $671 million, and operating losses of $447 million. Everyone loves Virgin America and they have a clear identity, but they can’t seem to turn it into a profitable business model.
Meanwhile Alaska Airlines is turning huge profits. Now that I’m living in Seattle I’ve started flying with them, and I can’t help but notice how downright strange of an airline they are. They’re a hybrid of sorts between a legacy and low cost carrier, and to me they somewhat lack an identity, though perhaps that’s because I’m neither a native of Washington or Alaska. Then again, maybe I’m not totally crazy. After all, they are an airline based in Seattle named Alaska.
The whole Alaska experience is kind of strange. They have a reasonably nice Board Room lounge in Seattle (which a Priority Pass membership gets you access to). The problem is that it’s always overcrowded, which I can’t blame them for since they’re building a new one soon. But what I find interesting is that it’s staffed entirely by “management” employees, and they’re not allowed to help you with reservations (I assume, in part, because they’re not unionized). So if there are irregular operations you have to leave the club for help.
The other interesting thing in their club is that instead of hiring contract workers to clean up after people, it’s the same “management” people that are on clean-up duty. Again, sounds nice in theory, though they’re extremely chatty. Not necessarily in a bad way, since the employees seem to know many of the “regulars,” but it seems to result in them spending a lot more time talking than cleaning. On the plus side they do have a pancake machine.
I find the onboard experience interesting/odd as well. While they have first class, they’re easily the least comfortable seats I’ve seen on a “mainline” aircraft. The first class seats are the same as on most regional jets, and really aren’t that comfortable.
While they have wifi on many of their planes now, they don’t have power ports or personal televisions. And even though they just ordered 50 new 737s to be delivered between 2015 and 2022, they still don’t have plans to put power ports or in-flight entertainment on the planes, something that even American is doing in the meantime.
As far as their frequent flyer program goes, on one hand they have some of the best value award redemptions of any airline, like being able to travel from the US to South Africa via Hong Kong in Cathay Pacific first class for just 140,000 miles roundtrip. On the other hand they’ve done nothing but devalue their product over the past year or so, between adding fare restrictions to their elite upgrade vouchers, eliminating the 1,000 mile booking bonus for those with the Alaska Airlines Visa, making companion certificates coach-only, and trying to charge upgraded first class passengers baggage fees (before deciding against it).
I guess what I’m trying to say is that if Alaska Airlines were a person, they would be…
Anyone else find them a bit quirky of an airline?