As Far As The FAA Is Concerned, Virgin America Doesn’t Exist Anymore

Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America closed in December 2016, though as you’d expect, not much changed overnight. Instead the process of integrating two airlines takes years and years, given how many hurdles there are to overcome. Heck, Continental and United merged almost a decade ago, and until recently they were still working on integrating their work groups.

In the case of Alaska and Virgin America we’ve had a sense of what the combined airline would look like long term, though up until now the airlines have still been operating largely independently.

From a customer perspective, the last big milestone in Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America was that Virgin America’s Elevate frequent flyer program was discontinued as of last year. The next big milestone is when Virgin America flights will be discontinued. Last October we learned that Virgin America flights will be using Alaska Airlines flight numbers as of April 25, 2018. This has implications in terms of the ability to earn and redeem miles, upgrade, etc.

However, very quietly Alaska and Virgin America had another huge milestone in their merger overnight. As of today, Alaska and Virgin America are on a single operating certificate. That means that as far as the FAA is concerned, Virgin America no longer exists. On paper this is one of the biggest hurdles in a merger, even if there aren’t many implications for customers.

Even though almost all Virgin America planes are still painted in the Virgin America livery, air traffic control is now using Alaska’s callsign for Virgin America’s flights, rather than Virgin America’s (which was “Redwood”). I’m sure it’ll take some of Virgin America’s pilots a while to get used to that when communicating (especially as they’re still referring to the airline as Virgin America when communicating with customers, while they’re referring to it as Alaska when communicating with ATC).

Congrats to Alaska and Virgin America on completing the next big step in their integration.


  1. @lucky – why would you think it’ll take pilots some time to adjust to the new call sign? That would be a huge safety issue and one that a true professional would be able to handle. It’s troubling that you just introduced a safety concern into this merger.

  2. @Alan – Getting used to the new call sign doesn’t imply a safety issue. All it implies is that the pilots will have to expend mental energy for a while as they make sure they conform to the new system. I doubt anyone could argue that it will immediately be second nature for the pilots to use the new designation.

  3. @ericNYC – So why even bring up the point if it’s only a split second difference as the pilots use their mental energy? Bringing it up implies that it could be a problem, and last I checked pilots need to be on top of their game at all times. If ATC gives a direction to a call sign then the pilot better be ready for it and better understand what he’s hearing.

    As for mental energy, this change is pretty much like a school zone speed limit, variable throughout the day. No one brings up the safety issues of needing to slow down because it’s expected that drivers will see the sign and will respond appropriately to it. I’d assume pilots have the same ‘mental energy’ that the rest of us have and that they’ll deal with the changed call sign. Since @lucky brought it up it would seem that he has issue with the pilots’ ability to make that adjustment. If he thought it really were like any other change that any of us deal with then why even bring it up?

  4. @Alan – maybe because Lucky is obsessed with travel and thinks about every detail for passengers, crew, etc.? He is innately curious about how all of this works. So to him it is an interesting thing to think about.

    The school zone speed limit change isn’t quite comparable. People don’t bring that up because it is a regular occurrence. Yes it changes across times but does so in a consistent fashion. This is a relatively rare event that happens and then most likely won’t happen again for a long time.

  5. Alan – When you’re used to saying something for 15+ years and they ask you to change overnight, it takes a few weeks until it becomes a new habit. The same goes for when flight crews change airlines voluntarily, it’ll take a few weeks before they stop using their old airline’s call sign reflexively.

  6. @Alan are you part of the left wing news media? I think you’d make a fine addition to the prosecution team working on the russian dossier.

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