Alaska Airlines and Virgin America are nearing the end of their integration later this month. Alaska’s takeover of Virgin America closed in December 2016, and as usual, it takes a while for operations to be integrated.
Alaska and Virgin America have been on a single operating certificate since the beginning of the year, which means that as far as the FAA is concerned, the airlines are already one. Then as of April 25, 2018, all Virgin America flights will have Alaska flight numbers, meaning that the airlines will become one as far as the booking process goes.
Alaska Airlines & Virgin America tails
The next major project is the two airlines streamlining their onboard experience. They started this recently by adjusting their first class catering, and going forward, the two airlines will be introducing a common first class product.
Anyway, this brings me to something that was perhaps completely obvious to others, but that I hadn’t processed fully in my mind. Best I can tell Alaska hasn’t ever explicitly published this, which is something you’d think they would do.
Since Virgin America planes will have Alaska flight numbers as of April 25, 2018, elite members will be eligible for complimentary upgrades on all Alaska flights, including those operated by Virgin America planes:
- Historically Virgin America has offered Main Cabin Select, which is their extra legroom economy with enhanced service, including unlimited free drinks and snacks; going forward these seats will be Alaska’s Premium Class, so elite members will be able to select these in advance for free
- Alaska elite members will be eligible for complimentary upgrades to first class on Virgin America planes, though those planes only have eight first class seats, so upgrades will be really tough to come by
Virgin America’s current economy cabin
For the most part this is great news. Right now Alaska has a pretty standard first class product.
Alaska’s current first class seats
Virgin America has much more spacious recliner seats, which are far superior to what Alaska offers. Being able to get complimentary upgrades on these planes will be awesome. Unfortunately upgrades will also be tough, since there are only eight seats in first class.
Virgin America’s current first class seats
Later this year we should see Alaska start to reconfigure planes with a new first class product that’s a hybrid between the two — it will have more legroom than Alaska’s current first class, and will even have legrests. It won’t be as spacious as Virgin America’s first class, though.
The new first class coming to Alaska & Virgin America
Is there any downside to the introduction of complimentary upgrades? It depends how you look at it. Up until now Virgin America has sold paid upgrades to first class, and elite members have had access to discounted upgrade costs. Scoring a paid upgrade on Virgin America was extremely easy. You just had to pay for it. Now you’ll have access to complimentary upgrades, though they will be much tougher to get.
To Alaska & Virgin America loyalists, which planes will you be seeking out as of April 25? Alaska’s planes for the superior upgrade odds, or Virgin America’s planes, for the superior onboard experience?
(Tip of the hat to Travel Codex)