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Alaska Airlines has jrecently announced in a blog post that sometime in 2019 they will be retiring the Virgin America brand and completely absorbing its operations under the Alaska Airlines umbrella. While this may be bad news for fans of the Virgin America brand, in the end we see no need to worry since as will be overhauling their entire travel experience, bringing in a host of new perks and amenities. The news should not come as a big surprise, since the merger of both airlines earlier last year, it was only a matter of time before Alaska absorbed Virgin America’s operations.
In line with the retirement, the company will also bring in several changes, to everything from crew uniforms to the onboard experience.
Reliable High-Speed Internet
Alaska has acknowledged that one of the main issue facing their travelers is unreliable internet while in the air. The company promises to address this by retrofitting high-speed satellite internet to all its fleet by the end of 2019. The retrofit will start in the fall of 2018 with all the company’s Boeing aircraft, and then will be rolled out to its Airbus aircraft. This new internet connectivity should be sufficiently fast to stream movies and videos.
More Free Chat
Alaska currently offers its passengers options to stay connected and chat for free using Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and iMessage. The service is only available on board its Boeing operated flights, but will be expanded to Airbus operated flights in August 2017.
More Premium Seating
Alaska will be adding new Premium seats in the fourth quarter of 2018 to its Airbus aircraft. 18 new Premium class seats will be added to the aircraft. In line with increasing the Premium space onboard, Alaska also plans to increase the number of First class seats from 8 to 12 per aircraft. The new First class seats will have 41 inches of pitch, better seat back pockets for storage, cup holders, and footrests. The company also plans to introduce power outlets at all seats throughout the cabin.
Following their recent move in making their catalog of more than 200 premium in-flight movies free of charge, Alaska is offering the same selection of movies for free on travelers’ own devices. The new system will take effect immediately on board the company’s Boeing fleet of aircraft. By August 2017 the movies will also be available free of charge across the company’s Airbus fleet of aircraft via the Red Entertainment System. Passengers on board Airbus operated flights will still be able to purchase access to early release feature films.
Expanding Lounge Network
By 2019 Alaska plans to double the square footage of its lounge network, with brand new lounges at New York’s John F. Kennedy, and San Francisco. In addition to the new lounges, the current lounges in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles will receive an expansion and a facelift. Alaska lounge members will still continue to enjoy access to more than 60 partner lounges across the US and at global destinations.
Elevate to be Absorbed into Alaska Mileage Plan
Virgin America Elevate will end in 2018, and Alaska Mileage Plan will become the sole loyalty program for both airlines. The airline plans to offer its guest more rewards, and an expansive global partner network. Members will still be able to earn and redeem miles to more than 900 global destinations.
Increased Complimentary Upgrades
The increased Premium seating will result in increased system-wide upgrades for Elite members, Mileage Plan MVP Golds’ and above who already receive a complimentary upgrade 75% of the time on average, should see their chances of upgrades increased. In addition, in 2018, the company will introduce the upgrade policy to its Airbus operated flights, which is a new benefit for Virgin America Elites.
Improved Food and Beverage Options
The company plans to continue enhancing their west coast inspired food and beverage menu, first class passengers will be able to pre-select their meals prior to departure by June 2017. By early 2018 main cabin passengers will be able to pre-pay for their meals prior to departure. Alaska has confirmed that it will introduce the same system to its Airbus operated flights, although they have not confirmed the date yet.
New Uniforms and Ambiance
Alaska plans to overhaul its cabins and ground experience. During 2017, the company will introduce new music to its lounges, gates, and aircraft. In 2018 Alaska will shift its focus to its aircraft, rolling out a redesigned interior, with new seating and amenities. By mid-2019 ground crew, mechanics, customer service agents, pilots, and cabin crew will all wear new modern stylish uniforms by designer Luly Yang.
Route Expansion and Low Fares
Alaska also plans to maintain its commitment to consistently offering great fares to its passengers, as well as expanding its route network and options for passengers, as typified by the announcement earlier this month of 21 new markets, and 25 new daily departures from San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Jose, California.
With this announcement, Alaska seems to have really thrown down the gauntlet to its competitors; regular Alaska flyers will be delighted with what is to come, while Virgin America devotees may be disappointed but surely will be happy with what is coming in its place.
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