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As of December 14, 2016, the acquisition of Virgin American by Alaska Airlines has officially closed. Virgin America is now part of the Alaska Air Group. According to Alaska Airline’s news release, the combined airline will now serve “more nonstop destinations… from the West Coast than any [other] airline,” which it manages by combining the strengths of the two airlines: Alaska in the Pacific Northwest and Virgin America in California.
Of course, the merger opens a lot of questions for regular travelers on either airline. Without further ado, let’s get into exploring the most important points of what’s changing and when, as well as what’s staying the same (at least for now).
What’s Happening Next
The two airlines will settle into place together somewhat gradually, though the first round of changes are coming this week. Here’s a timeline of what you can expect:
- Gogo Wi-Fi monthly passes can be used on either airline.
As of December 19, 2016:
- Members of each airline’s frequent flyer plan will be able to earn points on the other airline’s flights (for example, an Elevate member will be able to earn points on an Alaska Airlines flight).
- Elite members of each airline’s frequent flyer plan will receive priority check-in and boarding on flights operated by the other airline.
- Virgin America tickets will be available for sale on Alaska Airlines’ website (the option of buying on Virgin America’s site will also remain available for now).
As of December 21, 2016:
- Tickets on new daily routes that will begin in summer 2017 will be available for purchase. These routes are from San Francisco to Orlando (one flight per day), Minneapolis (two flights per day), and Orange County (four flights per day).
As of January 9, 2017:
- Members of Virgin America’s Elevate program will be invited to open Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan accounts.
- Mileage Plan members will be able to use their miles to book Virgin America flights.
Within the next year:
- The two airlines intend to secure approval from the FAA to operate as a single carrier.
- Alaska will make decisions (and possibly changes) regarding the Virgin America brand now that the two companies have merged.
At some point in the future:
- Changes to Virgin America may occur but are not anticipated within the next year.
- There may be changes to the frequent flyer programs for Virgin America and Alaska Airlines as the company evaluates “how to bring these programs together.”
- There may be changes to the associated credit cards for each airline. No specific changes have been announced yet, but the company’s phrasing makes clear that they may occur in the future.
- The Virgin America Loft will become part of Alaska’s lounge program.
What to Expect For Now
In the immediate future, other than the plans outlined above, your travel experience on either airline shouldn’t change much. Here are some things you don’t need to worry about:
- Making any changes to existing reservations.
- Trying to figure out how to book flights (this isn’t changing other than the option of booking Virgin flights on Alaska’s website on December 19th, but you’ll still be able to use Virgin’s site if you prefer).
- Changes to travel policies for either airline.
- Where to check in at the airport (go to the counter for the airline operating your flight).
- Who to contact with questions about your flight (get in touch with the airline operating your flight).
In other words, for immediate travel questions, you can relax and assume it’s business as usual. Unfortunately, this also means some of the positives of each airline haven’t yet transferred; Alaska Airlines’ 20-minute bag guarantee doesn’t currently apply to Virgin America flights, for example. To keep up to date on the changes, Alaska has put together a page to explain everything as the two airlines join.
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