A quite unlikely merger came to light over the weekend between Alaska Airlines parent Alaska Airlines Group and Virgin America.
The cost? A cool $2.6 billion dollars in cash.
Rumors of an acquisition began last week, which led to a significant rise in Virgin America’s share price. Two companies seemed to be in the hunt for Virgin America: Alaska Airlines and JetBlue. The potential merger of JetBlue and Virgin would have made more sense to me since they offer similar on-board products and fly the same type of fleet.
Also, JetBlue has a strong foothold on the East Coast and it would have paved a way to the lucrative California market.
Alaska Airlines won the battle, though, and seems to be poised to take the fifth largest carrier spot operating in the United States pending approval from the Justice Department.
Having flown Virgin America countless times, it has been my go-to airline since they began operating in 2007. I was working bi-coastally between New York and Los Angeles and the “big airlines” didn’t quite deliver on service like Virgin. American Airlines, United and Delta all had plenty of routes but failed in the two categories that I hold in high regard when flying: service and entertainment.
Virgin America is alone at the top in customer service and entertainment
Granted Virgin America never quite got to that top tier of US-based carriers like the current top three but they offered something the large airlines didn’t. Their service was second to none.
Customer service is important from the initial phone call with a reservation agent to your encounters with the flight attendants. The traditional airlines on-board service often reminds me of that burnt out nurse in the hospital who should have retired 10 years ago but stuck it out to share their misery with other passengers.
I never found that to be the case with Virgin.
They were always so energetic, happy and vibrant – probably because their customers were less grumpy due to the hip atmosphere and incredible entertainment. Every seat has its own TV/menu. You can choose what you want to watch and when at your convenience. Moreover, you can choose what you want to eat and drink and order anytime – it’s like being in a restaurant except at 35,000 feet.
Unlikely bedfellow Alaska Airlines
Alaska Airlines is a good airline with similar in-seat entertainment. They always seemed so niche and localized. Obviously, they have the Pacific Northwest covered since they’re based in Seattle. Their customer service is quite good, too, compared to their older, bigger siblings, but Alaska never quite had Virgin America’s hip factor: the mood lighting, the electric beats music as you board the plane, etc. It will be interesting to see what brand the merged company takes on. Will a skeptical younger generation loyal to Virgin have the same love for airplanes with this guy on the tail?
For a breakdown of pros and cons of each airline, and what it means to travelers, read our sister site’s TMOM perspective here.