Alaska Airlines is scrapping the Virgin America brand -- here's what else is going to change

Flickr/Tomas Del CoroA Virgin America Airbus.
  • The Virgin America brand is no more.
  • Virgin America’s branding and presence at airports around the country have been replaced with Alaska Airlines livery.
  • Starting Wednesday, Virgin America and Alaska will have a unified reservation system, website, mobile app, and call center.

Virgin America is no more.

Flight 1947, the last to carry the Virgin America name, capped off the airline’s decade in operation Tuesday night with a short hop from Los Angeles to its former headquarters in San Francisco. Following the flight, Virgin America’s bubbly purple and red colour scheme would be wiped from check-in counters and boarding gates in airports around the US. It will be replaced by the relaxed blue and green motif of Alaska Airlines which acquired VA for $US2.6 billion in 2016.

On Wednesday, Virgin America’s passenger service system (PSS) will merge with Alaska’s in an event called the cutover.

So what does this all mean for consumers?

“At cutover, the two airlines have come together and we have a single set of flight numbers with one schedule we are operating,” Alaska Airlines’ managing director of process engineering Sandy Stelling told Business Insider.

“Which means all of the passengers’ reservations and tickets are in a single system.”

In addition, passengers travelling on ex-Virgin America planes will now use Alaska’s website, mobile app, and call center.

PSS cutover represents one of the final and most important hurdles for Alaska Airlines as it works to integrate the funky San Francisco-based startup.

For Alaska Airlines CIO Charu Jain, it was important to avoid the mistakes others have made in the past.

According to Jain, who is a veteran of two other airline mergers, including United and Continental rocky 2010 union, a place where things can go terribly wrong is the transfer of reservations and information from the outgoing airline’s system to the new one.

So Alaska decided to do something different. Instead of having to move Virgin America reservations over to Alaska’s system, the airline would simply sell tickets for Virgin flights on Alaska’s system.

Alaska Airlines uniformsAlaska AirlinesAlaska Airlines’ new post-merger uniforms.

“Early last year when we decided on the April 25th date, we started selling (Virgin America) Airbus tickets as Alaska tickets,” Jain told us. “So everyone flying on the 25th will have a ticket on Alaska and check in on Alaska’s website or app.”

Another stumbling block is the integration of people. Even though both airlines offer award-winning service, their style, and modus operandai are very different.

To make sure that Virgin America’s gate agents and airport staff are ready for the cutover, the airlines co-located employees so they become accustomed to working with one another.

This means locating Virgin America and Alaska gates next to each other and also having VA staff members work the Alaska gates and vice versa, Jain said.

“And any stations that have not (been co-locating) are trained and qualified to be ready,” she added. “We feel pretty good, we’re going to have extra staffing and command centres where employees can call if they have questions.”

One thing that won’t immediately change are the planes.

Alaska Airlines operates an all-Boeing fleet while Virgin America is all Airbus. According to Alaska, Virgin’s Airbus fleet will be operated alongside its Boeing 737s.

Even though some ex-Virgin America Airbuses have been repainted with Alaska livery, the process of repainting the entire fleet won’t be complete until the end of next year. Same goes for the Airbus interiors, which will be reconfigured to Alaska spec.

In addition, Virgin America’s Red in-flight entertainment system will remain in operation until the interiors are updated. This means, for the time being, you’ll still be able to order food and drinks from the comfort of your seat through the system.

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