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Alaska Air permanently grounds Virgin America, but adds slew of new amenities
Alaska Air’s VP of Marketing, Sangita Woerner, announced through a blog post that they want to create an Airline that people will Love. There is a thin line between love and hate, and mergers often toe that line. My interaction with both Alaska and Virgin loyalists is that they do indeed love their respective airlines in a way that isn’t felt from loyalists of the Big 3. The Big 3 have a lot of haters. What’s the difference? The Big 3 transact with their loyalists, but Alaska and Virgin America competed to gain market share through experience. A great experience creates an emotional connection. Rinse and repeat and you garner loyalty. So how would they assure loyalists this would continue? Communication is key.
Since December of 2016 steps have been taken to communicate strategy and assure customers of both brands their needs and concerns were being considered.
It’s only been a few months since the merger was finalized but the information Alaska has given its loyalists has been excellent. Compare this to American who decided to devalue their program mid-year in so many different ways. Alaska has given notice, ideas, and direction along the way. As a customer planning for the year ahead I’m not sure you could ask for much more. If the goal is creating an airline that people will love, they are taking extra care to assure loyalists of both brands that information and brand image/experience is at the top of their list.
The Big News. Virgin America will be permanently grounded circa 2019.
All evidence of its name and logo will disappear like Kaiser Sose. Poof. Gone. This is by far the biggest news to come from the December, 2016 merger of the two brands, and shouldn’t be all that surprising or disappointing. The Alaska brand and loyalty program is excellent and I’d argue has improved since the merger – especially concerning partners earn rates – and would get my vote to be the survivor of the two.
I think the new cabin pictures look very handsome. Sleek and sexy, but still warm.
Here’s a look at the full release from Alaska
New and expanded amenities:
Low fares and convenient flights to the places you want to go
Alaska and Virgin America have been actively growing their newly combined networks since officially merging in December 2016. Earlier this month, we announced 21 new markets with 25 new daily departures out of San Francisco, San Diego, Los Angeles and San Jose, California – marking the largest addition of routes in company history.
Modern, warm and welcoming vibe
You’ll begin to see some of the new Alaska brand personality come to life throughout 2017, to create a warm and welcoming West Coast vibe throughout the guest journey. Music from fresh new artists will be featured on planes, in airport lobbies and at gates. In 2018, we’ll debut an entirely redesigned cabin with new seats and amenities, and we’ve already started to retrofit select Boeing aircraft with expressive blue mood lighting. Modern, stylish uniforms by fashion designer Luly Yang will roll out in mid-2019 for flight attendants, customer service agents, pilots, mechanics and ground crew.
Could this be lie-flat? Would be great for transcon flights and to Hawaii
Reliable, high-speed Internet
Many of the fliers surveyed shared that they’re frustrated with unreliable in-flight Wi-Fi. Alaska’s leaders heard them loud and clear, and beginning in fall 2018 will be retrofitting all Boeing passenger jets with high-speed satellite Wi-Fi (fast enough to watch movies or TV shows via your favorite streaming service!), with the remainder of the Airbus fleet to follow. Both fleets are planned to be fully satellite-equipped by the end of 2019.
I highly applaud this high-speed internet feature. Satellite, while more expensive, has yielded far better performance in my experience.
More premium seats
Earlier this year, Alaska introduced a brand-new Premium Class seating section with 35 inches of pitch and complimentary beer, wine and cocktails. Beginning in the fourth quarter of 2018, the airline will add 18 new Premium Class seats to Airbus aircraft, as well as adding first class seats (going from eight seats to 12) customized for enhanced comfort: 41 inches of pitch, improved seatback storage pockets, cup holders, footrests and personal power outlets throughout the cabin.
In 2018, Alaska Mileage Plan will become the sole loyalty program for both airlines, offering guests more rewards, an expansive global partner network and the only major airline loyalty program that still rewards a mile flown with a mile earned on Alaska and Virgin America flights. Members of Alaska Mileage Plan enjoy some of the most generous benefits in the industry including complimentary upgrades, award travel starting at 5,000 miles one-way (plus taxes and fees) and a faster path to elite status compared to other airlines. With Alaska and Alaska Global Partners, members can earn and redeem miles to more than 900 destinations worldwide.
I feel like the mile flown, mile earned guarantee is integral to Alaska continuing to differentiate. At this juncture, because of that policy, I’m going out of my way to earn Alaska miles, and seek out routes to earn their miles.
With expanded premium seating options comes more opportunities for complimentary upgrades for elite loyalty program members. Alaska’s elite-level frequent fliers enjoy the industry’s most generous upgrade policy. Mileage Plan MVP Golds and above are upgraded to First Class or Premium Class 75 percent of the time (based on average historic system wide rates of upgrade) on Alaska Airlines flights. Complimentary upgrades on Airbus flights will debut for the first time ever in late 2018 – a brand-new perk for Virgin America elites.
In January, we made our entire catalog of more than 200 direct-to-your-device premium in-flight movies and TV shows free. Starting now, free entertainment on guests’ own devices will be a permanent feature on our Boeing fleet and the same free library of movies and TV shows will expand to Airbus aircraft via Red entertainment system in August 2017. Guests on Airbus aircraft will continue to enjoy access to early release movies for purchase.
Also in January, Alaska became the first and only airline to offer Free Chat onboard, allowing guests to stay connected to friends and family on the ground via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and iMessage. In August 2017, we’ll introduce Free Chat to Airbus-operated flights.
Seems small, but I expect a lot of people to engage positively with this feature.
West Coast-inspired food and beverage
Together with Virgin America, we’re continuing to enhance our fresh, healthy, West Coast-inspired onboard food and beverage menus. Guests of both airlines enjoy craft brews, premium wines and delicious food options. By June 2017, Alaska First Class passengers will be able to pre-select meals before they fly, and by early 2018, Alaska’s Main Cabin passengers will be able to pre-pay for their meals before they fly. Food pre-ordering will be extended to Airbus flights sometime in the future
By early 2019, guests will enjoy refreshed and expanded airport lounges in Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles. Alaska also plans to build brand-new lounges in San Francisco and at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. Together, the expansion plans will double the square footage of our existing airport lounges. And don’t forget – Alaska Lounge members also enjoy access to more than 60 partner lounges throughout the United States and around the world.
Loyalty isn’t dead.
I continue to be impressed with how Alaska’s management team seems to “get it.” They are looking to create uniformity amongst their aircraft, enhance user experience, but most importantly, inform their loyalists of updates. What Alaska is offering is very refreshing in an era where it seems bottom line justifies the means to an end of true loyalty.
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