Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Will Alaska Buy Virgin? Will Jet Blue? Will All Three Combine? [Updated]

I'm not sure why I got this message through LinkedIn or how to link to it. It's from George Hobica at Airlineswatchdog.  You have to register to get the new alerts there, so I'm just handing off below the key points.  He doesn't like the name Alaska for an airline.

"Bloomberg is reporting that Virgin America is entertaining sale offers to jetBlue and Alaska Air. 
Which combination makes more sense? From a route perspective, jetBlue and Virgin America have a lot of overlap (lots of trans-con routes such as Boston, Ft. Lauderdale, Washington, JFK to the West Coast), so Alaska Air would be a better match, although jetBlue also has a large presence in the Caribbean and Latin America, which neither Alaska nor Virgin has. On the other hand, Alaska flies mostly Boeing 737s, while jetBlue and Virgin share the same Airbus aircraft, which would make maintenance, crew training, obtaining a joint operating certificate, and purchasing less expensive. 
Perhaps we'll eventually see a three-way tie-up? Alaska/jetBlue/Virgin into a carrier more capable of competing with United, Delta, American, and Southwest? I vote for the combined carrier to operate under the jetBlue banner. It's just a better airline name than Alaska, which as a brand is too tied geographically to a particular state (even though it flies everywhere these days). And I've never liked the sexual connotation of "Virgin." Sorry, Richard Branson, you cheeky thing."

JetBlue has been keeping Alaska prices low from Anchorage to places like Seattle and LA.  Combining them doesn't sound like a good move for Alaska passengers.

[UPDATE April 5:  The New York Times documented the official announcement that Alaska Airlines bought Virgin.  Of the possible combinations, this one seems the most promising for people living in Alaska.  The two weren't really competing the way Alaska and Jet Blue were, so the immediate effect shouldn't be to raise rates.  And Virgin has a loyal customer base that, I'm told by a friend who flies Virgin a lot, expects better service than Alaska gives.  The New York Times puts it this way: "
"a brand beloved by its cadre of customers who adore its cheeky image, onboard Wi-Fi and soothi"ng onboard purple lighting."
Well, the planes to and from Alaska (the state) tend to be mostly the new style with plug-ins at every seat.  Wifi is pretty common on most Alaska flights already (Go-Go, not free, but the same is true for Virgin).  But if the New York Times reporter flew on the planes we flew between Seattle and Chicago and Seattle and San Francisco, I can understand his ho-hum expectations.  They were the old planes without the plug-ins and cleaner look.

Virgin has spots in San Francisco so there's hope for some non-stops from Anchorage to San Francisco (where I have a cute little reason to travel.)  The biggest challenge it seems, based on comments from L below, will be meshing the Airbus fleet with the Boeing fleet, as well as the two cultures.  Alaska is a well run airline and I'm betting that in three years this will be a success, but there are no guarantees.]


  1. Oh shoot. I thought you meant buy a virgin to sacrifice so the volcano would stop erupting and the airline could resume its normal schedule.

    Not that I would recommend that.

    1. That's a much more interesting story than I posted!

  2. JetBlue and Virgin are a lot more similar in age and customer experience than Alaska. I wouldn't mind seeing Alaska buy JetBlue and copying that experience, but mergers between airlines with differing cultures have historically gone bad. As have airline mergers in general.


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