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Alaska-Virgin America Merge, Creating 5th Largest U.S. Airline

On the landing page of a new website touting the consumer benefits of Alaska’s acquisition of Virgin America, which closed today, there’s this:

Alaska Airlines and Virgin America are coming together. Like bacon on a donut, electricity and guitars, or Labradors and poodles, we’re an odd couple that works well together. We may seem like an unexpected pair – but our differences complement each other. Together we’ll accomplish our mission to continue challenging the status quo, and make flying better for everyone. Because that’s how different works.

That “Difference Works” theme addresses head on the elephant in the room. Will the merger really result in an airline that’s the best of two very good but very different airlines? Or will the spirit and innovation that made Virgin America a perennial traveler favorite be lost when its operations are absorbed into Alaska’s?

That’s a question for the medium term. For now, here’s what we know.

  • Combining the two carriers results in a network with around 1,200 daily flights, to 118 destinations.
  • That makes Alaska the largest airline on the West Coast, and the fifth largest in the U.S. country, leapfrogging JetBlue.
  • The new Alaska will control 5.5 percent of the U.S. domestic market, versus 4.2 percent for JetBlue, and 83 percent for the largest four airlines (American, Delta, United, Southwest) combined.
  • With an average age of 8.1 years, Alaska’s fleet is the youngest of the top five airlines’.
  • There’s been no decision yet whether to commit to a single aircraft type. “You can expect to see both Boeing and Airbus in our combined fleet for many years.”
  • Beginning on December 19, members of the two airlines’ loyalty programs may earn miles on both airlines’ flights. Elite members of either program will receive priority check-in and boarding on the other airline.
  • On January 9, 2017, members of Virgin’s Elevate program will be invited to activate accounts in Alaska’s Mileage Plan program and have their elite status matched. Mileage Plan members will be able to redeem miles for Virgin flights.
  • Plans to merge the two programs, and the resulting program’s final form, have yet to be determined.

Indeed, there’s still plenty to be determined. Stay tuned.

Reader Reality Check

What’s your expectation for a combined Alaska Airlines-Virgin America combination?

More from SmarterTravel:

After 20 years working in the travel industry, and 15 years writing about it, Tim Winship knows a thing or two about travel. Follow him on Twitter @twinship.

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