Here’s what it’s like to fly on Alaska Airlines, which just bought Virgin America for $2.6 billion

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Ted S. Warren/AP

Diehard Virgin America fans had their hopes dashed on December 14, when Alaska Airlines announced it closed a deal to acquire the Richard Branson-founded airline for $2.6 billion.

The newly merged carrier will create the fifth largest airline in the US with 40 million customers, Business Insider reported.

When Alaska Airlines made the bid to buy its rival in April, loyal Virgin customers freaked out about the merger on social media. Virgin would lose its “cool factor,” they worried. One fan told The New York Times leaving Virgin for Alaska was like “giving up your sexy imported sports car for a reliable but unsexy sedan.”

It’s unclear what parts of the Virgin brand will survive, but Alaska Air confirmed this week that there will be no immediate changes to Virgin’s “onboard product or experience.”

On a trip from San Francisco to Seattle in April, I flew Alaska Airlines. Here’s what it was like.


It was my first time flying Alaska Airlines.

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Melia Robinson

I checked in at the kiosk and had to sign in twice to print a luggage tag and to print a boarding pass.

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Melia Robinson

When I boarded the plane, a yellowish hue filled the cabin. I missed Virgin’s mood lighting.

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Melia Robinson

The leather-covered seats looked worn and frumpy, like a bean bag chair.

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Melia Robinson

I was impressed by the ample leg room. I could easily have fit a larger bag with room for my feet on the floor.

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Melia Robinson

There was no in-flight entertainment display — just an Alaska Airlines Magazine.

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Melia Robinson

Source: Alaska Airlines


The company has dropped $100 million in the last five years on improving the interior of its fleet. This plane seems to have missed the makeover.

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Melia Robinson

Source: Alaska Airlines

A spokesperson for Alaska Airlines tells Business Insider that my plane probably came from a fleet of older 737-400 planes, which are scheduled to leave the fleet in the coming year.


Parts of the seat cover were peeling away, revealing Styrofoam underneath.

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Melia Robinson

The metal components of the arm rest were also rusting.

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Melia Robinson

A flight attendant performed the safety instructions. It just wasn’t the same as Virgin’s catchy in-flight video, which I’ve probably watched on YouTube a dozen times.

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Melia Robinson

The flight itself was ordinary. It departed on time, and I received free coffee and a snack.

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Melia Robinson

On my return flight, I decided to try the Alaska Airlines app, which is free to download.

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Alaska Airlines screenshot

The app design was uncluttered, making it easy to locate my boarding pass and flight details.

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Alaska Airlines screenshot

I could even order food for my flight starting a week in advance. The app was user friendly, much like the one developed by Virgin America.

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Alaska Airlines screenshot

This plane was much newer and cleaner.

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Melia Robinson

There was even a streak of blue light that ran above the overhead compartments.

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Melia Robinson

It still didn’t have an entertainment display, though I later learned you can stream movies and TV to your personal device using the plane’s WiFi network.

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Melia Robinson

Source: Alaska Airlines


Each seat came equipped with a power outlet — what magic!

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Melia Robinson

My second flight blew away the first in terms of quality. I would say the experience was comparable to flying my favorite airline, Virgin.

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Melia Robinson

But Virgin America still dominates in terms of delivering quality trips with consistency. The flights I’ve had over the years are almost indistinguishable from one another.


On Alaska Airlines, I don’t know what to expect.

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Ted S. Warren/AP