Customer Q&A on Alaska Airlines and Virgin America merger

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On April 4, 2016, Alaska Airlines and Virgin America announced their intention to merge, forming the

West Coast’s premier airline. Since the announcement, many customers have had questions about the future of the Alaska Airlines and Virgin America brands.

In her 14 months with the company, Alaska’s vice president of marketing Sangita Woerner has overseen a successful brand refresh, selected an internationally known fashion designer to design new uniforms

for 12,000 frontline employees and announced that Alaska will debut a new Premium Class section and improve leg room in first class later in 2016.

Sangita headshot

Sangita Woerner

Prior to joining the team at Alaska, Woerner served as vice president of global coffee brand management at Starbucks Coffee Company, and has worked on brand strategy at well-known brands including Dove, Suave, Degree and Seattle’s Best Coffee.

Here, Woerner answers some of the top customer questions that have emerged since the announcement.

Read more: Alaska Airlines and Virgin America: Uniting to create the premier West Coast airline

I am a loyal Virgin America customer. What will be different on my flight tomorrow/next week/next month?

From today until the deal closes, business continues as usual. We hope to receive regulatory approval later this year, but until that time, Alaska Airlines and Virgin America will continue to operate as separate companies. As we come together later on, all of our customers will benefit from our expanded West Coast presence, with more flights to more destinations – with the same low fares and outstanding customer service you’ve come to expect.

What happens to the Virgin America inflight experience and brand? Will it be incorporated into Alaska Airlines?

Virgin America has built an incredible brand experience. They’ve built an emotionally engaging brand, and we have great respect for that.

As we plan how our two airlines will integrate in the future, we’ll be taking a close look at the elements of the Virgin America brand and passenger experience that customers identify so strongly with. What specifically might we incorporate? Honestly, I don’t yet know. But what I can tell you is that we will be examining each of those elements closely and thoughtfully over the coming months and years as we work to understand Virgin America’s customers and their needs, and why they love their airline.

Do you have plans to update your aircraft?

We took delivery of 11 new airplanes in 2015, and have 19 scheduled for delivery this year. We’ve also been updating our cabin product. Over the past five years we’ve spent more than $100 million improving our onboard product, which includes custom leather, space-enhancing seats, bigger overhead bins and more. Like Virgin America, we now have power outlets at every seat on most flights; premium movies, TV shows, games and other content on-demand (Virgin America’s in-flight entertainment is in the seatback and on Alaska it is streamed directly to your device) and a delicious food and beverage program featuring a chef-curated menu, premium wine and beer from the West Coast and craft liquor from Seattle.

Will Alaska use the Virgin America safety video?

I love that video! It’s so smart in that it makes safety super engaging. I believe customers pay better attention and actually retain more safety information when it’s presented in an eye-catching way. At Alaska, safety is always top of mind and trumps everything else on our priority list, so I think we can learn from what Virgin America has done. There could be a great opportunity here for us to think about how we talk about safety. Bottom line: I think their safety video is fantastic.

I’ve been saving my Elevate points/Mileage Plan miles for years. What will happen to my status?

Until the deal closes, current Elevate members will continue to earn Elevate points by flying on Virgin America, just as current Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members will continue to earn Mileage Plan miles by flying on Alaska Airlines or any of our 16 airline partners, or by spending with their Alaska Airlines VISA Signature card. Elite status members of both programs will continue to enjoy the additional benefits they have earned.

At the point when the Virgin America Elevate program is merged into the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan™ program, there will be no disruption to customers’ earnings or redemptions. Points balances and status levels will be honored in the Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan, which has been ranked the No. 1 airline rewards program by U.S. News and World Report for the past two years in addition to other accolades. This means Elevate members can continue to fly Virgin America and accrue Points as normal, from now until when the plans combine, and can be confident that all points – whether earned prior to or after the transaction announcement – will be reflected in customers’ new or existing Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan accounts (click here to learn more). Elevate customers who hold elite status based on their activity at the time that the programs are combined will automatically keep elite status in Mileage Plan for the rest of the year.

What about your codeshare/frequent flier partners?

At this point it is too early to know any concrete details about the future of ours and Virgin America’s partnerships with other airlines. I can tell you we’ll be looking thoughtfully at both our current portfolio of codeshare and frequent flier partnerships and Virgin America’s to ensure that we provide the greatest available network as a combined company.

While we await regulatory clearance, Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members will continue to earn and redeem miles when flying on Alaska Airlines or any of its 16 existing airline partners to more than 900 destinations worldwide, just as Virgin America Elevate members will continue to earn and redeem Elevate points by flying on Virgin America.

Until deal close, each program will continue to operate independently, with no impact to current members. After deal close, we look forward to offering a broader global partner network to all of our customers.

Will there be any changes to the cities and airports currently served by Alaska Airlines and Virgin America?

Over the past few days, we’ve received many questions about the future of specific routes and airport service. At this point, it’s simply too soon to have any concrete details about future service, but we are confident that when the deal closes, both Alaska’s and Virgin America’s customers will see benefits from our combined route network. Together, we’ll offer fliers more than 1,200 daily departures to 114 destinations across North and Central America.

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