Alaska’s First Retrofitted Virgin America Plane Is Now Flying

Passengers boarding their Alaska Airlines flight will soon notice the familiar appearance of the aircraft thanks to the retrofitting of their latest acquired airplanes. Alaska Airlines purchased Virgin America back in 2016, acquiring 73 Airbus aircraft in the deal. The jets have remained operational, but the company is now beginning to convert them to match the rest of their fleet.

Alaska Airlines in-flight
Alaska Airlines aircraft in-flight via Alaska Airlines Media.

Retrofitting the Virgin Airplanes

The Virgin America brand was a direct reflection of its former owner, Richard Branson. The airline built its reputation off of the exotic interior designs of the aircraft. The cabins were illuminated with purple mood lighting, and each passenger had an entertainment screen located on their seatbacks. Even the Virgin Safety Video was newsworthy. Many of these features have remained on the aircraft during this early period of operation under the Alaska Airlines carrier.

The primary change that Alaska did to the planes was repainting the exteriors to match the rest of the fleet. The company is now redesigning the interiors to the acquired aircraft to match them as well. On most of the planes, you’ll still see remnants of the Virgin brand such as the mood lights and the large, white leather seats in first class. The first completed retrofitted A320 Virgin America plane is now operational, setting the example for the other planes.

Alaska Airlines cabin redesign
Alaska Airlines cabin redesign via Alaska Airlines Media.

One of the most significant changes during remodeling is the seating configuration of the aircraft. Alaska has expanded its First Class and Premium Class sections, upgrading from 8 to 12 seats and 18 to 24 seats respectively. First Class seats will now have footrests, and all of the Premium Class seats have been relocated towards the front of the aircraft, as opposed to spaced throughout in Virgin’s configuration. Main-Class seating decreased from 129 to 114 seats to balance the changes.

Other changes include personal device streaming to replace entertainment screens. The mood lighting is also switched to Alaska blue. All of the seats will maintain power outlets and USB ports. In-flight Wi-Fi is also still available.

In addition to the Airbus A320 aircraft, Alaska Airlines will also be remodeling the acquired Airbus A321 and Boeing 737 fleet with similar features.

Why Retrofit the Aircraft?

Retrofitting the aircraft is a long process and huge investment for Alaska Airlines. The entire process is expected to be completed by the end of 2019. So why spend their resources remodeling so many of the aircraft to this extent?

Sure, Alaska could have settled with just changing the mood lights and seat colors, but there are more significant benefits to complete remodeling.

Alaska Airlines mood lighting
Alaska Airlines blue mood lighting in cabin via Alaska Airlines Media.

Alaska Airlines has a brand to maintain, and consistency across its entire fleet is expected to create the new, modern west coast vibe that they’re known for. Virgin is a standout brand in the airline industry to begin with so major changes were expected during the acquisition process.

Specific aircraft are also sometimes switched during operation, whether for repairs or delays, or other reasons. Re-configuring details such as seating arrangements will help avoid hassle and confusion if there is ever a need to substitute an aircraft for another.

Only one retrofitted Virgin American plane has taken flight under the Alaska brand while the remainders are currently being remodeled at Greenville-Spartanburg International Airport. Alaska Airlines distinguishes between the aircraft by name while booking online. The retrofitted airplanes are termed “Airbus A320,” but “Airbus Series” means you’ll have a chance to fly an aircraft with hints of Virgin.