The final Virgin America branded Airbus has gone to the paint shop to be re-liveried this week. Heading to Victorville on May 24th, the A321neo is the very last plane ever to be seen wearing the Virgin America colors.
Three years since Alaska Airlines bought Virgin America and the brand is about to disappear for good. The last plane wearing Virgin’s livery has gone into the paint shop to receive its new colors and become part of the Alaska Airlines brand.
Virgin America was bought by Alaska Airlines in 2016 but continued to fly under its own brand until last April. Since then, Alaska Airlines have gradually been repainting the Virgin planes in their own livery, with this aircraft being the last one to receive a new coat.
The Airbus A321neo headed to Victorville-Southern California Logistics Airport (VCV) on the 24th May, where it will be repainted before returning to service.
The last Virgin Airbus
The final aircraft is registered N922VA. It was delivered to Virgin America from GECAS in May 2017, having been ordered before the merger took place. It’s an Airbus A321neo named ‘Frances’, after Frances Fiorillo, one of Virgin America’s original founders. It flew from SFO on May 24th to Victorville for painting, marking the end of all visible Virgin branding within Alaska Airlines.
However, not all of Virgin America has been lost, as Alaska decided they liked some elements of the branding and made it their own. These include things like healthier inflight meals, brighter mood lighting and better lounges.
The final flight of Virgin America took off in April 2018, after which time Alaska were lightning quick to remove as much Virgin branding as possible from their operations. According to USA Today, at 29 airports in the US and Mexico, kiosks, signage, check-in counters and gate areas previously branded Virgin America were rebranded overnight.
A rapid merger of two airlines
Alaska have worked fast to eliminate all signs of Virgin’s branding since the acquisition of the airline in 2016. They acquired Virgin America at a cost of $2.6bn, but it flew under its own branding with its own crew until 25th April 2018.
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It is to Alaska Airlines’ advantage to eliminate all Virgin branding as quickly as it can, as it’s paying a license to Virgin Group for as long as the planes fly under the Virgin colors.
But merging two sizeable airlines is no mean feat. Aside of the visible branding, they had to align operating processes, merge systems and booking platforms as well as reach labor contracts with all the unions involved. Not only that, but their new assets, namely lots of aircraft, have been jiggled and shuffled around to give Alaska the best capacity and route solutions for their operation.
By January 2019, Alaska had completed around 95% of its merger related milestones, according to a report by Skift. At that time, just over half the Virgin America jets had been repainted – 39 out of 71 – and today we see the final one entering the paint shop to delete the Virgin branding for good.
Despite being all-Alaska on the outside, many aircraft are still Virgin on the inside. Alaska have said that it could take until next year to retrofit all the interiors to match their new standards. Long term, it remains to be seen whether Alaska will retain the Virgin America Airbus planes or return them to their lessors. As a previously Boeing-only airline, Alaska are having to learn fast about Airbus planes.
The airline has said they will make a decision by the end of the year as to whether they’ll keep the Airbus planes ongoing or return them in favor of the more familiar Boeing family of aircraft. Since the merger, they’ve used the Airbuses exclusively on transcontinental routes, with their Boeing planes taking care of long haul operations.