In a talk in front of an aviation professionals' group in New York, Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden said "the thing I’m losing the most sleep over with our merger" with Virgin America is the fact that he may have to reconcile two very distinct brands with very different, and loyal, customer bases. Tilden told the Associated Press, at the Wings Club in NY, that Alaska is "taking a good look at running two brands for some period of time, perhaps forever."
This should come as some relief to fans of San Francisco-based Virgin America, whose first fear after news of the merger broke in April was that all the things that are great about Virgin touch-screen food and drink ordering, wi-fi that mostly works, the safety videos, the lighting, on-demand entertainment and satellite TV would disappear or at least get watered down. Some of that wouldn't make sense, however, just given how much younger Virgin's fleet of planes are, and all that technology comes ready-installed.
The SF Business Times quotes Tilden as saying, "We are looking at [keeping Virgin its own thing] because we do believe in the power of the Virgin America brand, and we don’t want to lose all that loyalty and revenue that exists today."
Alaska fans, meanwhile, as the AP notes, like the budget-driven perks and on-time reliability of their airline, and there is the risk of confusing customers by joining brands that are so different in style not to mention confusing employees. (It should be noted that because the planes and their inner workings are different, employees of the former Continental Airlines, now a part of United, still only fly on planes that were part of the Continental fleet, and still had their own distinct pay structure long after the merger.)
The merger, a deal potentially worth $4 billion, creates the nation's fifth largest airline, and one with a particularly strong hold on the West Coast market. Tilden says he expects regulatory approval for the merger by early fall.
Tilden notes how European brands have remained distinct and separate entities despite mergers, such as Air France and KLM. But, he hedges a bit when he tells the AP in an interview that maintaining a distinct airline-within-an-airline is, ultimately, "inefficient," and says, "More likely is an outcome where each brand’s best practices are retained. For core Alaska flyers, this could mean ordering a meal from one’s seatback monitor on a flight to Anchorage."
But what about the safety video?!?!
Previously: Virgin America Sold To Alaska Airlines