April 3, 2017, © Leeham Co.: Sir Richard Branson came to Seattle last week to promote the new service by Virgin Atlantic Airlines to London. In a hissy-fit, he promptly pissed on Alaska Airlines for the business decision to drop the Virgin America brand in 2019.
Alaska, of course, acquired Virgin America last year. The acquisition didn’t sit well with Branson, who nevertheless made out well in the deal.
Although Alaska officials said they would decide later whether to retain the Virgin brand, only those with wishful thinking gave any chance of this happening.
Branson certainly knows this. In 1997, Virgin Group acquired the low fare carrier Euro Belgium Airlines for $60m and promptly dropped the name in favor of Virgin Express.
VE lasted only nine years; it ceased operations in 2006 when it was sold and merged into the new Brussels Airlines.
Branson’s whining over Alaska’s decision to operate the merged operations into the Eskimo’s image smacks of hypocrisy.
Let’s also remember that his Virgin Atlantic is 49% owned by Delta Air Lines, which is building a hub in Seattle in competition with Alaska. The fight between Alaska and Delta is sometimes bitter.
Branson’s criticism of Alaska might have as much to do with Virgin Atlantic’s partnership with Delta as it does his own bruised ego.
Alaska’s decision to merge Virgin America into the Alaska brand was really never in doubt.
In the history of US airlines, operating more than one brand (aside from regional/major carriers) never has lasted for more than a few years.
Including at Alaska.
Alaska acquired the small airline Jet America in 1986. A little more than a year later, Jet America’s brand disappeared into Alaska.
Even its regional carrier, Horizon Air—which for decades operated under this name despite being part of the Alaska Air Group family and being the feeder to Alaska Airlines—finally saw its Horizon name submerged into Alaska. Today, “Alaska” is big on the fuselage and “Horizon” is in smaller print.
United/Ted, Delta/Song, USAir/Metro, Continental/Continental Lite were experiments separating the mainline carrier with a low fare operation. Each was short-lived. Each of the secondary names were absorbed back into the mainline.
Even the granddaddy of multiple operations eventually gave up.
Texas Air Corp was the only one of the US airline companies to have a long-lasting set of different brand name, but for the very specific reason of having non-union and union operations separate.
TAC was formed to buy Texas International Airlines, a small regional in the US Southwest. TAC made a successful hostile takeover of Continental Airlines.
The two brands merged and eventually were taken into the US airline industry’s second big bankruptcy (after Braniff Inc.). TAC busted union contracts in the process.
Texas Air later acquired unionized Eastern Airlines. It created non-union New York Air and acquired non-union PeoplExpress, which itself had acquired unionized Frontier Airlines, Britt Airways and PBA Airlines.
Eastern, New York Air, PeoplExpress, Continental operated separately. New York Air, People, Continental and the regional airlines merged in 1987 in what was known as the Big Bang merger. Eastern, in a death spiral, remained separate until it was taken away by the court from TAC in bankruptcy.
Every merger since then eventually combined the brands after a transition period.
US Airways and America West Airlines adopted the former’s name.
Delta Air Lines absorbed the Northwest Airlines name.
Southwest Airlines dropped the AirTran name.
United Airlines was absorbed by Continental, which dropped its own name and took UAL’s.
USAirways acquired American Airlines and adopted American’s name.
Thus, the fate of Virgin America’s name was sealed the day the deal with Alaska was closed. Only the naïve would have thought otherwise.
Branson certainly is not naïve. But what he hoped to gain by coming into Seattle, an intensely loyal market to Alaska, and piss all over the Eskimo is beyond me, other than headlines and publicity. Which he certainly received.
It might have been a case of any publicity is good publicity.
But I don’t think it will help Virgin Atlantic in the process.