Great planes, great customer service, and the possibility for a killer loyalty program make this merger one to celebrate.

By Nikki Ekstein
April 04, 2016
Alaska Airlines Buys Virgin America
Credit: Alamy Stock Photo; Bloomberg via Getty Images

There’s officially a little less competition in the friendly skies: Alaska Airlines has acquired Virgin America for $2.6 billion, just two weeks after Richard Branson’s San Francisco-based airline put itself up for sale.

Richard Branson is reportedly unhappy about the deal, which is worth closer to $4 billion once debts and aircraft leases are added in to the equation, but passengers should have plenty to celebrate. Unlike the acquisition of United by American—which created a supersized fleet of mediocre planes and a devalued loyalty program—this merger brings together two of the most customer satisfaction-driven players in the industry.

Both carriers have a strong presence along the west coast, rank among the top carriers on our World’s Best lists, and have stellar on-time performance records. They also share a commitment to high-tech at high altitude. Alaska is the first carrier in the U.S. to experiment with electronic bag tags and biometric boarding passes, and regularly updates its fleet with new features like Boeing’s improved overhead storage bins; Virgin America has prioritized cutting-edge seat-back entertainment features and on-board mood lighting. They also share a serious emphasis on customer service, which is basically unparalleled across the industry (think bag claim guarantees and top-notch lounges). Put them together and you’re bound to have happy passengers on a broader network of routes—the combined airline will be the fifth-largest in the U.S.—with the possibility for Alaska’s much-loved loyalty program gaining a couple extra code-share partners.

The only loser in the deal? JetBlue. The airline was reportedly making bids alongside Alaska as recently as last week.