Goodbye, Virgin America.
Two years ago, Alaska Airlines acquired Virgin America for $2.6 billion. Over the past few months, Virgin America has slowly been disappearing. The airline's final flight was on Tuesday evening, marking the last time a “VX” flight makes its way across the skies.
The airline’s final commemorative flight, VX1948 from San Francisco to Los Angeles, will take off at 9:35 p.m. on Tuesday evening. About 90 minutes later, the flight is expected to arrive at LAX and Virgin America will be no more.
Those aviation enthusiasts onboard the flight said goodbye to Virgin America in style. There were swag bags — complete with a tumbler, #vxforever stickers, a destination poster and Virgin America safety card — and upon landing in LAX, passengers made a farewell toast in the airport’s Alaska Lounge.
One passenger on Virgin America's last flight wrote about what the last flight was like for Travel + Leisure. Here is what the experience was like, in the words of Brendan Hooley:
Virgin America spent nearly eleven years building a collection of die-hard fans thanks to its industry-disrupting push to “make flying great again.” And when VX1948, Virgin America’s last commercial flight, departed San Francisco International Airport at 9:32 p.m. on April 24, some of the airline’s most loyal customers came together to make it a night to remember.
Flight 1947 from Los Angeles to San Francisco was Virgin America’s true final departure at 9:35 p.m. and was a special event for the airline’s founding employees and those who had been with the airline for 10 or more years. It was also a nod to one of Virgin America’s first two original flights on August 8, 2007. This “Founders Flight” followed an invitation-only celebration for Virgin America employees at LAX’s Flight Path museum.
Members of the Flyertalk online community rallied to celebrate the airline’s final moments in the sky and began organizing around flight 1948. By the April 24, over half of the 185 seats on the sold-out flight from San Francisco to Los Angeles were taken by its members. Many of the remaining seats were filled by current and former Virgin America employees. In a salute to the brand’s social-savvy personality, they called it the “People’s flight,” gave it the hashtag #vxfarewell, and even planned a flash mob performance of Virgin’s infamous safety video at the terminal.
“We want to give Virgin America the send-off it deserves,” said Nate Vallier, one of the Flyertalk party organizers. “This airline turned the industry on its head and created an experience unlike anything else in the sky. I started talking with fellow Alaska Airlines and Virgin America frequent travelers about doing something to recognize that, and things just ... Well, they took off.”
Vallier, along with fellow FlyerTalk members, myself and Caroline Gale, began with a plan to have some special giveaways for passengers and Virgin America employees as well as a farewell toast at Alaska’s Club Room at LAX. When Alaska and Virgin America employees caught wind of their plans, several offered to help make this a night to remember. Extra Virgin goodies to give to the guests? Check. Free entry into the Alaska lounge for the farewell toast? Check. A choreographed in-seat dance to the safety video, complete with instructions and props? Check.
Throughout the day, the trio passed out #vxforever stickers and posters commemorating Virgin America’s route history to Virgin America pilots and crew members they came across at LAX and SFO. As boarding time approached, they had passengers on VX1948 sign certificates which they gave to the pilots and inflight team. Around them, work had already begun to remove the last remaining signs of Virgin America at SFO and airports across the country.
When it was time to board, the Virgin America gate agent said, “We’d like to thank you for helping us create an airline people love. I think your presence today makes it clear we succeeded in that. Usually we’ll say ‘I’m joined by the person working this flight with me,’ but today we’d like to welcome you to the flight that’s worked by all of your team here at Virgin America. Thank you for joining us and see you on the other side.”
Virgin America team members filed out onto the ramp at gate 51B and waved to the passengers of flight 1848 onboard Frances, one of the airline’s new A321neo jets, as it pushed back for departure. And then, the entire plane erupted into song as the safety video played. During the flight, Virgin’s chronically underused seat-to-seat chat system was a boisterous conversation pit. Virgin America cabin crew passed out commemorative cookies in both Virgin and Alaska’s signature colors, said heartfelt thank yous over the PA, and even played the safety video a second time upon landing at LAX.
Alaska Airlines then welcomed the passengers at their lounge and began handing out glasses of champagne as passengers shared their memories of flying Richard Branson’s “breath of fresh airline.” Vallier, Gale, and Hooley all said fond words of farewell to an era in aviation as the clock struck midnight.
It’s kind of insane how quickly this farewell became not just something I wanted to do, but had to do. I never fell in love with a company, let alone an airline, until Virgin America came along. I didn’t just fly in a plane, I made friends. Virgin was a mood-lit nightclub at 35,000 feet. They made flying great again. They challenged everyone in the industry to do better. And bringing people together to say thank you to all of the people who made the Virgin America experience so special for passengers… It’s a very special honor to be a part of it. Tomorrow, they’ll finally be united under the Alaska name and it’s going to be a whole new adventure, but tonight we got to ‘live it on up in the sky’ one last time.
As the lounge closed up and the passengers began hugging each other goodbye, several Virgin employees had tears in their eyes. “You have no idea how much this means that all of you did this for us,” one said. “We never expected our passengers to love us as much as we loved being part of Virgin America. And we’re still here. Come see us soon.”
Come Wednesday morning, Virgin America was formally integrated into the Alaska Airlines brand. The Virgin America website and app have now been retired. Virgin America kiosks disappeared, and all gates, ticket counters, check-in areas and baggage claims now feature Alaska’s visuals.
Passengers may still notice Virgin America livery as retrofits are completed over the next few months.
In a goodbye letter, founder Richard Branson reminisced on the Virgin America experience: “It was a long and hard journey but in the end you are the best consumer airline in America. You invented concepts like ‘moodlighting’ and ‘on-demand food,’ you reinvented cabin amenities from seat-to-seat chat to Netflix in the sky.”
Those who are feeling nostalgic can relive the Virgin America era with a fond farewell video.