It’s probably fair to say that the decision by Alaska Airlines to first takeover and then merge Virgin America into its own brand was never going to be easy. Since the acquisition of Virgin closed in December 2016 a team of over 110 staffers have been working on the integration of the two airlines – slowly ticking off milestones as they go.
We’ve now learnt that Alaska has agreed on a way forward to merge Virgin America’s ex-flight attendants into the unified brand. Reaching a tentative agreement with the Association of Flight Attendants (AFA), the airline says if ratified it will be a major milestone for both the overall merger and the 5,400 flight attendants working at Alaska.
The joint collective bargaining agreement will see Alaska Airlines flight attendants receive a pay rise along with what AFA refers to as unspecified “contractual improvements”. For ex-Virgin America flight attendants, the deal will see immediate pay parity with their colleagues.
“We worked hard to achieve improvements for the Alaska Airlines Flight Attendants while simultaneously balancing the need to quickly address the disparity for the former Virgin America Flight Attendants working under their current pay and work rules,” explained Jeffrey Peterson, AFA’s president at Alaska.
Peterson said he hoped the deal would “provide for a smooth path” to combining the two flight attendant groups.
While this is very welcome news, there’s still a lot of work to do in order to truly merge the two groups of staff. Before the takeover, Alaska was an all Boeing 737 aircraft operator – But Virgin America used aircraft from the Airbus A320 family.
Alaska has decided to keep the Airbus jets and has now started to train staff on both types of plane. The airline said it hadn’t yet integrated the different crew scheduling systems and the issue of seniority still needs to be worked out – Alaska hopes this will be completed by 2019.
In a statement, a spokesperson for Alaska said “combining the airlines is an on-going process” but at an airline where the corporate culture is so vitally important, they were able to confirm that both Alaska and ex-Virgin flight attendants would be working alongside each other in the future.
“We’re thrilled to have reached this major milestone towards integrating our flight attendant work groups,” commented Jeff Butler, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of guest and in-flight services.
“This agreement reflects our shared commitment to bring Virgin America and Alaska Airlines together as one and supports our long-term low cost, low fares business philosophy.”
Flight attendants are expected to vote on the tentative agreement in April.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.