Alaska Is Going Above And Beyond To Deal With “Cross-Fleeting” Issues

Filed Under: Alaska, Virgin America

Earlier I wrote about a situation where a reader booked a ticket in Virgin America first class from Dallas to New York, and was rebooked in first class on an Alaska regional jet instead.

Following a merger, it’s common for airlines to start “cross-fleeting,” which is the practice of swapping the planes they use on routes to reflect demand. While Alaska is continuing to operate the ex-Alaska and ex-Virgin America fleets separately, they can still move planes around a bit. In this case they decided that they were better off putting Embraer 175s on their route from Dallas to New York, and using the Virgin America A319s for different routes. This change kicks in for flights as of late August.

Alaska Skywest airplane

This presents a slight problem, though:

  • Virgin America’s first class is significantly better than Alaska’s, and is also priced higher
  • This practice will eventually become problematic for Alaska elite members, as free upgrades are allowed on Alaska, but not on Virgin America (this will change eventually)


Anyway, Alaska reached out to share what they’re doing to accommodate passengers in this situation, and it’s very impressive. Here’s what they told me:

Yesterday we announced our first cross-fleeting since merging, on some routes out of Dallas Love Field. The E175 we’ll be using is a nice little jet with three distinct classes of service, but as you point out, there are some differences between the first class product and the first class price on Virgin America vs. one of our E175 jets.

So, what are we doing for affected guests? As soon as the news was announced yesterday, we began proactively reaching out to guests who had been booked in Virgin America first class. We are issuing checks for the full cost of the affected first class segment, while leaving their itineraries intact. Essentially, those affected are getting a FREE first class segment. For guests who wish to change their travel plans entirely, we can help them with that too if they give us a call.

There are still a handful of guests who booked through third-parties who we are reaching out to through the third-party. We’ll be taking care of these guests in the same way, but this requires a bit more work on the back end as we work with different booking partners and may just take a bit of additional time.

That’s extremely generous! So Alaska is refunding the entire first class fare for passengers who were booked in Virgin America first class but “downgraded” to Alaska first class, and they can keep their ticket. I asked if this would be the policy going forward, and they said they’d get back to me about that, so I guess we’ll see.

Regardless, this is beyond generous on Alaska’s part, and I’ll be curious to see their policy going forward. Alaska is typically known for their great customer service, so I suspect they’ll handle this better than other airlines have in the past.

  1. Once again it proves why Alaska is the best US Carrier. I am an MVP Gold 75K. They treat their employees like gold and as such they treat their customers as kings as well.

  2. “We are issuing checks for the full cost of the affected first class segment” (ONE segment)

    “That’s extremely generous! So Alaska is refunding the entire first class fare for passengers who were booked in Virgin America first class but “downgraded” to Alaska first class, and they can keep their ticket. ”

    Uh, seems like a contradiction.

  3. I’d imagine that, given that this change was decide over 4 months out, that there were very very few passengers booked on these flights. Probably cheap to do this, but the PR looks good. In the future they’ll probably only make changes once the new booking window opens so they dont have this liability anymore.

  4. AS (inc VX now), no matter how perfect or excellent, is 99% a west coast airline. For many of us in Central and Eastern time, we can’t even patronize them no matter how hard we try, simply because they don’t offer the routes.

  5. Imagine that, fully refunding the cost of first class AND allowing the passenger to still fly if desired. A marked contrast from another airline booting a $1,000-paying first class passenger and threatening to cuff him if he would not disembark because they suddenly wanted that seat for someone else.

  6. @Potreroflyr

    Not really. It IS extremely generous considering in the T&C, that in the event of the aircraft change, Alaska is not obligated to even give refund the difference if airfare, let alone giving out a free segment.

  7. Isn’t this contrasting with your previous post, Ben? If I recall, in your previous post, the customer contacted AS/VX and they kind of said “screw you, we are not refunding the fare difference and there’s nothing we can do.” Now that the issue is brought to the public through your blog, they are changing course and do the best to get the PR.

  8. changing course within 24 hours is amazing. normally airlines take week or more to realize an error. That reversal that quickly should be applauded

  9. “I asked if this would be the policy going forward, and they said they’d get back to me”

    In other words, should we all buy tons of refundable first class tickets into the future on Virgin America flights we think might be swapped to Alaska metal?

  10. @Dave Shen

    I don’t disagree it’s generous.
    The contradiction I was referring to — Alaska’s policy cites refunding ONE segment. Lucky describes it as the ENTIRE fare, which of course isn’t the case if you have return/connecting flight. Or am I misreading it? Of course, it also depends on how Alaska chooses to values one segment of a through-fare.

  11. United Airline’s PR department needs to take note…. this is how you “re-accommodate” paying clients.

  12. Alaska certainly has some very sharp brand managers on payroll over there, that’s for sure.

    Alaska doesn’t do much for me (Washington DC) in terms of routes I fly and markets they serve, but I’ve used them a couple of times for paid first flights DCA-LAX and they’ve been fine. Certainly better than DL/UA/AA, and they’re nonstop.

  13. AS probs picked up on the story, and did their best to correct it and make good publicity (which they did).

    Complain and exploit their move for all its worth, but you can’t really expect positive action like this from a legacy carrier.

  14. Alaska: “lets introduce this new policy while people are still up in arms about united”
    “ah shoot theyre less angry now”

  15. I have a VX flight DAL-LGA booked using AS miles in early May. I have not been contacted yet but am curious how they I’ll handle this? I would not have booked this had I known it was an E175 – even AA would have been a better option.

  16. As a continued Gold/75K with Alaska, this is not a PR stunt. I’ve had uncountable exceptional customer service expierences with Alaska. I was a lil blown back by your pevious article about the ordeal. I don’t see Alaska intentionally going out of their way to screw people over. They also really do stand by their low fare guarantee when prices do fluxuate The first class of virgin may have been a more superior product but we are talking about a 3 hour domestic flight and the Embraer 175 is a dream to fly. Quiet, fast, quicker boardings, spacious seating, larger windows than the 787. The first class has a 1-2 configuration. I dont know if I would neccesarily call that an inferior product…

  17. Ok as the original reader who had there flight cancelled/changed/downgraded.
    If this is correct then I think that is an amazing result,
    I actually must say I wasn’t expecting that and I think it is beyond generous,
    @ Brian , as Ben said if you are flying in May you should have no issues,I was actually looking forward to flying on the Virgin 320 first class product…
    I called them today ( Australia time ) after reading some comments, first person knew nothing about it ( fair enough I guess ) but spoke to Customer Care and was assured that they were onto it, only reason for the delay was I booked via a 3rd party agent ( expedia )who hadn’t gotten back to them. But I am confident they are on the ball.

  18. @Kevin – LOL, Well done!

    As to this quick and customer friendly response from AS I do have to say they did a solid job in handling this. Given these changes are several months out it likely does impact only a small number of people but AS refunding the segment, which yes as has been pointed out that *may* not be the whole ticket but given VXs route network I don’t see many people flying DAL-LGA-XXX where from LGA on VX would one fly to? Further given most of VXs network is west coast I doubt there’s many people flying XXX-DAL-LGA period much less in F.

  19. Awesome! This is in line with my long feeling that we should have a right to get the same product or better as what was advertised when we booked it. Today, you have no rights if you end up with an inferior seat from what you booked. I am not sure where else it is ok for a consumer to get less than what they paid for.

  20. Alaska is so classy. It is the last airline in the United States that doesn’t treat its customers like cattle.

  21. @ Andrew, I thing Gary was being sarcastic, not unethical. As for unethical, old timers may remember another blogger that had ethics issues.


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