Last updated: 01:30 PM ET, Fri April 08 2016

Why Losing the Virgin America Auction Was Good for JetBlue

Airlines & Airports | Josh Lew | April 08, 2016

Why Losing the Virgin America Auction Was Good for JetBlue

Photo courtesy of JetBlue Airways

When JetBlue was outbid by Alaska Airlines as it attempted to purchase Virgin America, it was fairly categorized as an upset. A lot of industry watchers and Virgin America customers saw JetBlue as a better fit for Virgin, as both carriers were on the cutting edge as far as in-flight entertainment, and they had similar youthful, hip images. 

Alaska Airlines, while not in the same stodgy category as America’s legacy carriers, certainly lacks the tech-savvy coolness that JetBlue and Virgin enjoy. 

Is JetBlue the perfect Virgin alternative?

It is not totally clear how Alaska will handle Virgin. Expectations are that there will be changes that will undoubtedly be good for the airline’s business model, but that will take away some of the features and experiences that Virgin America fans have come to appreciate. 

JetBlue is well aware that Virgin’s frequent fliers are concerned about losing the in-flight experience. In fact, they aren’t even waiting around for Alaska to kill in-flight Wi-Fi or change Virgin’s hip image. ‘Blue has already launched a campaign called Calling All JetBlue Virgins. The hashtag #JetBlueVirgins has been getting a fair bit of play on Twitter.

READ MORE: Why Is JetBlue Opening Offices in Silicon Valley?

Calling all “JetBlue virgins”

The airline is running a sweepstakes that will give away 500 round trip flights to people in New York and California who have not flown with JetBlue before. Virgin America is best known for its flights in between these two states, so though the sweepstakes does not explicitly target Virgin America customers (it is open to all fliers who haven’t used JetBlue before), it is obvious that the contest was created with these potentially disgruntled and disappointed customers in mind.

On the sweepstakes signup page, there is a list of traits that make JetBlue stand out. The list includes ample leg room, the free in-flight entertainment and free Wi-Fi access, and branded snacks and drinks. These are similar to some of the most popular features offered by Virgin America. 

The fine print states that the sweepstakes is valid for flights between the following destinations: New York (JFK), San Francisco (SFO), Long Beach (LGB), Los Angeles (LAX) and Las Vegas (LAS). These destinations are all served by Virgin (except for Long Beach). Again, only New York and California residents are eligible, and entrants must have never flown on JetBlue before. 

READ MORE: The Rapidly Changing World of In-Flight Entertainment

The only cool, tech-savvy airline left

So actually, it looks like JetBlue could benefit from not posting the winning bid during Virgin’s auction. As the only remaining tech-savvy, cool, and customer-friendly option, it may get a large share of Virgin’s customer base anyway. It would not be a surprise to eventually see JetBlue establish service on routes that Virgin America flies. With the recent upgrades to its planes, it is clear that JetBlue wants to compete on service and image, not just fares. With Virgin out of the picture, there is really no one else to compete when it comes to these things.

Anyone who values connectivity, modern IFE systems and branded experience will only have one choice, JetBlue. This means that it could turn out that losing the auction for Virgin was the best thing that ever happened to ‘Blue. 


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