By Michael Goldstein, Forbes
The top US airlines in terms of market share as of January 2018 are American, with 18.3% of the domestic market, with Southwest (18.2%), Delta (16.8%) and United (14.9%) close behind. Jet Blue trailed the Big 4, with 5.5% of the market, followed by Alaska with 4.8%. However, the data does not seem to include Virgin America, which began merging with Alaska in 2016.
When Alaska's market share is combined with Virgin's 1.1% share, other sources rank the Alaska/Virgin combination as the 5th largest airline, ahead of Jet Blue. But even if the combined Alaska/Virgin entity controls 6% of the market, it has a long way to grow to compete with the top four players.
While Alaska Airlines was ranked the leader among US airlines again in terms of service, a number of indicators suggest that the merger may still be a work in progress. (The fact that Alaska lost my checked bag on a recent 1st Class former Virgin flight from Newark to Los Angeles, did not retrieve it for two days, then woke up my entire household by delivering the bag at 4:57AM may be such an indicator.)
Alaska announced its acquisition of quirky, yet innovative Virgin America, founded by Richard Branson in 2004, in December 2016. The purchase price was $2.6 billion. Virgin continued to operate its own flights until April 24 of this year. That's when Virgin's Flight 1947 made its last take-off from Los Angeles, on a 9:35PM flight to its former home base of San Francisco.
Many pieces were written about the end of the innovative Virgin experience, including this letter from founder Branson on how "there is a point at which we have to let go."
But in reality, although the two airlines have finally merged their passenger-service systems and gone to one logo at airports, the Virgin experience is still in place on many Alaska aircraft. They are still painted in Virgin America colors, still equipped with Virgin America literature and equipment and still crewed by flight crew in Virgin America uniforms. A flight attendant on a recent "Alaska" flight told me it would take another year for Virgin crews trained on the Airbus A321 to be certified on Boeing aircraft in Alaska's existing fleet, and vice-versa.