Alaska Airlines May Add Lie Flat First Class Seats for Cross Country Flights

Virgin America offers padded leather recliner chairs in first class with foot rests and 55 inches seat back to seat back.

That’s incredibly generous for most domestic routes. American is shrinking their first class from a ‘generous’ 38 inches for their new domestic standard product. Already Delta offers just 36 inches in first class on many planes.

However it’s not competitive on premium cross country routes where American, Delta, United, and jetBlue all offer flat beds in business class.

Alaska Airlines is scrapping the generous Virgin America product. (They’re also looking at making their economy product worse with basic economy too.) Alaska has said they expect to compete on cross country flights selling coach seats and selling their forward cabin for less than competitors and upgrading passengers into it.

A reader that I regularly correspond with shared notes from his 45 minute conversation with a senior Alaska Airlines executive (senior enough to be appointed by the board). This reader is a San Francisco-based regular Virgin America customer unhappy with the product changes.

Alaska has several Airbus narrowbody planes on order (‘neos’). And this executive says that Alaska intends to take possession of several of them “and use them to compete with Mint, DeltaOne, etc. on transcontinental flights between [Los Angeles and San Francisco] to East Coast destinations like New York and elsewhere.”

The seats aren’t yet selected, but this executive “assured it’s not a question of ‘if’ but rather of ‘when.'”

I did not have the conversation with this executive myself, however I consider the reader to be reliable. The named executive is someone who would certainly be aware of, and driving even, these plans. Since they’re not yet firm things could change but I take it to mean that Alaska is looking seriously at how they operate a subfleet that can compete in important and lucrative markets, rather than walking away from this business segment.

Alaska Airlines acquired Virgin America largely for access to and grow in important airports that they could get into on their own. Once in those markets they see the need to compete on product as well as price.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Good news indeed. Alaska must have a comparable product to Delta’s and United’s fine coast-to/coast product and service. Those who pay for first class will not stand for less.

  2. True but what about Gary’s second sentence regarding coach? Is AS joining in on the shrinking coach seating? One has to hope Congress at some point gets involved or they all will look like AA

    I am not as certain about ‘lay flat” cross country as some might be. A super comfortable FC seat works for me, internationally long haul different story but five hours is a walk in the park.

  3. Consistency would be nice here for all trans-con routes.

    Options out of Seattle with lay-flat beds are lacking at present.

  4. I’m with Chris on this – depending on how many neos are inbound, putting one or two on SEA-NYC or SEA-BOS routes (which almost always close to capacity) would seem to be a smart move.

    Either way, getting some upgraded FC product into the mix is a win, especially if it performs well and Alaska decides to continue the trend in other long-haul markets.

  5. It wouldn’t be surprising, but I thought Alaska could carve out a niche for itself on the transcon routes by targeting coach frequent flyers who would rather have a good chance of getting standard F upgrade than a poor chance of getting a flatbed upgrade as well as those who could convince their company to shell out for F if the price is 35-40% lower (and maintain similar margins as the others with a higher density of F seats).

  6. I think Alaska has to offer this, but Delta has previously struggled to make flat-bad seats work on domestic routes to/from Seattle. I also think Alaska’s hard product has been weak for years, but the soft product and the frequent flyer program made up for it. I’d switch from Delta if I could actually fly Alaska out of Detroit to other cities. Alaska needs a hub on the East Coast if it’s ever going to be more than a boutique West Coast airline. If I were Alaska, I’d make Baltimore a hub because here’s so much wealth and business in the Washington area. I imagine Baltimore would offer generous subsidies, too. There are probably other cities that would offer subsidies to be an Alaska hub or focus city.

  7. @FNT – Alaska already has more direct flights to the West Coast from DCA than any other airline. They fly to SEA, SFO, PDX, LAX, and DAL. I’ve flown almost all of these routes already this year, and lie-flats up front would be music to my ears!

  8. Just not happening. AS is content to let the Big 3 and B6 slug it out for the small premium transcon crowd while quietly going after a larger overall “leisure enthusiast” market segment and offering a 41” pitch F seat on all flights, better than anyone else’s non-premium F product. Especially when a big draw to the Mileage Plan are complimentary upgrades, something much easier to do with 12 or 16 F seats per flight.

  9. I was hoping the merger would open up more routes from smaller Western cities to DTW (i.e., through SFO or SAN), and maybe they still will do it. As it is now, most of the time, an overnight stay is required.

  10. In most public corporations, only the CEO is appointed by the board. Other C-level and senior executives are chosen by the CEO.

  11. ghostrider is spot on. Lie flat iis over kill on domestic transcon. As great and well priced as Mint is, if you gave me the VA first class seat for a hundred bucks less than Mint I’d take that every time.

  12. Personally, I’ve never quite understood — or should I say “needed” — a lie flat seat when traveling east-to-west, even on a late flight. Or, for that matter, west-to-east on a DAYTIME flight. But on a red-eye from (e.g.) LA or SF to NYC or Boston or Washington DC, it’s practically essential in F — a) to get a good rest on the aforementioned red-eye; and b) to remain competitive with the US3 and jetBlue. The transcontinental routes from NYC to LA and SF are the most competitive and busiest of all domestic routes. AS *needs* to do this or simply shift their transcon flights out of JFK, BOS, and IAD/DCA and move them to ISP, MHT, and BWI . . .

    As for Basic Economy . . . “Let us pray.”

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