Bidding a fond adieu to quirky Virgin America Airlines

Bye Bye Virgin America Airlines hello Alaska

Alaska absorbs the little airline that was
Patti Pietschmann reporting

An Elevate member and avid fan of Virgin America I was disheartened to learn that it soon will be eaten up by its newish owners Alaska Airlines. This was really surprising especially after Alaska awarded Elevate members generous extra miles to convert from Virgin to it (which I did). (Also check out Delta vs Virgin America).
Below is onde of the First Class meals I enjoyed on Virgin America

That’s me using the free WiFi in the Loft, VA’s lofty LAX lounge, before the flight hope Alaska keeps its.

Alaska made it official yesterday sending out press releases that read, “Alaska Airlines and Virgin America today shared their vision for the future of the combined carrier, as the company solidifies its status as the West Coast’s premier airline”

“After careful consideration, the combined company will adopt Alaska’s name and logo, retiring the Virgin America name likely sometime in 2019. However, the combined airline will adopt many of the brand elements that Virgin America enthusiasts love about their favorite airline, including enhanced in-flight entertainment, mood lighting, music and the relentless desire to make flying a different experience for guests. The goal is to create a warm and welcoming West Coast-inspired vibe.”
“Our goal from the very beginning of this merger was to become the go-to airline for people on the West Coast, with low fares, convenient flights, a premium product and genuine, caring service,” said Brad Tilden, CEO of Alaska Air Group. “Three months in, we’ve dramatically grown our presence in California and are united behind a new purpose: Creating an airline people love.”
Alaska has been actively growing the airlines’ newly combined networks since closing the merger in December. Earlier this month, the airline announced 21 new markets with 25 new daily departures out of San FranciscoSan DiegoLos Angeles and San Jose, California – marking the largest addition of routes in the company’s history.
“We spent the last 10 months conducting extensive research and listening carefully to what fliers on the West Coast want most,” said Sangita Woerner, Alaska Airlines’ vice president of marketing. “While the Virgin America name is beloved to many, we concluded that to be successful on the West Coast we had to do so under one name – for consistency and efficiency, and to allow us to continue to deliver low fares.”
Alaska said it  will spend the next few years making major enhancements and incorporating favorite elements of the Virgin America experience.
Enhancements include:
  • Modern, warm and welcoming vibe – Music from fresh new artists will be featured on planes, in airport lobbies and at gates. In 2018, Alaska will debut an entirely redesigned cabin with new seats and amenities, and has already started to retrofit select Boeing aircraft with expressive blue mood lighting. Modern, stylish uniforms by fashion designer Luly Yang will roll out in mid-2019 for flight attendants, customer service agents, pilots, mechanics and ground crew.
  • Satellite connectivity – Alaska’s entire fleet of Boeing 737 passenger aircraft will be equipped with high-speed satellite Wi-Fi beginning in fall 2018, with the remainder of the Airbus fleet to follow. Both fleets are expected to be fully satellite-equipped by the end of 2019.
  • More premium seats –Premium seating will be expanded across the Airbus fleet beginning in the fourth quarter of 2018. The number of First Class seats will increase by 50 percent (going from eight seats in the Airbus First Class cabin to 12) and are customized for enhanced comfort, featuring 41 inches of pitch, improved seatback storage pockets, cup holders, footrests and personal power outlets throughout the cabin. The redesigned Airbus cabins will also feature 18 new Premium Class seats with 35 inches of pitch and complimentary beer, wine and cocktails.
  • The country’s top-ranked frequent flier program – In 2018, Alaska Mileage Plan will become the sole loyalty program for both airlines, offering guests more rewards, an expansive global partner network and the only major airline loyalty program that still rewards a mile flown with a mile earned on Alaska and Virgin America flights. Members of Alaska Mileage Plan enjoy some of the most generous benefits in the industry including complimentary upgrades, award travel starting at 5,000 miles one-way (plus taxes and fees) and a faster path to elite status compared to other airlines. With Alaska and Alaska Global Partners, members can earn and redeem miles to more than 900 destinations worldwide.
  • Complimentary upgrades – With 50 percent more premium seats being introduced to the Airbus fleet, elite loyalty members will enjoy the most generous complimentary upgrades in the industry. Mileage Plan MVP Golds and above are upgraded to First Class or Premium Class 75 percent of the time (based on average historic system wide rates of upgrade) on Alaska Airlines flights. Complimentary upgrades on Airbus aircraft will debut for the first time ever in late 2018.
  • Free movies – In January, Alaska launched a temporary promotion offering its entire catalog of more than 200 movies and TV shows for free. Starting now, free entertainment on guests’ own devices will be a permanent feature on its Boeing fleet and the same free library of movies and TV shows will expand to Airbus aircraft via Red entertainment system in August 2017. Guests on Airbus aircraft will continue to enjoy access to early release movies for purchase.
  • Free Chat™ – In January 2017Alaska became the first and only U.S. airline to offer Free Chat onboard and will expand Free Chat to Airbus-operated flights in August 2017. Guests can stay connected to friends and family on the ground via Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp and iMessage.
  • West Coast-inspired food and beverage – Alaska and Virgin America continue to enhance their fresh, healthy, West Coast-inspired onboard food and beverage menus. Both airlines will sell y craft brews, premium wines and imroved food options. By June 2017, Alaska First Class passengers will be able to pre-select meals before they fly, and by early 2018, Alaska’s Main Cabin passengers will be able to pre-pay for their meals before they fly. Food pre-ordering will be extended to Airbus flights sometime in the future.
  • Lounge expansion – By early 2019, there will be expanded airport lounges in SeattlePortland and Los Angeles, as well as new lounges in San Francisco and at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. The expansion plans will double the square footage of Alaska’s airport lounges. Members also currently enjoy access to more than 60 partner lounges throughout the United States and around the world.
Fans of Virgin America still have time to enjoy the ride.

Have a Zinful ‘Cinco de Vino” at Rosenblum Cellars in Alameda

Zinfully delicious

Get ready to party on Cinco de Mayo– Mexico’s Independence Day which is celebrated with a passion throughout Los Angeles and most of California. Every Mexican restaurant worth its margaritas with salt in Los Angeles puts on a party on the 5th of May. Downtown bursts with piñata parties and fiestas and people pretty much use the day as a good excuse to get well, blotto with tequila, beer and wine.

Speaking of the latter, if perhaps you’d like to get away from it all but still have fun, you might enjoy a drive up the coast from Los Angeles to Alameda (well you have to go to San Francisco and hop a ferry because this  quaint, picturesque place just across the Bay.

One of the best little wineries of northern California, Rosenblum Cellars, known as the original “urban wine experience”, winery is tucked away in an old railroad building in the center of Alameda shipyards. It is there you will taste some zesty Zinfandels. If you go up there for Cinco de Mayo, you can also enjoy a wine soaked barbecue picnic from Noon to 4 p.m. (prices are $29 for club members and $39 for others when booked on-line).

The Zinfanatic winery staff exude an old town warmth and friendliness with any of the pomp and ceremony of Napa, but with wine just as good. It’s just a short ferry ride across San Francisco Bay. You can fly up to SFO from Los Angeles on Southwest (www.southwest.com)  or Virgin America (www.virginamerica.com), or drive. If you pick the road route, go on-line for directions at www.rosenblumcellars.com.

The Travel Diva’s Trip to New York

The view from our suite at the New York Palace Hotel

Gavin Couper, manager of the Executive Lounge–an amiable Brit imported from the Dorchester, Gavin gave a pleasant, sophisticated touch to the room.

The extravagant entrance to Gilt.

It was an eventful week away. All came up roses until our Avis rental car was stolen. But let’s start with the good stuff first.
We flew Virgin America to JFK–our first time on this carrier. It was okay. Seats a bit cramped in main cabin (really coach) but didn’t look much better in “main cabin select” or “first class”. Had to buy food–opted for chicken wraps which were pretty good for $9 each. Anyhow it got us there on time.
First stop the New York Palace–now operated by the prestigious Dorchester Collection, the handsome hotel sports one of the most accommodating staff’s in town (at least they treated us well), gorgeous appointments and public areas. We had a massive suite on the 41st floor in the “Towers” which offers private check-in and privileges. We also opted for the executive lounge add on and were thrilled we did.
The suite life: huge living room WiFi, views, two baths, one big one with tub, shower, two sinks, lushes Acqua di Parma toiletries, comfy bed covered in divine, upscale linens; flat screen tvs, robes, slippers and of course hair dryer etc. . There’s a fully equipped fitness center that’s free for all and has it all including a locker room with steam bath and showers, workout clothes to borrow, toiletries and best of all it’s free for hotel guests.
We needed the gym to counteract all the tasty food. But of course we got plenty of exercise walking around the city. We even did museums. We were actually in town during restaurant week and had a price fixed three course lunch at Alto, nearby for $24 each, unheard of here. We did the museums, took out Mexican one night from Chipotle nearby and even watched a Yankee game on the flat screen.

We made good use of the Executive Club Lounge–a tres elegant spot for breakfast, lunch and evening drinks and snacks. The morning spread is a real feast with everything from fresh raspberries to scrambled eggs and bacon, breads, cheeses and a whole lot more. Our yeah, I discovered I could actually order an espresso or cappuccino, so I did ’causee I could. Lunch is slightly less generous but enough with great sandwiches and salads. Evening is just a few nibbles served with wine, beer and soft drinks.
And a glorious dinner at Gilt……..the piece de resistance
Where we had a romantic table with a view of the knock down gorgeous room. Richard (my mate) sipped a Martini while I started on a bottle of mighty fine Talbot
Chardonnay. We dined on a truly amazing English pea ravioli–delicate and delicious, perfectly prepared halibut with poached oysters and baby veggies, Tangy Ono ceviche, moist and deliciousblack cod, authentic NY cheesecake (man it was good) and Strawberry short cake. Since we just flew in from the west coast and were guarding against jet lag we skipped coffee but I sure was jonesing for a cup.
Some Gilt-toids: two Michelin star rating, housed in Landmark Villard Mansion. New American cuisine created by executive chef Justin Bogle. Gorgeous appointmentsAn 8,000 bottle wine cellar, artisanal breads, real 14 K Gold bar.

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