Alaska’s Virgin headache

Alaska Airlines has a problem in San Francisco. The hometown start-up Virgin America is encroaching on its turf, which has created some challenges for the Seattle-based legacy carrier.

“Our San Francisco network, for lack of a better word, is completely covered now by Virgin,” said Andrew Harrison, vice-president of planning and revenue management at Alaska, during an earnings call on 25 October. “They have launched on top of us in every market. So we’re seeing some challenges there.”

Where did all those gentle people with flowers in their hair go?

Alaska is not necessarily a large carrier at San Francisco – it only flies to Cabo san Lucas, Palm Springs, Portland, Puerto Vallarta and Seattle from the airport – but, as the primary facility for the bay area, it is an important destination for the airline.

Virgin has rapidly expanded its hub at the airport since its launch in 2007. It began service to Seattle – its first duplicate route from San Francisco with Alaska – in 2008 until it fully covered Alaska’s network from the airport with Portland service in June.

This is not the first time Alaska’s ire has focused on Virgin. The carrier led the push questioning its ownership structure with the US Department of Transportation in 2009, and maintained capacity in markets it shared with Virgin even when it cut capacity elsewhere during the 2008 recession.

Virgin did not respond to a request for comments on Alaska’s comment.

With invested interests in maintaining their operations at San Francisco, both airlines have a competitive road ahead as they try to maintain their edge in the market.

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