The slow disappearing act of Virgin America has completed a crucial step: the Federal Aviation Administration has issued a license that allows Virgin America and Alaska Airlines to operate as one.
The "single operating certificate," issued Thursday, sets the stage for Alaska Air Group to finish consolidating Burlingame, Calif.-based Virgin America with Seattle-based Alaska Airlines, forming the fifth largest carrier in the United States, behind American, Delta, United and Southwest airlines.
Alaska Air Group paid $2.6 billion in 2016 to acquire Virgin America and announced plans to retire the brand by 2019.
Travelers can continue to make reservations on Virgin America's website until the two are consolidated in April. Virgin America's loyalty program has already been integrated into the Alaska Airlines program, and the payroll and benefits programs for employees of the two carriers have been merged.
Alaska Air Group expects to complete painting the fleet of nearly 70 Virgin America planes with the Alaska Airlines colors and logo by the end of 2019, according to an Alaska Airlines spokesman. Combined with the Virgin America fleet, Alaska Airlines has more than 220 passenger and cargo planes.