When the parent company of Alaska Airlines announced in April that it was buying Virgin America for $2.6 billion, many Virgin America loyalists worried that the purchase would mean the end of the Burlingame-based carrier.
But the chairman and chief executive of Alaska Air Group, Brad Tilden, told the Associated Press this week that Alaska is considering operating Alaska Airlines and Virgin America as two separate airlines.
After a speech at the Wings Club, an aviation professional group in New York, Tilden told the AP that he is "taking a good look at running two brands for some period of time, perhaps forever."
Such a move would be a departure from the recent mergers and acquisitions in the past decade or so that have seen U.S. Airways get folded into American Airlines and AirTran get swallowed up by Southwest Airlines, among others.
But operating the airlines separately could make sense given that Virgin America has a loyal following of passengers who love the carrier's mood lighting, high-tech, seat-back entertainment system and friendly service.
There's another reason to keep Virgin American around: The California carrier had the best score in 2013, 2014 and 2015 in the Airline Quality Rating report, a study by Wichita State University that rates all national carriers based on on-time performance, lost baggage rates, denied boarding data and passenger complaints.