Virgin America & Alaska Airlines Aligning Check-in Times, Baggage Sizes & More

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Ok, I’ll admit it. This news appears to have been out for a couple of weeks but as well as somehow passing me by I don’t recall seeing it widely published… I thought I’d give it some publicity here.

Alaska Airlines is moving ahead with integrating Virgin America into its business and has recently announced a series of changes intended to align Virgin America’s policies and procedures with its own. Some of these will be seen as improvements while some will probably be seen as annoyances – each to their own!

Virgin America Policy Changes Effective 31 May 2017

Check-In Cut-Off Times

Old Virgin America Policy:

  • Passengers with no bags to check-in – 30 minutes before departure
  • Passengers checking in bags – 45 minutes before departure

New Virgin America Policy:

  • All passengers must check-in at least 40 minutes before departure.
  • For departures from Denver, Las Vegas and Philadelphia passengers much check in at least 45 minutes before departure.

people standing in a lobby with luggage

TFM Thoughts:

No doubt the requirement to now check in 40 – 45 minutes before departure will annoy some who regularly travel without checked luggage and who enjoy checking in at the last minute….but will it really make any difference?

Not really.

You don’t have to be at the airport to check-in nowadays (one of the benefits of smartphones) so I can’t see too many passengers being particularly inconvenienced by this change.

Boarding Times

Old Virgin America Policy:

  • Boarding commences 35 minutes before departure

New Virgin America Policy:

  • Boarding commences 40 minutes before departure

a sign with text on it

TFM Thoughts:

Ok, so you now get 5 fewer minutes in the lounge if you like to board early…..but if anyone feels slighted by this change a reassessment of life’s priorities may be needed 🙂

Hand Baggage Size

Old Virgin America Policy:

  • Maximum total of exterior dimensions (height + width + depth) should be no more than 50 inches

New Virgin America Policy:

  • Maximum total of exterior dimensions (height + width + depth) should be no more than 51 inches (i.e 24″ x 17″ x 10″)

a close-up of a suitcaseMy new preferred luggage from Briggs & Riley will now fit into Virgin America’s sizers even easier

TFM Thoughts:

If anyone notices this 1″ difference I’ll be stunned!

Unaccompanied Minors

Old Virgin America Policy:

  • Ages 5 to 11 are considered eligible for “unaccompanied minor” status
  • No unaccompanied minors allowed on connecting flights or flights that involve a stop at a midpoint city (thru/direct flights)
  • Unaccompanied minor costs vary between $75 and $125 depending on the length of the flight

New Virgin America Policy:

  • Ages 5 to 12 are considered eligible for “unaccompanied minor” status
  • Ages 5 to 7 only permitted on non-stop and thru/direct flights
  • Ages 8 to 12 allowed on all flights
  • Unaccompanied minor costs:
    • $25 on non-stop and thru/direct flights
    • $50 on flights with a connection

a group of stuffed animals on a bed

TFM Thoughts:

Finally we have some serious changes which could improve things for families quite significantly.

12 year olds can now fly as unaccompanied minors so parents who were unsure if their nearly-teenager was ready to travel on their own and without supervision no longer have to worry.

I’m not sure I can think of many connecting itineraries that Virgin America offers (on solely its own aircraft) but presumably the relaxation in policy which now allows some children to fly unaccompanied on connecting itineraries will come in useful when booking through Virgin America and connecting to Alaska (for example).

As for the price changes….I didn’t see these coming. These are steep price cuts that have been introduced – more great news for families.


Old Virgin America Policy:

  • No limit to the number of pets that are carried in the cabin
  • Only cats & dogs allowed

New Virgin America Policy:

  • No more than 5 pet carriers allowed in the main cabin with none allowed in First Class or Main Cabin Select.
  • Cats, dogs, household birds and “domesticated rabbits” allowed

a baby bird standing in grassIt may be cute but you still can’t bring it onboard

TFM Thoughts:

As someone who thinks that way too many people don’t seem to be able to survive a vacation without their ball of fur accompanying them I wholeheartedly welcome the cap on the number of animals allowed in the cabin….and applaud fervently the exclusion of animals from premium sections of the aircraft. The next step should now be to work out a way to put checks in place on what people are passing off as “service animals”.

Note: Alaska still allows 1 pet in its First Class cabins

As for the addition of birds and rabbits to the list of pets that can now fly…..I’m not sure that’s going to make much of a difference to may people’s lives.

Bottom Line

As I said a the beginning: I’m sure some will find reasons to complain about some of the changes but, for me, these are either are neutral or positive changes….and that’s a relief in an age when most airline changes appear to be anything but positive for the passenger.


  1. re earlier boarding ” if anyone feels slighted by this change a reassessment of life’s priorities may be needed ”

    where this winds up a bigger deal is that the airline isn’t likely to update delays earlier than they do today. so there’s a greater chance of a customer expecting an on time boarding, heading to the gate, only to discover a plane that isn’t there or ready to board.

    in other words, it isn’t about 5 minutes in the event of departure delays unless there are concomitant changes at ops.

    remember also that virgin america doesn’t (yet) have Alaska’s on time performance.

    • I completely agree re. Virgin not having anywhere near the same on time performance metrics as Alaska but doesn’t this rule change mean that flyers will, at most, still only be out of the lounge 5 minutes earlier than before the rule change?

      Assuming no rule change: If the flight is delayed and the departure boards are not updated the flyer will still aim to be at the gate for the expected boarding time…which is only 5 mins later than the rule change now makes it. Net loss is still only 5 mins.

      Now the fact that the Virgin flight may be delayed a lot longer and the fact that that’s annoying are separate matters.

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