MIAMI — Alaska Air Group has announced today that it has closed the purchase of Virgin America. The definitive merger agreement signed last April and approved by Virgin America shareholders in July, will create the fifth largest airline in the United States.

To mark the occasion, the Group unveiled a specially painted Boeing 737-900ER (N493AS • MSN 41727 • LN 5738), featuring design elements of each carrier’s brand with a commemorative red, purple and blue livery and the slogan “More to love,” is now flying from Seattle to San Francisco. Upon arrival, Alaska Air leaders will join Virgin America, Alaska Airlines and its sister airline, Horizon Air employees, in order to announce the next steps to come.

The Virgin America brand future is yet to be decided

In a press release, Alaska Air Group highlighted that the combined operation will create an expanded route network with nearly 1,200 daily flights to 118 destinations in the United States, Mexico, Canada, Costa Rica and Cuba.

The Group also plans to keep the Virgin America brand, fleet and product “for a period of time while it conducts extensive customer research to understand what fliers value the most,” with no immediate changes to the onboard product or experience.

“We appreciate that there is great interest in the future of the Virgin America brand among customers and employees alike,” Brad Tilden, Alaska Air CEO said in a statement. “This is a big decision and one that deserves months of thoughtful and thorough analysis. We plan to make a decision about the Virgin America brand early next year.”

According to Tilden, “Alaska Airlines and Virgin America are different airlines, but we believe different works – and we’re confident fliers will agree. The two airlines may look different, but our core customer and employee focus is very much the same.”

A single Frequent-Flier program and leadership changes

Starting Monday, December 19, Mileage Plan and Virgin America Elevate members will be able to earn miles on each other’s flights, while the elite members of both carriers will also receive priority check-in and boarding, on each other’s flights as well. On this same date, customers will be able to purchase Virgin America tickets at Alaska Airlines website. Tickets will continue to be available for sale at Virgin America’s site for the immediate future.

Beginning on January 9, 2017, Alaska Airlines will ask Virgin America Elevate members to open new Mileage Plan accounts.

“Beginning Monday, Virgin America Elevate members and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan members will enjoy reciprocal rewards earning across each other’s networks,” said Tilden. “We plan to make this the most customer-friendly merger ever, and we will have much more to announce over the coming weeks.”

The leadership for the new combined operation will be led by Alaska Air CEO Brad Tilden. Ben Minicucci, Alaska Air’s chief operating officer, will service at the CEO of the Virgin America unit. Peter Hunt, who was Virgin America’s senior vice president and chief financial officer, will become president of the Virgin America subsidiary.

Both Minicucci and Hunt’s positions are effective today, and the Corporate headquarters of the new entity will be located in Seattle.

The Alaska Air Group said that it will work with the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)  in order to obtain the certification that will allow both carriers to operate as a single one, while Horizon Air, Alaska Airlines’s regional subsidiary will remain on its own with a separate operating certificate.