Farewell to U.S. Airways

A water cannon salute for the final U.S. Airways flight.      (Charlotte Observer)

A water cannon salute for the final U.S. Airways flight.     (Charlotte Observer)

October 18, 2015

ON FRIDAY NIGHT, OCTOBER 16th, a U.S. Airways Airbus A321 took off from San Francisco and flew to Philadelphia. What was an otherwise routine red-eye to some of those on board was also the last-ever flight under the U.S. Airways name, bringing down the curtain on a company that traced its roots back more than three-quarters of a century.

When flight 1939, numbered in tribute to the year the airline was founded as All American Aviation, touched down a little before 6 a.m. on Saturday morning, the U.S. Airways brand officially ceased to exist, now fully and formally subsumed by American Airlines — a merger that has created what is for now the largest airline in the world (Emirates is knocking and knocking loudly).

You’ll be seeing jets in the U.S. Airways livery for a little while longer. The superficial parts of the change-over take some time. On the legal side, though, the deal is done.

All American changed its name to Allegheny Airlines in 1953. Later the company was known as USAir. It was never quite the biggest airline, and neither was it the best. Its international network, for example, was never more than a fraction of what United, American, or Delta have assembled, and the company’s passenger service reputation was mixed at best. Nonetheless, what originally was little more than a regional carrier in time became one of nation’s largest, gobbling up or otherwise combining with smaller players as it went along: Lake Central, Mohawk, Piedmont, Pacific Southwest (PSA), America West. (The carrier always had a big presence here in Boston. When I was a kid, Allegheny’s DC-9s and Bac One-Elevens swarmed noisily in and out of Logan by the dozens every day.)

Thus, U.S. Airways was itself quite an amalgamation of prior, call them “classic” carriers. In some ways the airline seemed to feel guilty in having taken over some of those classic older brands, a sentiment for which it rather awkwardly over-compensated: When USAir, as it was called at the time, purchased Piedmont and PSA in 1987, these brands had been so admired that a decision was made to keep the names alive. They were assigned to a pair of USAir Express affiliates. Suddenly, PSA, a name associated mainly with Southern California, found itself based in Ohio, while at airports along the Eastern Seaboard passengers could once again step aboard Piedmont. Sort of. As it were. The Allegheny name was assigned to yet a third Express division.

It’s hard to feel overly sentimental for a name that was really just a bunch of other names. Still, it’s sad to see them go.

There’s been a lot of this in recent years. The vanishing of the Northwest, TWA and Continental names come to mind, to say nothing of the many post-Deregulation knockouts, from Eastern to Braniff to Pan Am. What other brands, we wonder, are destined for that big tarmac in the sky?

 

Addendum: As I type this, it’s Tuesday morning and I’m sitting in the U.S. Airways — er, American Airlines — terminal at Boston-Logan, boarding an “American Shuttle” flight to Washington-Reagan. How strange that sounds: American Shuttle. We’ll need to get used to it.

Here in the Northeast, the various “shuttles” have been operating for decades, connecting Boston, La Guardia, and Washington. Their histories can be confusing: U.S. Airways Shuttle was a hand-me-down from Donald Trump. The Trump Shuttle, as it was called, was the famous Eastern Shuttle before that.

One terminal over, meanwhile, is the Delta Shuttle (now operated by both mainline Delta and contractor “Connection” carriers). Delta’s Shuttle had previously been the Pan Am Shuttle, parted out to Delta as Pan Am dismantled itself back in the early 1990s.

 

Related Story:
THE TRAGEDY OF THE NEW AMERICAN AIRLINES LIVERY

 

Cover thumbnail: Flight 1939 in Philadelphia (Washington Post)

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31 Responses to “Farewell to U.S. Airways”
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  1. Keelan says:

    Kind of sad really, shame that all that tradition has been thrown away.

  2. Christopher Gray says:

    Not relevant to this post, but, Patrick, when will carriers actually have displays in the terminal of what happens in an evac? So it’s clear that bringing your laptop and high heels is not so good? For that matter, I’d like to lift one of those doors they are always asking me if I can lift. And see what the cabin looks like in a fire condition.

    Christopher Gray, flew TWA

  3. Deserttrek says:

    Flew Piedmont, Mohawk and Allegheny throughout the early 70’s. Good service and Piedmont was always my favorite even with old Convairs.

  4. They will always be US Air to me – Stephen Wolf, the gobbler of airlines who made a fortune on stock options with PanAm, US Air and flying Tiger, decided it sounded classier to call then “Airways” – they never had very good in-flight service, and they were only average over-all, but as Patrick says, it’s still a little sad to see them go.

    I always loved the service on Piedmont and PSA, both of whom had the local flavor of the South and California, respectively. I know the PSA employees were particularly sad to see the “smile” painted on the front of the plane, go.

    American is certainly a great airline (not so much the new paint job which I think looks like a rainbow ice-cream cone) but let’s give tribute to all the others that were gobbled up, especially all the loyal employees of these airlines

  5. Robert says:

    After having flown USAir for years, my most memorable experience happened in Philly (surprised?) ….my wife and I were to fly from Philly to Vancouver and had to change to fly to Seattle or Portland if necessary ….. whatever worked …. no preference, really…
    After we were able to disengange the “customer service rep” from here get-down convo with the boyz, we explained our situation, calmy and quietly (we weren’t pressed form time), her reaction, after an up-and-down visual check out of us, was, “Well wa do ya wan ME to do ‘bout it?”, and rejoined her chat-fest.

    I’ll never forget it ….. I guess I could blame Philly as much as USAir, but we were able to find a more amenable rep, apart from da dudes, who spent 45 minutes with us, competently arranging changes and we were able to get where we wanted to go.

    As I said, it was probably less of a USAir issue as it was Philly issue.

    Heretofore, we always avoid the dump.

  6. Ralph Goonan says:

    The United-Continental merger ticks me off, especially as a Texan who admired Continental. UAL was struggling and needed the merger, so Continental stepped in. Continental was healthier, but they took the United name and adopted their culture. Now they suck.

  7. Peter Smith says:

    Reminds me of the story of the last run of the 20th Century Ltd. I once read in a book called “All Aboard With E. M. Frimbo.” Well done.

  8. Katherine says:

    Companies have human beings behind them. I worked as a flight attendant for US Airways from September 2000 to December 2001, encompassing 9/11 and being involuntarily furloughed because of it. I was based in BOS and worked very hard, as did many of my colleagues, to deliver great customer service to our passengers. For every one who was bored with the job there were several of us who cared passionately about it. I remember many of my colleagues with great fondness. It was not always easy knowing we were considered by some a second class airline but we were proud of efforts and often delivered a first class service. Sad day for me.

    • Rod says:

      US Airways flight attendants certainly performed flawlessly during Captain Sully’s approach to and after his landing on the Hudson. One can’t ask for more than that.

    • JuliaZ says:

      Every time I flew US Airways, the flight was late. EVERY TIME. *sigh* Older and wiser, I know that there are many factors that can contribute to a flight’s on-time arrival, some of them not under the airline’s control. I will say that the FAs were often excellent, friendly and clearly interested in their jobs. I always like to see that, and so to those who loved their jobs with US Airways, I’m sorry.

  9. David Bunin says:

    How many more brands are there to retire? The big four (American, United, Delta, Southwest) show no signs of additional merging or retirement. The “state airlines” (Alaska and Hawaiian) have managed to stave off acquisition.

    What other part 121 carriers exist today flying under a brand that traces back to the propeller days?

  10. Ma Zhenguo says:

    Nice article!!

  11. Rod says:

    Well, that’s capitalism — an endless process of consolidation until almost everything is in the hands of The Few.
    Dan uses the term “exceedingly crappy”. That’s how I’d describe US Air’s livery.

    • Eric says:

      Rod…c’mon…(holds head in hands).

      You’ve made up a definition of what the word “capitalism” means to you. Capitalism has no “consolidation goals” in it’s tenants.

      You should move to a country with a socialist/communist system; it’s obviously paradise in these places and you would love it. Be sure to vote Bernie Sanders! He’ll replace our system with a socialist system, and then your life will improve – guaranteed.

      • Corey says:

        We HAVE a socialist system now, it’s just that nobody calls it that.
        It’s called a “mixed economy” and every Western democratic society has one. We just happen to spend more of our tax takings on the military and less on actual health care than all other (more civilized) first world countries.

        Self-avowed Socialists, marching in the streets, were responsible for (among other things) today’s lack of child labor, the minimum wage, the 40-hour work week, paid vacation, Women’s Suffrage…. oh, all things that so-called libertarians would never really want to live without (that’s why they’re not moving to Somalia)

        As for Mr. Sanders, I doubt he will ever win, since there is such an irrational fear of the word Socialism. Witness the ignorant comment of our friend Eric here.

        • Eric says:

          The only ignorance on display here is your affections for Socialism, and your statement that we have a socialist system in place. Taxes are a necessary evil for any government; if you don’t like that ours spends a good deal of it on bullets instead of “FREE” healthcare and “FREE” education, that’s too bad – you can’t make up your own definitions.

          While not a 100% pure Capitalist system (it’s best described as a Crony Capitalist system), it’s still miles away from the systems that are in place in other countries…countries that you should relocate to so you can enjoy their superior system.

          Lastly, organized labor (i.e. Unions) are the reason we have a 40 hour work week, etc. that you listed…not socialism.

          You should do some studying. This site has it mostly correct: http://www.diffen.com/difference/Capitalism_vs_Socialism

          • UncleStu says:

            I do not believe Patrick’s web site is an appropriate place for political discussions.

            They steer the entire comment section away from whatever Patrick’s article was about.

            I hope it will end here, and that other visitors will avoid being drawn in by them. There are plenty of other web sites where politics can be argued.

            Thank you.

          • Alex says:

            Patrick’s articles used to run on the batshit crazy left-wing website known as Salon.com, so unfortunately when he went independent his site ended up inheriting some of its patrons.

    • Don Beyer says:

      You are correct Rod. It’s true with Railroads Four major eastern systems and four western are down to two each. Then seven sisters of the AT&T break up are down to three or four. Cell phone networks. Cable TV, Oil are all industries that have consolidated into a handful. If consolidation isn’t a goal of capitalism, then why does nearly every capitalistic country have laws against anti-competitive behavior and require government approval for mergers. Nothing pushes up stock prices like mergers.

      The results of these airline mergers have shut down hubs. Dozens of routes now require far longer flight times flying the wrong direction or past the destination to a hub airport instead of near straight line routes. City pairs that had six or more airline choices are down to two or three.

      • Eric says:

        Don;

        You and Rod are confused about what capitalism is. A capitalistic economy depends on competition; that’s why there are anti-monopoly laws you refer to. Capitalism depends on competition keeping prices down for the consumer; no competition = higher prices.

        You’re focusing on mega corporations, which is a meager number; look at the big picture of hundreds of thousands of businesses of all sizes.

        The bottom line is that our economy got to be the size it is due to capitalism.

  12. Tod Davis says:

    My only experience with U.S. Airways was from San Francisco to Charlotte. My main memory was the bad catering on the flight. The flight took off at around noon and they advertised a choice between a sandwich or a bowl of fruit salad.
    It turns out they only had about 10 sandwiches on board and about 150 fruit salads. Not bad for a flight which left right on lunch time.

    • James says:

      My last US Air flight was SEA-PHL. I flew first class, departing at about 10AM. There was no entertainment service on the flight, which surprised me (my normal airline is Virgin America, out of SFO.) The crew was professional enough, but overall there wasn’t enough to recommend the airline. The flight I was on was full.

      I note that post merger, American no longer gas a direct service between Seattle and Philadelphia.

  13. Sean says:

    I happened to fly American twice today (October 18) and was amused at how former US Airways personnel were having difficulty remembering the switch. The flight attendant on one flight welcomed us to US Air-no wait, American 1234, and apologized for having to read the pre-flight briefing as it had changed and it was her first flight as a American employee. In DCA, I heard an announcement that US Airways flight 6789 was boarding and wondered if someone waiting to board American 6789 might simply ignore the announcement. And yes, US Airways was terrible at customer service in my limited experience, so it will be interesting to see how they employees adapt. Based on my very limited experience today, they have been trained well; I was impressed with the overall experience start to finish.

    • James says:

      That happened to me on a United flight SFO-EWR two years after the Continental merger, the flight attendant greeted us to the Continental flight…

  14. Don Beyer says:

    I think America West purchased US Airways, but obviously kept the US Airways name. Notice not long after the PSA purchase, PSA’s entire route system disappeared. Quite common when airlines merge. AA with AirCal. Reno TWA. Republic [NW] with Hughes Air West. The most likely “airlines” to disappear next are the “Regionals” Who doesn’t mourn the loss of such storied “airlines” Comair; Pinnacle, Mesaba, Atlantic Coast, Chautauqua, and ASA.

    • T Briggs says:

      Yes they did. That’s supported by the USAir call sign “Cactus” which was a leftover from the America West acquisition. If you’ve ever listened to the ATC communications with USAir #1549 (Sully’s) you hear them all using the Cactus identifier.

  15. Eric_G says:

    First time I ever flew was from JST to BOS via PIT, all on Agony Airlines. By that time it was already USair, but everyone still called it Allegheny. I’m sure the plastic wings I got are at my parent’s house somewhere.

  16. Dan Ullman says:

    Piedmont, at least, was more of murder than a celebration of the name. Almost immediately after it was purchased the name became associated with the exceedingly crappy and not very safe commuter aircraft of the early eighties. Express aircraft is a euphemism for “you can’t sue the airline named on the side of the plane when it crashes.”

  17. Gene says:

    And now my sister works for AA, her third line without changing jobs or station.