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.
THE TRAGEDY OF THE NEW AMERICAN AIRLINES LIVERY
Cover thumbnail: Flight 1939 in Philadelphia (Washington Post)