When US Airways Flight 1939 pushes back from the gate at San Francisco International Airport tonight at 9:55pm PDT, another chapter of American aviation history will close. Flight 1939 will be the final departure of an airline that began in 1939 - the flight number was changed for the final flight - as "All American Aviation, a small Pennsylvania-based airmail outfit that would grow to become a regional player known as Allegheny Airlines." Just after departure, the US AIrways reservation system and website will go dark. Workers will begin "removing US Airways branding after the company's last flights on Friday. The goal is to have American Airlines signage up in its place by the time flights begin again on Saturday morning."
Today''s events are merely the last major step of the unification of US Airways and American Airlines whose merger was announced in February 2013. Numerous stages of the integration have occurred since the announcement:
- Airlines' cargo divisions integrated
- US Airways Dividend Miles and American AAdvantage frequent flyer programs merged
- Revenue accounting systems unified
- Employee and retiree travel functions rolled to American's system
American hopes the gradual approach will limit issues when the complex reservation system is cut over in the early hours of Saturday morning.
There is a certain irony to the disappearance of the US Airways name given that the airline was responsible for the disappearance of several iconic American aviation brands over the years. After changing its name from Allegheny Airlines to USAir, the carrier absorbed North Carolina's Piedmont Airlines in 1989, bringing its Charlotte-Douglas International Airport hub into the USAir network, a hub that grew to be the company's largest. US Airways later merged with America West Airlines, retaining the US Airways moniker and retiring the America West brand.
One could easily see this acquisition as yet another step in the growth of American Airlines. However, in a sense, it is really the story of not only America West's transformation from the country's second largest discount airline to the world's largest full-service airline, but also the meteoric career path of American CEO Doug Parker. In 2001, Parker was named CEO of America West. Upon merging with US Airways in 2005, Parker continued as CEO of the combined company. Then, last year, Parker assumed the role of CEO of American Airlines Group, Inc. Parker's journey from - ironically - financial analyst at American Airlines in the early 1980s to CEO of the world's largest airline via two mergers is quite amazing and may be just as much of the story as the combination of the two airlines.
Personally, I hate to see the US Airways brand disappear. No, I don't have the sam affinity for the company as I do my hometown Delta Air Lines. In fact, I only flew US Airways for one trip, but I enjoyed my experience and I thought the hub at Charlotte was much easier to navigate than Delta's megahub in Atlanta. Some of my earliest plane spotting was done at Charlotte-Douglas watching almost nothing but US Airways jets takeoff and land. But the history of commercial aviation, really corporate America in general, is about change and evolution. While we lament the passing of US Airways, one cannot help but excited about many of the changes during the past year at American. In fact, this loyal Delta flyer is looking forward to the next time I get to fly an American Airlines jet.
Goodbye to US Airways but hello to the bright future of American Airlines.