As many of you undoubtedly know, Saturday, October 17th is a D-Day of sorts in the American Airlines-US Airways merger, as the two airlines are set to combine reservations systems and begin operating all flights using AA flight numbers going forward. That means tomorrow marks the end of a long-running chapter in aviation history – US Airways will operate its final flight as a stand-alone carrier.
Technically the very last US Airways flight will be Flight 1939 from San Francisco International Airport (SFO) to Philadelphia International Airport (PHL), leaving SFO at 9:55 P.M. PDT and arriving at PHL at 6:18 A.M. Saturday morning. Hence, the whole “flying into the sunrise” bit.
However, to commemorate the event, Flight 1939 will actually be operated on several segments throughout the day: PHL-Charlotte; Charlotte-Phoenix; and Phoenix-SFO before picking up the redeye back to Philadelphia. Commemorative events are planned at the gate areas in all four cities. The flight number, incidentally, was selected to notate the year US Airways began commercial operations (1939). Sort of, as I’ll explain below.
US Airways has had an interesting history. Unlike the remaining three legacy airlines – American, Delta, and United – “US Airways” came about as an amalgamation of several predecessor and merged airlines, and didn’t actually didn’t exist until well into the life of the carrier. Originally christened “All American Aviation” by its founders, the du Pont family, in 1939, it was renamed Allegheny Airlines in 1953, as a nod to its home in Pittsburgh. Allegheny was then rebranded “US Air” in 1979, but it wasn’t until a series of mergers in the 80s and 90s that the “US Airways” name appeared in 1997, almost a full 60 years after the founding of the original airline.
The variants of the US Airways family have celebrated a number of firsts in the American aviation industry, including the first codeshare agreement to run commuter flights with Henson Airlines (later Piedmont Airlines), being one of the first launch customers of the Boeing 737-300, and starting one of the first transatlantic alliances by operating flights with British Airways livery in the early 1990s.
Unfortunately, the company has also had an occasionally checkered history when it comes to customer service. Following a rapid period of expansion in the late 60s and early 70s, and mergers with Lake Central Airlines and Mohawk Airines, Allegheny earned the dubious nickname “Agony Air” due to its poor customer satisfaction ratings. Both US Air and US Airways haven’t exactly conjured up warm and fuzzy feelings with passengers over the years, either, particularly after the painful reservations systems integration with America West Airlines in 2007. Doug Parker, currently CEO of American, was CEO of the combined US Airways/America West then, so hopefully the lessons from that process have carried over.
I’m happy to report that I’ll be on the swan-song redeye the night of the 16th. In truth, I have zero connection to US Airways. I’m a lifelong resident of an American mega-hub, have never had so much as a client in a US hub, and have flown a grand total of 4 segments on the airline in my life. But hey, it’s the day after my biggest work deadline of the year, and hopping around the country on a plane doing not much of anything for 19 hours seemed like a good way to unwind. I’m planning to report on both the flight and the gate celebrations at SFO and PHL in real time, so follow along on Twitter and Instagram to join in the fun. Of course, if the res system cutover goes haywire, you might also be hearing about an impromptu road trip from Philadelphia to Dallas to get back home…
Photo at top: US Airways jet at DFW International Airport Terminal E, November 15, 2014.