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US Airways’ Final Flight

SmarterTravel

As did many legacy U.S. airlines, US Airways began life as a humble mail-carrier.

Seventy-four years later, after absorbing Lake Central Airlines, Mohawk Airlines, Piedmont, and Pacific Southwest Airlines, and being acquired by America West, US Airways merged with American Airlines. And on Saturday, October 17, when flight US1939 (the year of the airline’s founding) lands in Philadelphia, US Airways will cease to exist altogether.

During the carrier’s later years, it was in and out of bankruptcy twice, and its customer-satisfaction and operational-performance ratings were routinely well below industry averages. US Airways’ passing won’t be mourned by many flyers.

But the airline played a major role in the history and development of U.S. aviation, which shouldn’t go unrecognized. And I have a few lasting memories of US Airways myself, from my days as a marketing manager with All Nippon Airways in the 1990s.

  • On March 3, 2003, I and several ANA colleagues enjoyed a splendid view of the Pentagon, on a US Airways flight from Washington to Pittsburgh. When we arrived at our hotel, to meet with the US Airways Dividend Miles marketing team, the check-in clerk informed us that U.S. troops had invaded Iraq, likely just as we had been admiring the Pentagon. Over dinner in the hotel restaurant, all eyes were on CNN’s coverage of the war; there was little discussion of reciprocal frequent-flyer program tie-ups.
  • Visiting the Dividend Miles customer-service center in Winston-Salem, I was struck by the undisguised loyalty of many of the agents to their previous employer, Piedmont, which US Airways had acquired several years earlier. T-shirts and memorabilia and under-the-breath mutterings all proclaimed, “US Air may own us, but we’ll always be Piedmont.”
  • During a trip to Tokyo to sign a joint marketing agreement, the ANA headquarters group treated the US Airways delegation to a very expensive kaiseki-style lunch in a traditional tatami-room restaurant. I had to explain to one of the US Airways representatives that no, this was not how Japanese workers normally lunched. (She was a sweet North Carolina gal, who hadn’t seen much of the world.)

Sentimentality aside, the big story here is less US Airways than it is the industry’s consolidation — the disappearance of TWA, Pan Am, Continental, Northwest, AirTran, PSA, Piedmont, and others, and the transformation of the Big Ten major airlines into the Big Four. Those four — American, Delta, Southwest, United — now control around 85 percent of the U.S. domestic market.

The Big Four, in seeking regulatory approval for the mergers and acquisitions that have given them outsized pricing power, have argued that industry consolidation would be a benefit not just to their shareholders, but to the traveling public as well.

If you believe that, I have a first-class round-the-world US Airways ticket I’d be happy to sell you.

Reader Reality Check

What will you miss about US Airways?

This article originally appeared on FrequentFlier.com.

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