Six Years Ago: US Airways Flies Into The Sunset

On Friday, October 17th, 2015, US Airways was officially no more – at least on paper. Coming over two years after the airline announced it would merge with American Airlines, it was the end of an era for the airline and capped off a series of airline mergers to create the landscape of carriers that dominate the US to this day.

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Six years ago, US Airways flew its last flight as it merged with American Airlines. Photo: Getty Images

US Airways has a long history

Flight 1939 was aptly named, given that US Airways traced its history back to 1939 to a company called All American Aviation. Like most airlines tracing their roots to the early days of aviation, the company mainly flew regional routes and focused on airmail before branching out to passenger operations.

As the airline began to grow, it decided to shed its original name in favor of Allegheny Airlines until deregulation. Allegheny paid homage to the founding of the airline in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Prior to 1978, the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) controlled nearly every aspect of airline networks and fares. However, with the passage of the Airline Deregulation Act, the entire competitive landscape of the United States, with airlines free to fly more routes than they could before.

Six Years Ago: US Airways Flies Into The Sunset
The USAir name did not come around until 1979. Photo: Getty Images

Allegheny decided to rebrand to appeal to a larger swath of travelers. It named itself USAir, started taking larger aircraft, and began to grow across the United States. It even acquired some airlines along the way, including Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) and Piedmont, in the 1980s.

It was not too long before US Airways turned its attention to becoming a known presence outside the United States. In the 1990s, the airline expanded its route network to cover international routes in Europe. In 1997, the airline underwent another rebranding to US Airways.

In the post-9/11 landscape, the discussion of mergers in the US ramped up, and US Airways started hunting around for a partner. In 2005, after filing for bankruptcy in 2004, it found a partner in America West. The US Airways brand survived the merger, though the America West identifier, “Cactus,” survived – as did America West’s management.

Six Years Ago: US Airways Flies Into The Sunset
US Airways and United Airlines were considering a merger in 2000, though antitrust issues led to those talks ending. Photo: Getty Images

The merger with American Airlines

US Airways attempted to merge with Delta Air Lines before a new wave of mergers hit the US landscape. That merger attempt was unsuccessful, given intense opposition from Delta and various stakeholders. When Delta Air Lines and Northwest Airlines announced their merger, US Airways started looking for an opportunity to merge.

United Airlines was an early prospect. In April 2010, the New York Times reported that the two airlines were in the middle of negotiations for a merger. There were some frictions between the two airline’s operations and network, not to mention labor issues that US Airways was working out among its own ranks. Those talks did not lead to a merger, and United later announced it would merge with Continental Airlines.

Six Years Ago: US Airways Flies Into The Sunset
US Airways and America West merged in 2005, but it wasn’t long before the new US Airways was looking for another merger partner. Photo: Getty Images

This sent US Airways looking again for a new partner, and it eventually turned its eyes to American Airlines, which was facing bankruptcy in 2012.

On Valentine’s Day, 2013, US Airways and American Airlines jointly announced plans to merge. The American Airlines brand would survive, and headquarters for the new airline would be in Fort Worth, Texas. Much of the US Airways management found new roles in top spots at American Airlines.

After clearing some hurdles with the US Department of Justice (DOJ), including slot divestitures, the two airlines moved ahead with the merger. They began to integrate their systems, their workforce, and more. Repainting the fleet – a daunting task – had also started.

Six Years Ago: US Airways Flies Into The Sunset
Now-CEO of American Airlines Doug Parker (then CEO of US Airways) with then CEO of American Airlines, Tom Horton, announcing the merger in 2013. Photo: Getty Images

The final US Airways flight

On Friday, October 16th, 2015, US1939 made its way around legacy US Airways hubs. The flight went from Philadelphia to Charlotte, then to Phoenix, then to San Francisco, and then on a red-eye to Philadelphia, where the Airbus A321 operating the flight arrived on Saturday, October 17th, just before 06:00 local time and marked the end of the US Airways brand.

The final flight was celebrated at all airports. With the merger, the future of the new American Airlines was on a much more solid footing than the old US Airways or American Airlines. However, there was plenty of uncharted territory to traverse. But, for one night, all of that did not matter as US1939 allowed for a moment in time to reflect on over 75 years of history – over 75 years of memories, triumphs, jubilations, and lessons.

Six Years Ago: US Airways Flies Into The Sunset
There was plenty of pomp and circumstance surrounding the final US Airways flight. Photo: The Airchive

This was mostly a change on paper. At airports, there were still US Airways planes that had yet to receive a fresh coat of paint in the new American Airlines livery. In fact, it was not until November of 2016 when all 299 former US Airways mainline planes in the combined fleet were officially repainted into the new American Airlines livery.

In addition, US Airways hubs were still maintained. Charlotte and Phoenix are major hubs for the new American Airlines. Coupled with legacy US Airways corporate management at the top, there were still plenty of US Airways memories to go around. One aircraft continues to sport a legacy US Airways livery, as part of American’s heritage series commemorating the airlines that came together to make the carrier it is today.

The final flight certainly was not without its controversy. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, was an integral component of US Airways’ history. However, US Airways ended up cutting its Pittsburgh hub after the airport took on hundreds of millions of dollars to support an expansion for the US Airways hub. Speaking to TribLIVE in Pittsburgh, then-Allegheny County Executive Jim Roddey called skipping Pittsburgh “the final insult” in the saga between the airport and US Airways.

Six Years Ago: US Airways Flies Into The Sunset
The final US Airways flight departed from San Francisco. Photo: Getty Images

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The new American Airlines

To this day, American and US Airways are continuing their integration. A merger to create the largest US airline is far from smooth. Couple this with issues both airlines were working on before the merger, and there was plenty on the merger to-do list.

Much of that work has already been done eight years after the merger. The new American Airlines has made excellent progress on standardizing the fleet. American has even rolled out new products since the merger and made good on bringing WiFi and power to its aircraft.

Six Years Ago: US Airways Flies Into The Sunset
US Airways flew into the sunset, and now, there is a new American Airlines. Photo: American Airlines

The American Airlines known today has retained US Airways hubs and has been changing up strategy. Teams from fleet to maintenance to network to frequent flyer programs have built a massive airline that works better together than two separate entities.

What are your memories of US Airways? Let us know in the comments!