The end of US Airways and the Future of the US Aviation Industry


US Airways wasn’t my first airline. That title likely went to Eastern and then People Express. But Piedmont was a big part of my travels growing up in North Florida. I had plenty of adventures with Piedmont and then US Air in the 80s and 90s. My first mileage run was on the US Air Shuttle, spending a crisp, clear Saturday earning triple EQMs flying LGA-BOS-LGA-DCA-LGA back in December 2002; I was topping off my account for Preferred Gold status that year.

The America West half of the company also holds a special place in my heart. Thanks to a partnership with Continental in the early 2000s and my first opportunistic use of status matching I was able to fly first class to Las Vegas on the cheap a couple times. I learned to game flight standby and alternate routings during IROPs with US Airways and, generally speaking, grew in to the travel junkie I am today thanks in large part to the company. Today that company truly is no more.

I’m slightly nostalgic about the brand disappearing this weekend, but mostly wondering about competition in the market and what the future holds.

US Airways was the first “full service” carrier to charge for beverages on board – even water – and CEO Doug Parker (still the CEO of the combined company) has a history of open hostility towards loyalty programs and associated benefits. Those changes were walked back, of course, but US was also much smaller when those efforts were tried. US was also one of the first carriers to add power on board, albeit with the emPower adapter kit. Those power plugs and the IFE were also removed as part of Parker’s reign and in many cases not yet restored. AA has significantly more power in the market now to try various things and fewer competitors to keep it honest, so to speak.

And so we move in to the next era. I don’t know what comes next. Things look reasonably okay right now in the big picture, though I still do wonder. Is the new American too big to make significant changes or so big that it can do precisely that. Will the aggressive Doug Parker take on the industry and drive change or continue to ride things out, playing coy as the integration settles.

This weekend’s integration was the last major step for the company and, by most measures, things appear to be running smoothly. Some hiccups being reported but the “drain down” approach and the testing appear to be paying off nicely. But getting past this weekend also means that the company can now look to the future and what American Airlines will truly become. Lots of potential there, both good and bad. I try to remain optimistic, but the history and reduced pressure to excel have me more than a bit apprehensive.

I hope I’m overreacting there.

 

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
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