US Airways will pass into history tonight as all flights previously operated by the airline are transferred to American Airlines beginning tomorrow. The airline through its various incarnations has been a staple in Florida’s skies and helped drive growth in the state.
Allegheny Airlines the forerunner of US Airways began service to the Sunshine State after airline deregulation in 1979. Orlando, Tampa and West Palm Beach were served initially. Fort Lauderdale was added soon after and the airline was rebranded US Air. Allegheny Commuter linked Ocala and Vero Beach with Orlando which connected the two cities to the larger US Air network of destinations throughout the continental United States and Canada.
In 1985 Piedmont Airlines, based in North Carolina began “Florida Shuttle” service between Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Fort Lauderdale, Jacksonville, Gainesville and Tallahassee. in 1986 West Palm Beach, Naples, Fort Myers, Pensacola and Key West were added to this “shuttle” service. In 1987 Piedmont was bought by US Air and in 1989 integrated into the airline. US Air at this point had the largest network of flights within the state.
By 1992 US Air had become competitive with Delta as the overall top airline at Tampa, Orlando and Fort Lauderdale while maintaining a healthy sized but smaller operation in Miami. In 1993, US Air launched the “US Air Florida Shuttle” and US Air Florida Shuttle Club (of which I was a member). The Florida Shuttle club was an alternate rewards program based on flight legs within the state. Florida fliers could earn credits in the Shuttle Club AND US Air’s Frequent Flier program. But by 1995 US Air was cutting back on service within the state. In 1997, the airline rebranded as US Airways and faced with intense competition from Southwest Airlines scaled back operations in Florida.
In 2004, the airline which was entering bankruptcy decided to open a Latin American hub in Fort Lauderdale. But having years earlier abandoned the intra-state flights and high density routes like Fort Lauderdale to New York and Boston that were needed to feed the hub, the return to these routes was not successful for the airline. By this time JetBlue Airways had become a major player in routes from Florida to the Northeast and US Airways was forced to turn Fort Lauderdale into a “focus city” with point-to-point flights to Latin America instead. Following the airlines merger with America West in 2006, all international flying from Florida was stopped.
US Airways became the one low fare mainline network carrier in the nation after the America West merger. This allowed the airline to remain a major player in Florida even though the only remaining flights were to hub cities of Philadelphia, Washington, Phoenix and Charlotte. When the Department of Justice approved the American-US Airways merger after some delay which included concessions from the airline, fares went up and consumers lost. But such is the world we live in today. US Airways will be missed and every time we pay more for flights we might lament the day the DOJ approved the merger with American.
I personally flew US Airways more than any network carrier. To this day I still have not flown American Airlines, and tend to try and fly JetBlue or Southwest as much as possible. Service was never particularly good on US Airways, but the fares even in the 1990’s were always competitive and Charlotte provided an easier connecting point than Atlanta for me. But recent years have forced me on some routes to fly United and Delta, whose fares were sometime competitive I believe simply because US Airways was alive and kicking in the market as a low far network carrier. My hope is that going forward, fares stay low and US Airways demise doesn’t lead to more gouging as airlines chase record profits in an era of lower fuel costs.
Farewell US Airways.