Lifting off into a blue October sky, the last US Airways flight left Charlotte Friday afternoon, marking the end of a brand that for years has been a fixture at the city’s airport.
Flight 1939, named for the founding year of a US Airways predecessor, departed from Charlotte for Phoenix as part of a cross-country journey expected to end in Philadelphia on Saturday. It was the final flight under the US Airways flag, which is disappearing as a result of a $17.8 billion merger with American Airlines in 2013.
Terri Pope, American Airlines’ Charlotte hub vice president, emphasized on Friday that Charlotte will remain an important part of American Airlines’ operations. Charlotte Douglas International Airport is American’s second-busiest hub behind Dallas/Fort Worth, and news of the merger has prompted questions about the deal’s implications for Charlotte.
“There’s absolutely a long-term commitment for Charlotte,” Pope said following a ceremony held at the airport before the flight left. “This hub does so well ... why in the world would you move something like that that’s so successful? Well, you wouldn’t.”
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Pope, in her ceremony speech, called Charlotte “the heart of US Airways.”
City officials who also spoke at the ceremony noted the many years US Airways has been a fixture in Charlotte. By Saturday, the familiar US Airways signs at Charlotte Douglas are expected to be removed and replaced with American Airlines signs.
The transition comes at a time when Charlotte’s airport is the world’s seventh busiest for takeoffs and landings. Economic developers frequently tout the airport as one of the city’s main assets, and nonstop access to more than 140 destinations from Charlotte is a major draw for big companies.
Interim Aviation Director Brent Cagle said Charlotte Douglas and US Airways “have a long history together.” He pointed out that USAir, the former name for USAirways, merged in 1989 with Piedmont Airlines, which was founded in Winston-Salem.
“The USAirways name in some form or fashion has been a part of our surroundings and of our landscape for many, many years,” he said.
City Councilwoman LaWana Mayfield also spoke at the ceremony, which was held outside of Gate D-13, where the Airbus A321 had arrived at 11:59 a.m. from Philadelphia. Mayfield, whose district includes the airport, read a proclamation from Mayor Dan Clodfelter declaring it “US Airways Final Flight Day.”
Starting Saturday, all flights will operate under the American Airlines name. The merged company will shift to one reservation system, and US Airways’ website will go away.
Some customers remain leery over the merger. Jim Moses, who was waiting to board the flight to his home city of Phoenix, said he’s concerned about the impact the deal might have on airfare. The merger made American the world’s largest airline.
“It takes away the competition,” he said. “It’s more of a monopoly.”
Some also worry that American's dominance at Charlotte Douglas – with about 90 percent of the airport's daily flights – curtails choices for local travelers and results in higher fares.
The average domestic airfare from Charlotte was almost $464 in the first quarter this year, 19 percent higher than the national average of $388. Though some low-cost carriers such as Frontier Airlines fly from Charlotte, their destinations are limited.
Pope said the merger benefits customers: “I think the quality of service that we bring, I think all of the different destinations that we bring, all the countries that we serve, it does nothing but open up so many more services to customers,” she said.
In one final moment of fanfare at Charlotte Douglas, the plane taxied through a salute of water cannons as it departed at 2:34 p.m.
Staff writer Ely Portillo contributed.