Friday, October 16th marked the end of an era, as US Airways operated the very last flight under the US Airways call sign and banner, US 1939. Though US Airways operated a flight under the same number in a circular pattern that day, going Philadelphia-Charlotte, Charlotte-Phoenix, Phoenix-San Francisco, and San Francisco-Philadelphia, the actual “last” flight was the last seg from San Fran to Philly. Though I have no particular connection to US Airways, aside from being a frequent customer of its parent company American, my generic sense of travelgeek-itude compelled me to get on that flight. After an uneventful flight from DFW to San Francisco to get me in position, it was time to start enjoying the festivities.
US Airways (US) Flight 1939
- Friday, October 16, 2015
- Depart: San Francisco International (SFO) Terminal 1, Gate 45, 21:43, 12m early
- Arrive: Philadelphia International (PHL) Terminal A, Gate 12, 05:58, 20m early
- Duration: 5 hours, 15 minutes
- Seat: 14F
- Equipment: Airbus A321
Boarding wasn’t scheduled to begin until 9:25, but I moseyed on over about 8:45 to check out the scheduled gate party. The obligatory balloons and table of food were there, but what caught my eye was a crowd of people gathered around off to the side, so I went over to check that out first. Turns out the crowd was for Ed Colodny, CEO of Allegheny Airlines from 1975 to 1979, then of the re-christened US Airways until 1991. Mr. Colodny was the guest of honor on all four segments of US 1939, and was nice enough to take questions, autograph boarding passes, and pose for photos with passengers before boarding time. I shamelessly joined the line and snuck in a photo, and got his John Hancock on my boarding pass.
Thanks, Mr. Colodny, for granting me a photo op with probably the most famous person I’ve ever met.
That out of the way, it was time to turn my attention to the food table. The size of the spread somewhat resembled the one brought out for the American 787 inaugural flight, but it was mostly dessert. I didn’t exactly want a mega sugar rush before hopping on a redeye, so I just grabbed a cookie. The center of attention here was a giant cake bearing the US Airways logo. I was wondering why it wasn’t being served, but I later figured out it would be taken onboard and served to Flight 1939’s passengers.
Meanwhile, poor Mr. Colodny continued being a good sport and posing for photos, including one with our plane’s captain.
A short speech was made, then boarding commenced about 20 minutes early, I have to assume because US Airways anticipated a circus just like this to get on the plane.
But with the crowd being mostly a mix of US Airways/American employees and hardcore AvGeeks (I’d guess mostly employees given a few snippets of conversation I overheard), the process actually went by remarkably quickly, and we pushed back better than 10 minutes early. As we boarded, employees handed out several goodies, including an Airbus-branded luggage tag, a final flight commemorative coin, and a US Airways “heritage” amenity kity.
James of Pursued Adventures fame reviewed the American heritage kit as part of his amenity kit review series; please refer to his post for details on what’s inside as it is identifical to the one he reviewed. Unlike my last milestone flight on the Dreamliner inaugural, there’s really not much to say about this plane. It’s standard economy class in an older A320.
Legroom was adequate, and the blue leather seats looked nice enough, but overhead bin space was definitely lacking – carry-ons started being gate checked just as I got to the door – and I immediately noticed that the seatback was uncofortably hard in the mid-lower back area. It was also interesting to see that the in-flight magazines had already been replaced with American Way.
One thing I could definitely do without – the constant credit card shilling that US Airways has become infamous for. Hopefully these annoying tray tables will disappear once the planes are repainted and reconfigured (more on the champagne you see a little later).
The mood aboard was distinctly boisterous, especially for a redeye flight. I found out from my seatmate that many indeed were US Airways employees that had made the circular trip all the way from Philadelphia, and they were definitely taking advantage of the festive mood. Shortly after takeoff, the flight attendants delivered a pair of treats for all passengers onboard – a commemorative cookie, and a glass of champagne.
Main coach FA handing out choice of champagne or apple juice
US Airways flag cookie and commemorative history leaflet
Once champagne was passed out to everyone, the purser called for a toast to commemorate the final flight.
And of course, who could pass up the opportunity for a champagne selfie at 35,000 feet, in coach no less?
After that glass of champagne, I was completely zonked, and feel asleep almost immediately. At some point, a snack box was handed out, as well as a piece of the US Airways flag cake last seen in the gate area at SFO. As for me, I slept through the whole thing, though rather fitfully. The uncomfortable backrest made it difficult to find a good position, causing my back and/or neck to stiffen up at occasional intervals. I gotta say, I fortunately don’t have to do domestic redeyes being based right in the middle of the country, but I don’t see how road warriors manage these in the back of the bus.
I finally woke up for good about 20 minutes before landing. Shortly thereafter, at 5:49 A.M. EDT, history was made, as a US Airways-operated flight touched down for the very last time. The passengers clapped spontaneously, and the purser made a somewhat emotional landing announcement, welcoming US Airways passengers to Philadelphia one last time. The party was far from over, though. We had our very own welcoming committee of American employees waiting for us at the gate area, sending out hoots and hollers every couple of minutes, even for ordinary passengers. That was a nice touch.
All passengers were provided a bag of “Life by Dallas” popcorn. I have to say, even at this early hour, I found it amusing that an airline bought out by another based in Dallas would hand out “Dallas” branded popcorn made in Maryland at a gate party in Philly (the popcorn is pretty tasty, incidentally).
Meanwhile, a passenger wearing a giant US Airways plane hat stepped out of the aerobridge, naturally attracting a throng of reporters. Props to the guy for his shameless creativity, which is all you really need to get yourself 15 seconds of fame. Sorry for the poor photo quality; I couldn’t get my camera set properly because of all the traffic surrounding the guy.
And finally, as the crowd began to disperse, the flight crew of US 1939 gathered for one last group photo as a US Airways crew.
Interestingly, I then realized that the plan I had just arrived in would be the same one carrying me back to DFW in a few hours, this time carrying an ex-US Airways crew on an American flight number. My guess is it was probably their first flight as an AA crew. That was kind of cool, though as you’d expect on the first day of the combined carrier, it led to a blooper. As we made our initial descent into DFW, the captain thanked us for flying “US Airways”. Oops. Lucky for him, I think I was the only one that noticed the gaffe.
Overall, I thought the commemorative flight was nicely done. In the Admirals Club a little later, I overheard several US Airways employees complaining that the old regime typically cheaped out on these kinds of things, but were impressed this time with little things like the cake and champagne for all passengers. I’d have to agree; the commemoration struck a comfortable balance of making the passengers and crew feeling special, but without being over-the-top. The flight was definitely designed to be about the crew and passengers, and not just a rah-rah session for the execs about the merger. A perfectly nice way to be a part of history for this one travel geek.