Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Not Much In The Way of Legacy Airlines

Over the years a lot of start-ups have claimed to differentiate themselves by re-inventing the wheel of air travel. Among the living, Southwest introduced an entirely new concept in pricing, a model that has seen more permutations than the common cold. Virgin America and Jet Blue likewise have brought cutting edge technology in to the cabin, offering live entertainment and internet access.

What about the dead? What is their legacy, their unique mark in history that says they were here and changed the way people travel?

AirOne was the all First Class experiment for coach pricing out of St. Louis in the early 80s. One winter break from college I flew them home to Washington. The service was good but other than the paint scheme it was clear that the plane, the interior and even the dishes all once belonged to Braniff. I wondered if the crew was ex-Braniff as well. Today, as of this writing, neither Airliners.Net or even Wikipedia carries an article on or picture of their existence.

The Boyd Group International published an article in which they list a host of carriers that tried and failed going back to the mid-70s. Of the list in this article one airline stood out for having introduced something very early that, while heaped with derision at the time, has since become a near-permanent part of air travel in this country.

User fees.

Peoplexpress first came up with the concept on a nationwide scale, charging $3 per checked bag, 50 cents for peanuts or soda and a whopping $2 for the almighty snack pack. Hmph, competitors sniffed. “Everything is included when you fly with us!” they crowed. Hmph, indeed. Today the legacy of Peoplexpress lives on thru these very same fees plus the Newark hub Continental Airlines runs today.

Any new start-up might want to consider its legacy in this business, however long or short-lived that may be. It is no guarantee of success or failure but I challenge each new entrant to bring something to the table that truly revolutionizes air travel (Pan Am and the 747), foretells the future (Peoplexpress) or at least is memorable enough to have been worthwhile (the Flying Colors of Braniff). I never flew with them but I did love the look of New York Air!

Gotta go!

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