Sunday, October 18, 2015

Farewell to US Airways

Flying on the Last US Airways Flight from PHX to SFO

October 17th, 2015 was a significant day for the merger between American Airlines (AA) and US Airways (US).  Known as “Cutover”, the two airlines switched to a single Passenger Service System and became a single airline that day.  The two airlines now have a common reservation system, a single airline policy, and single airport operations.  For the customer, there is just one airline – American.  (The two airlines were already flying under a single operating certificate, received in April of this year).

This also meant US Airways would operate its last fight on October 16th.  To commemorate, the airline flew a special flight from Philadelphia (PHL) to Charlotte (CLT) to Phoenix (PHX) to San Francisco (SFO) and back to PHL, with the final SFO-PHL segment being the actual last US Airways flight.  Despite it being a special flight, the routing itself was not special and the flights would be sold and operated as ordinary flights.

US Airways traces its roots back to All-American Airways, founded in 1939 in Pittsburgh.  It later became Allegheny Airlines, which became US Air, which ultimately became US Airways.  The final flight would carry the flight number 1939 to honor the airline’s founding.  Routing for US1939 touched all the hub cities in the US Airways system.  Notably, Pittsburgh - the original home of All-American Airways - is no longer a hub or focus city for the airline and it was unceremoniously skipped.

When the farewell flight was announced, I realized I could do a day trip from SFO to PHX and back on US1939 for $250 roundtrip.  The final leg from SFO to PHL and back would have cost over $600.  Being a redeye flight, as well as the high expense involved, I didn’t think it was worthwhile.  So I decided on PHX-SFO.


The day before my flight, I received this email from American:

Yes!  As an aviation enthusiast, this is what I live for.  I just love it when airlines go out of their way holding special events, getting everyone involved to mark their history.

The seat map at check-in.  Despite being a special flight, it would not be full going to SFO.  This was not the case for the final segment to Philly, however.  Supposedly, the standby list for the PHL flight got up to 1000 names filled with employees wanting to take part in history.

I arrived at PHX from SFO three hours before departure.  Out the window at this busy US Airways hub, at certain angles, I can still see just US Airways tails

However, inside, there was no sign of US Airways.  All signage have been changed to American Airlines complete with the standard shade of AA blue.

At gate A5-A7, staff was still busily setting up for the farewell party.

Foam airplanes marked with “1939” was cheesy but fun!

The US Airways A320 model held a particular attention with everyone, especially with employees, who all wanted to get in on a photo.

Of course, I did too!

Flight US1939 was operated by Airbus A321 with registration N152UW. The aircraft received a water cannon salute from the Phoenix Fire Department upon arriving from CLT.

Not coincidentally, the Allegheny retrojet was strategically parked at the next gate.

Inside, arriving passengers from CLT received a rousing welcome and applause by airport staff members.  Many were interviewed by the local media.

Party at the gate was fully underway.  Everyone enjoyed sandwiches, cookies, and something special in a box…

Logos of all the predecessor American Airlines carriers decorated the box.  What was in the box?

It was a cupcake!  I was disappointed.  I wanted it to be a souvenir of some sort.

John Daley, American Airlines’ Managing Director at PHX addressed the crowd gathered at the gate.

An official at PHX airport added the importance of American Airlines to Phoenix.

Twenty minutes before departure, I got in line for the green screen photo - at the same time when boarding started.

I had to get my souvenir!  There was a lot of confusion between the green screen line (set up near the boarding door) and the boarding line.  I think the intent was to get your photo before boarding.  Well, that didn’t work.  People got in the photo line thinking it was the boarding line and people who wanted photos ensured that they didn’t mistakenly get into the boarding line.  Unfortunately, the line was very slow moving, because the process involved costumes and large groups of people taking part.

Boarding Group 1.  Group 2.  Group 3…  I was getting very antsy.  I got my photo just in time as final call for boarding was made.  I didn’t get a chance to type in my email at the photo booth but at least I got a print and made it to the door with plenty of time.

My last use of the US Airways app.

The Flight

US1939, Phoenix (PHX) – San Francisco (SFO) 

Aircraft:  Airbus A321-211
Registration (msn):  N152UW (5588)
Delivered new to US Airways, May 2013

Scheduled Departure – Arrival:  5:10 pm – 7:12 pm
Actual Departure – Arrival:  5:09 pm – 7:10 pm
Duration:  1:59

Takeoff PHX Runway 08:  5:22 pm
Landing SFO Runway 28L:  7:02 pm

Flightaware flight track

At the gate, friendly agents thanked me for flying and handed me another box.  Maybe this one was a souvenir?  No, still a cupcake.

I knew the flight was special when I saw this on the catering bin.

I guess I could have waited because more people were still coming on.

My seat was at 23F, at the aft cabin exit.  Having flown on the US A321, I knew that was a special seat.  It was a “normal” window seat (that is, not a seat with a door right next to you) but without a seat ahead; access for the large emergency door would be there.  There was a ton of legroom, easy access to the aisle, and a real window.  The only drawback was my underseat storage was two rows ahead.

Only two and a half years old, this aircraft was clean and still looked new inside.

We pushed back one minute early.  Staff gathered at the next gate (where the Alleghany retrojet was parked) and photographed our pushback and departure.

Prior to the safety demonstration, the lead flight attendant announced the historical significance of our flight.  He concluded, “...use #US1939 – but not right now” to the laughter of all avgeeks on board. 

Prior to taking position on Runway 08, the captain told everyone on the right side of the aircraft to wave at the photographers watching us at the terminal.

At 5:22 pm, we made a high-spirited takeoff run, rotating steeply off the runway and feeling the Gs.  Awesome!

View of PHX airport below with a bit of rainbow.  It was a bumpy ride throughout the climb.  I later learned the region below us was hit by very strong dust and rainstorms that day.

It took us almost 20 minutes to break through the top of the ceiling.

To commemorate our historic flight, we were given an US Airways cookie and Champagne for toast.

Watching the flight attendants unscrewing all those small Champagne bottles and hurrying to pour 170 cups (each bottle only filled two or three cups) gave me an appreciation of the difficult situations they work under.

To US Airways – for all the sacrifices, celebrations, and for a long life!

To my surprise, with 40 minutes of flying time to go, the normal beverage cart service commenced.  I wanted to have coffee to go with my cupcake-in-a-box, but hot beverage was not available due to turbulence.  I instead settled for water.

Out the window, we were rewarded with a beautiful sight of the setting sunlight on the storm clouds below.  Unfortunately, due to the turbulence, the seat belt light was only off for a few minutes, extinguishing any opportunities socializing with fellow avgeeks on board, damping the joyous mood.

In fact, beverage service was temporarily halted due to turbulence.  With the prolonged seat belt light and turbulence, service item pick up was not performed until the before landing cabin check.

Descending into SFO with San Jose city lights below.

At 7:02 pm, flight US1939 touched down on Runway 28L at SFO to the applause of everyone on board.  The lead flight attendant thanked everyone “for participating in the historical flight with us.”  We waited for some traffic before parking at Gate 45B two minutes early.  Total flight time was 1 hour and 59 minutes.

Captain Richard Mitchell led the crew of US1939 from PHX to SFO.


At Gate 45, the party was just starting; the real excitement was here.  Everything throughout the day culminated to this final flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia.

As with PHX, the gate area was decorated with balloons.  A scrumptious food spread highlighted by an US Airways sheet cake awaited us.  Not having had dinner and super hungry (I missed out on the sandwiches at PHX because I wanted to get my green screen photo), I engorged myself on finger sandwiches and cupcakes.

The star of the evening was Ed Colodny (below, left).  He started with Allegheny Airlines in 1957 and became CEO of US Air in 1975, later Chairman in 1978.  He held those titles at the airline for 17 years, retiring in 1992.  During those years, he was known as “master of mergers”, acquiring Piedmont and PSA.  Mr. Colodny flew from his home in Vermont via PHL just to fly back to PHL on the last US Airways flight.

The lady in the foreground, Glenda Yarse, is a former Allegheny flight attendant; she was wearing her old uniform.  Mr. Colodny was very happy to see her (top photo).

At age 89, Mr. Colodny was cheerful, bigger than life and extremely friendly.  He remarked he couldn’t believe seeing his airline went from flying the DC-3 to the A330.  He asked the crowd, “how many of you have even flown on the DC-3?”  More than half of the audience raised their hands.  Laughter ensues.  Maybe he should have known better in a crowd of aviation enthusiasts!

He was the celebrity of that evening, obliging all autograph and photo requests.  He spent time chatting with everyone, got to know a little about them.  As an example, here was my brief interchange:

“What do you do, Ben?”

“I am a systems engineer at Lockheed Martin”

“Oh, Lockheed Martin.  I know that company.  Bethesda, Maryland, right?”


“I know because I used to sit on the Board!”

Laughter all around

“Do you work on the F-35?”

“No, a spacecraft”

“OK, I won’t ask you anymore because I won’t understand it”

I later found out that after US Airways, in 1997, Mr. Colodny became chairman at COMSAT Corp, a satellite-based telecommunications company.  COMSAT Corp…wait for it…merged with Lockheed Martin in 2000.  Somehow, I think Mr. Colodny knows a thing or two about spacecraft.

Mr. Colodny with pilot Douglas Rice, the Captain of the final US Airways flight to Philly.

Me with my friend and former Bay Area resident Captain Mike, who was flying on the final flight to PHL.  Incidentally, this was not the first time we had an airport connection-meet up.

After the obligatory speeches, boarding commenced early which allowed everyone time to get settled on board, given the activities going on.

Unfortunately, Gate 45B was not visible from the inside the terminal so this photo of another US Airways A321 parked at the next gate will have to suffice.

Farewell US Airways!


Souvenirs from that day.

US1939 Trip Report from Airways News.  I collaborated with Chris Sloan on the PHX-SFO portion.

American Airlines' video of the flight.  You can see my back at 2:56.

Copyright © 2015 Ben Wang.  All Rights Reserved.