Ben Mutzabaugh, USA TODAY 10:19 a.m. EDT October 16, 2015
A file photo of a USAir Boeing 727 at Washington's National Airport in 1995. USA TODAY file photo
It's time to say farewell to US Airways. One of the USA's most storied airline brands fades away Friday night with Flight 1939.
The overnight red-eye flight from San Francisco to Philadelphia marks the last ever departure under the US Airways name as the carrier's merger with American nears completion. Shortly after the flight departs San Francisco at 9:55 p.m. PT, American will unify its own reservations systems for the flights of both airlines. There will be no more US Airways flights once the plane lands in Philadelphia, scheduled for 6:18 a.m. ET.
US Airways' fade into the history books will be a nostalgic one. Flight 1939 is scheduled to begin Friday morning in Philadelphia, a traditional US Airways stronghold. From there, the Airbus A321 – still painted in US Airways' colors – will continue to Charlotte, which grew to become the airline's busiest hub during the past decade. Next is Phoenix – the former headquarters to 2004 merger partner America West.
From there, Flight 1939 heads to San Francisco, then returns to Pennsylvania as the last-ever US Airways flight.
American will commemorate the last day with gate-side festivities at each stop. And passengers on the final departure from San Francisco will cheer the US Airways' name with an onboard champagne toast.
"We definitely wanted to give a nod to US Airways and everyone that helped us build this airline," American Airlines spokeswoman Martha Thomas told USA TODAY. "We wanted to make it a special experience for employees and customers."
Even the flight number is rooted in history. Initially the San Francisco-to-Philadelphia red-eye was to operate as Flight 434. But in August the carrier switched the flight number to 1939. That was the first year of operation for All American Aviation, a small Pennsylvania-based airmail outfit that would grow to become a regional player known as Allegheny Airlines.
Allegheny changed its name in 1979, adopting USAir to reflect the expanding footprint of the airline after growing in previous mergers with Mohawk and Lake Central Airlines. Bigger mergers with Piedmont and Pacific Southwest (PSA) followed in the 1980s. The company underwent one last name change, adopting its current US Airways name in 1997 before yet another merger in 2005 – this time with America West.
Now, the US Airways name is on the verge of disappearing.
US Airways' reservation system will go dark Saturday morning just after midnight. US Airways' website will follow. And at airports across the nation, airline staff will begin removing US Airways branding after the company's last flights on Friday. The goal is to have American Airlines signage up in its place by the time flights begin again on Saturday morning.
Certain pieces of US Airways will hang on a bit longer. It will take American until "late 2016" to repaint all of its planes in the colors of the new American. And US Airways flight attendant uniforms will remain until update uniforms for all the cabin crews are introduced, also expected to come next year.
American spokeswoman Thomas cautioned the airline still has some "behind the scenes" work to do even as the US Airways brand fades away.
"It's done for customers, but there's still a lot of integration work left for us to do behind the scenes," Thomas says.
As for Flight 1939, American spokesman Ross Feinstein says the airline has had "strong demand" from customers wishing to be on the flight – especially the San Francisco-Philadelphia leg. Coach class is near capacity and first-class seats have been sold out since July.
Feinstein says the "vast majority" of people on the flight appear to be aviation enthusiasts and "avgeeks" wanting to witness US Airways' final flight.
For passenger Mark Littell, Flight 1939 will have special meaning. Littell grew up in the shadow of the Pittsburgh airport when it was still a hub for the airline in the 1990s.
As US Airways is about to take its final flight, we take a look at the history behind the airline industry giant.
'I grew up seeing and hearing (then) USAir's planes land all the time," he says. "Most families in my community were directly impacted by the hub there, and I eventually worked in concessions in the airport's US Airways terminal by the time I was in high school."
That led to a connection with the airline that's lasted to this day.
Littell moved away from Pittsburgh as an adult, traveling full-time for his job in the medical profession. He flies more than 100,000 miles a year, mostly on Delta. But once he saw Flight 1939 announced as US Airways' final flight, he booked a ticket "to fly (them) one final time." He'll be among those on Friday night's San Francisco-Philadelphia leg.
Littell says he's happy to see US Airways become part of the world's biggest airline, but concedes it "will be sad to see the memories of the US Airways name fade."
Despite that, Littell says "it really is the employees who make an airline, and I know US Airways employees will be a great addition to the new American."