Thursday, February 14, 2013

Of Icons and Eagles....

Well, we knew it was coming.  Even some of the less infatuated with the world of travel knew it- The last of the existing legacy carriers announced its merger plans in the midst of a reorganizing bankruptcy.  True, the deal isn't final.  There will be much discussion with regulators and bankruptcy judges before the creation of the new largest airline in the world is complete.  This (unsurprising) announcement comes as (the ‘New’) American rolls out myriad other changes to its image- a new livery, logo, fleet upgrade, even onboard menus. 

Now, it would be easy to turn this post into a concerned rant about how no good can come of this, and couldn't they just leave well enough alone.  I could go on about how AAdvantage is, though not perfect, one of the best domestic programs as is and how a change of management makes us flyers shifty.  However, in the end, my thoughts have nothing to do with the eventual outcome, and free markets being what they are, if things go too far afield there are other options for the individual passenger.  Besides, who knows, some change could be good.  In theory a merger will expand service, make the airline itself more financially sound, and God willing….let me fly from Long Beach instead of LAX on occasion.

Honestly, what I keep coming back to on this topic doesn’t have to do with miles or upgrades- it has to do with history.  Maybe it’s silly to spend this much time thinking about a company I’m not employed by, but I’ve had some long flights to ponder lately, so here goes.  As most things on this blog, it starts with an airport-

I was at DFW the day American unveiled the new paint (above) on the first 737.  In fact, it was just by chance I caught a glance as the Skylink I was on pulled away.  I was excited to see it in person, sure, and my first reaction was- ‘Hey, that’s not so bad.  The tail’s a little much, and the lack of the shiny silver will take some getting used to, but I’ll survive.’  Though, the more I thought about it, the more I felt the shift to something new, the leaving of something behind and a bit of nostalgia. 

That American Airlines eagle and his iconic “AA” logo has been with us since before the first “Flagship” DC-3 in 1936, and the first regular transcontinental flight in 1959.  He’s watched over the production of a fleet in wartime that went unpainted to save precious fuel, a fleet by in large made and designed in America.  His likeness was captured innumerable times in historic photos with leaders, celebrities, and heroes.  People flew with him to get home, to work, on adventures, and real-life ‘Ryan Binghams’ crossed milestones under his wings. 

Through the years his planes have gotten bigger, and he’s lost some feathers and talons.  But his wings still stood proudly on the tails of AA planes as they crossed the country, and traveled the globe.  The 'AA' and the Eagle are likely the most recognizable Airline logo in the US, possibly the world.  On the lighter side, there was so much fun in brand-based jokes on the “AA”-  We’ve had AAdvantages, AAirpasses, and even little red BlAAnkets.

American’s new post-merger fleet will be stripped of the icon, its aluminum painted over, and be infiltrated with foreign-made Airbus jets.  Some is inevitable- the industry is moving steadily toward composite-body planes that must be painted and rumor has it Airbus is handing out some deals that are hard for cash-strapped airlines to refuse. 

In response to the consternation of some of its frequent flyers with the reveal of the new paint, American was quick to point out that the Eagle is still there, subtly drawn into the new modernized logo.  I guess I see it, the white bit is a little ‘beak-esq.’  I suppose he’s just waiting there, peeking out to see how the future of the last great legacy carrier resolves itself.  Perhaps he should just be pleased for his, though limited, survival and not to have been relegated to the fate of many who went before- TWA, Northwest, PanAm, Continental….and yes I suppose soon… US Air.

In this industry, time just doesn't march on- it flies.  For now, I’ll go along with it...maybe with a little salute to the Eagle next time he flies by me, before they paint him over.