An ATA Obituary

It’s kind of strange writing an obituary for ATA right now. I mean, it’s like it happened in slow motion even though it actually happened very quickly. I guess technically it started a couple years ago, but things really sped up month when I posted about their decision to shed the Chicago/Midway hub. I felt like I was writing an obituary back then, and really, I was. Combine that with my brief heads up yesterday on ATA’s bankruptcy filing and the excellent comments that followed, and there’s not really much left to say, but of course, that’s not true.

When ATA brought back John Denison, former CEO of the airline and Southwest guy, I thought maybe the airline would swing back to realign more with Southwest. But when FedEx decided to drop ATA from its military flying contracts, what else could the airline do but shut down? That was such a big piece of their operation. I don’t know for sure why they were dropped from the contract, but I’d guess it’s a safe bet that ATA is no innocent bystander here.

The strange thing is that ATA is survived by World Airways and North American, both of which ATA acquired last year. Those airlines will operate as normal, and who knows what else will happen. Maybe they’ll pick up some of ATA’s planes. Will Southwest look at picking up ATA’s 737-800s and start a Hawai’i operation of their own? Who knows. If they weren’t interested in picking up a piece of Aloha, I’m not sure they’d be interested in this, but the price could be right. There’s definitely a dearth of seats going to the Islands right now, so there could be some opportunity.

08_04_04 atal10If World and North American don’t pick up ATA’s planes, that’ll mean the end of passenger carrying DC-10 and L1011 aircraft in the US. Add that to the 737-200s that disappeared from US skies with Aloha last week and really most of the fun and cool aircraft are gone. Get on those Northwest DC-9s while you still can.

As for ATA, this brings the airline to an end after almost 35 years of flying. That’s pretty good for a little charter airline (let’s just forget about that ill-fated late-90’s expansion). I know a lot of people have had really bad experiences flying ATA over the years, but my four trips with them were excellent.

Back in the late 1990s, I flew with my parents and brother on the PHX-OGG flight. Our flights were on time and the crews were friendly. My next experience was during my last days at America West; Labor Day Weekend of 2002. A few of us got together and decided we wanted to fly the L1011 one more time before it left scheduled service (the L1011s were only on charters the last 5+ years). We flew to Indianapolis and hopped the next to last scheduled L1011 flight which went to Vegas. Once again, the flight was on time, the crews were great, and we were even invited to hang around for a tour of the plane.

My last two experiences were related to each other. The first was a one way trip back in 2003 from Washington/National to San Francisco via Chicago/Midway. When I got to Midway, the flight to San Francisco was oversold and they offered me a free flight if I waited until the next day. I gladly took it, spent the night with a good friend who lived in Chicago at the time, and made it home on-time the next day. That free flight was very welcome, because I used it to fly from San Francisco to Indianapolis to be the best man in that same friend’s wedding in March of 2004. Once again, the flight were on time and the crews were great.

So, while many may have stronger and angrier feelings, I will actually miss ATA.

(Original Image from Wikimedia)


14 Responses to An ATA Obituary

  1. Yo says:

    I loved ATA. They treated non revs with class. I flew them often from PHX-HNL and always got on, and always had a good flight. I even got to know some of the PHX based crew from the amount of flights I took.

    I miss the L1011’s, that funky hydraulic fluid smell before takeoff, the lack of center overheads, and the smooth stable flight on those big birds.

    I will miss ATA, my last flight on them was a connection PHX-MDW on Southwest which was awful and then MDW-DCA on the -800 on ATA. It was just after the Southwest deal, and I told the gate agent at DCA that I wished America West had bought them instead of the Southwest deal, she said “We all do, trust us!”

    Sad days indeed.

  2. james says:

    Speaking of obituaries – I flew them to the midwest for an unexpected funeral a few years back, actually making the reservation driving to the airport.

    A few days later coming back I was carrying a giant poster/collage of the loved one wrapped in a black garbage bag (from the memorial,) and they were nice enough to gate check it on the tiny Chicago Express plane, then let me carry it onboard and stow it behind the last row against the wall on the 757.

    They didn’t give me any hassle or discussion at check in or the gate.

    And I actually liked zooming around the midway tarmac to the remote gates for the Chicago Express flights.

  3. Will says:

    I never had the chance to fly with ATA but I used to work the ramp in Portland, Maine (PWM) on the summers I had off from college and ATA would send at least 3 727 charters over the summer. I loved the sound of those birds!

  4. Stephen Dorman says:

    Good riddence to a bad penny. The lead offender of cattle cars.

  5. DRG says:

    I would put money on it that World won’t be picking up ATA’s L1011s or DC-10s. Perhaps ATA should have gotten rid of them a while ago.

    I can’t help but wonder if things would have worked out better for employees if the AirTran bid had been successful. Presumably the scheduled operation would have been integrated into AirTran.

  6. Jim Sack says:

    I had a 1990 flight book on ATA out of Indy. We were all there nicely on time, but ATA delayed the boarding call. No signs went up, no one was at the check in counter, the moment of departure came and went and there was no indication as to why we had not been boarded. Some time later a rep did show up and was surrounded by curious passenger, some starting to show signs of anger. The flight was Indy to London. I had, you might guess, a tight connection on to Germany once in London. The ATA people told us the plane was undergoing a check and would board soon. Six hours later we had still not boarded and the ATA people had disappeared. We passengers started trying to find ATA reps and when a couple did show up we took them to task for the lack of communications, for the misinformation and for the lack of interest in our situation. Finally, a plane did arrive and at that point we learned that it was not a maintenance issue, but rather the jet we had booked was diverted to ferrying soldiers. ATA just simply lied to us. I got to London too late for my connection and because it was a charter I received no help from ATA.

    I guess the military finally figured out what I knew back in 1990; ATA’s service was very, very poor. I guess they deserved to lose their contract and feel that there is finally, after 18 years, some justice.

  7. Zach says:

    I have nothing but fond memories of ATA. I was a frequent flier on their MDW-LGA flights–consistently the lowest priced service with the most convenient departures.

    One time, I actually missed my LGA-MDW flight because of a hangover (hate to admit it–slept right through my alarm). I got to the airport several minutes after the flight had been scheduled to depart. It was nobody’s fault but my own, and most other airlines would have given me no other option but to buy another ticket or pay a flight change penalty.

    When I asked if there were any possibility of flying standby on the next departure, the ATA desk agent put me in a confirmed seat on the next flight to MDW, which departed a mere hour after my original flight, no questions asked and free of charge.

    Farewell to a fine airline.

  8. Benji says:

    and RIP Skybus now…

  9. Eric says:

    Let’s not forget about Chicago Express who operated as ATA Connection for nearly 10 years before Southwest decided ATA did not need a money making turboprop operation to serve smaller communities with a LCC.

    To the cattle car comment above…eh..are you talking about any of the new generation aircraft? 73 or 753?
    First it’s an LCC you want first class, go pay for it, secondly their aircraft were roomier than most of the other LCCs.

  10. Jim Sack says:

    Dear Zach,

    I am glad that you got the good karma to balance all the bad they gave me and my fellow passengers. My return flight was average. No problem. Almost empty. In fact I met the love of my life on the way back, so that is to be said, too. Perhaps they learned lessons over the years. I remember that I wrote a detailed letter to their president and received no response. A simple acknowledgment would have modified my attitude, but nothing. I did not find the news surprising.

    By the by, ATA bailed out of this market, Fort Wayne a year or so ago not long after great opening day fanfare and a sweet deal from the City.

    Northwest is my second least favored airline with its cranky in cabin crews busy with office talk and surly to customers.

    Jim

  11. Zach says:

    Jim–

    Sorry you had such a poor experience on ATA (although the story about you meeting your future wife is pretty cool). Admittedly, I didn’t fly them until much later, long after they’d jettisoned that London route and most of their other international services. They were probably pretty far along the path to their demise by the time I started using them regularly.

    I can agree completely on Northwest. I avoid them at all costs and have never had a positive experience. The worst of them all, in my opinion, is US Airways. Between the delays, the ugly attitude, and the uncomfortable planes, it’s always something with them. Personally, I swear by Southwest and United domestically; United and Delta for international travel (I’ve also had good luck with foreign flag carriers such as Korean and El Al).

    Then again, I’m sure there are people out there who’ve had nothing but great luck with both Northwest and US. It’s all a crap shoot, really.

  12. Walt says:

    Alas, North American is also throwing in the towel — or at least morphing into a pure charter carrier in May 2008. You have to wonder if North American and World will merge; why would Global Aero want to operate two separate charter carriers?

  13. Dave says:

    On NW – Just flew on 4 Northwest DC-9s in two days (RDU-DTW-JFK & back). When I was little and had the rare chance to fly somewhere, I hated them – I wanted to be on big planes. Now, I love the fast, sharp-climbing takeoffs.

    I’m one who’s had great luck with Northwest, everything always on-time and pleasant.

    I have noticed, though, that their flight attendants do and say comparatively little. I sat in an exit row for the first time today, and the briefing was “check out this card.” Hardly noticed a general safety briefing. Service and cleanup were efficient and pleasant.

    On ATA – I flew out of Greensboro (Skybus, GSO-GYY actually, so sad…) in early March and saw an ATA DC-10 across from the terminal at a hangar. They hadn’t even painted over the old gray Northwest color scheme. That seemed telling.

  14. Jonathan says:

    While the demise of ATA was sad indeed for the airline industry, I feel the need to CLARIFY “Cranky’s” obituary.

    ATA did NOT aquire World Airways and North American Airlines. Matlin-Patterson Global Opportunities Partners II, PARENT company of ATA Holdings, purchased World, World Air Holdings and North American. When the purchase was concluded, the “Holding Company” name was CHANGED from ATA Holdings to Global Aero Logistics and ALL the entities remained under the NEW Umbrella of Global.

    That having been said, there has been a “preception” about the airline industry since the ATA Shutdown, that ATA “bought” World and then were forced into liquidation, which is most certainly NOT the case. ATA had numerous problems in its latter years that are well documented. The cancellation of the Fed-Ex contract was just the nail in the coffin so to speak.

    It should also be noted that in the 4 months since ATA’s untimely demise, it’s own CEO, Subodh Karnik was unceremoniously dumped by Global as the “New CEO” of Global Aero Logistics/formerly ATA Holdings. Yet another sign of weakness within thier management ranks that dates back, at the very least, a couple of years BEFORE “any” talk of aquisitions or the formation of Global Aero Logistics.

    While I truly sympathise with my fellow flying brothers and sisters at ATA who lost thier careers and thier livlihoods literally overnight, as a World Airways employee who is looking at a significantly reduced Profit Sharing payout as a result of the $300+ Million in debt MY company is now carrying, I felt the need to set the record straight.

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