Ever since airlines started going out of business, people have felt the need to try and revive them. This is simply a terrible idea no matter how you look at it, but people continue to try to resurrect name after name. It’s become so rampant, that it’s time for a Cranky public service announcement.
Let’s just look at the list.
- Braniff – Failed 1982, revived 1984 and failed 1989, revived 1991 and failed 1992
- Eastern – Failed 1991, revival in progress
- Frontier – Failed 1986, revived 1994 and still flying
- Midway – Failed 1991, revived 1993 and failed 2003
- National – Merged 1980, revived 1999 and failed 2002, revived as cargo airline in 2008
- Pan Am– Failed 1991, revived 1996 and failed 1998, revived 1998 and failed 2002, sort of revived 2004 and failed 2008, a couple more attempts failed, revival in progress
- People Express – Merged 1987, revival in progress
I’m sure this isn’t complete (I believe there have been about 30 attempts at starting an airline called Air South), but you get the point. Famous brands which have gone away are all the rage with Eastern, Pan Am, and People Express attempting restarts as I write this. But why?
The idea is always to bring back the “good ole’ days” when “Brand X” used to deliver [low fares, great service, stellar food, hot stewardesses, whatever] and now, they’ll fly once again! (Side note: I really wish there was a punctuation mark called “the sarcastic exclamation point.”) The effort very often comes from someone with a history with that airline. It’s somebody who loves and remembers the brand and thinks that the golden days of travel are gone. So by bringing back that name, the golden days will return. They won’t.
This can go one of two ways.
People remember the airline as terrible and this isn’t going to help
I think Eastern is the best example of this kind of situation. I wrote about Eastern’s revival more than five years ago (yes, it’s been going on that long), and my feelings have not changed. That is not a brand that people loved except for a handful of former employees with rose-colored glasses or kids who took their first trip to Disney World on them and never flew them again. Eastern’s reputation was one of a mess of an airline with contentious labor relations. It got so bad that a group called We Hate Eastern Airlines (WHEAL) was formed. I don’t need to go into any more detail here, but you can read that old post if you’d like.
People Express is another one like that. Sure, people loved the low fares, but the airline devolved into an operational mess. After all, there was a reason people called it People Distress. Is there really enough of a brand halo to bring that back to life and have it mean something positive? No. But let’s say it was. What if you had a glorious brand? That brings me to the other scenario.
People remember the airline as great, and the new one will never live up to expectations
There really isn’t a defunct airline that people simply loved through and through. Pan Am may very well be the closest to that, but that was the Pan Am of the old days. Anyone remember Pan Am in the 1980s? It was a directionless airline with operational issues that made a lot of people mad. But really that doesn’t matter. As they say, time heals all wounds.
Instead, what most people remember about Pan Am today is a Mad Men-esque style and sense of adventure that the briefly-lived TV show tried to capture a couple years back. They think of a trailblazer; an airline for the jet set. It all sounds so glamorous. Why would you not want to start an airline like that?
One reason. Any reincarnation will never live up to the glorified brand that people remember today. It’s impossible. There will be delays and cancellations. Fares might be considered too high. The onboard service will unquestionably fall well below what people think of when they think about Pan Am. There just isn’t a place for that kind of airline today. By taking the name, it’s just asking for trouble.
So, please, future airline entrepreneurs, find a new name (Avatar, anyone?). There’s no need to latch on to an old brand, because it’s not going to help you. Just let the ghosts of airlines past rest.