Public Service Announcement: Stop Naming New Airlines After Ones That Have Failed

Eastern, Pan Am

Stop it.


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.

The More You Know

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.

Now You Know and Knowing is Half the Battle

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34 comments on “Public Service Announcement: Stop Naming New Airlines After Ones That Have Failed

  1. Hey, I have fond memories of Eastern Air Lines! Then again, I was a kid growing up in Atlanta and took a couple of flights on EA and DL as a child. No Disney World, but the premise still holds. Too bad I no longer have those EA wings…

  2. As a child I absolutely hated eastern & regretted every time I flew them to Florida. I much prefered Delta. The revived National was a good airline, flew them to Vegas a few times. There biggest problem, being based in Vegas where there wasn’t any profit margin.

  3. One fond memory of EAL – they sponsored the “If You Had Wings” ride in Tomorrowland at Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. “If You Had Wings” was extremely popular among budget minded Disney tourists dating back to the days where each ride required a separate paper ticket. Since “If You Had Wings” was basically half ride half advertisement, no ticket of any denomination was required. There was never a line and you got to sit down for about five minutes of super air conditioned bliss! I can still hear the theme song…

    1. I don’t think Avatar should be included in your group of “failed” Airlines since it never made it out of the starting gate. At least not yet. It never funded – not even partially.

      But we believe that is going change. Avatar Airlines is not the same company as the old scandal-plagued Family Airlines of yesteryear.

      I’m completely neutral on the name “Avatar” because what’s in a name anyway? There is no brand loyalty in the world of air travel. You want a name that passengers will remember? How about “give me the lowest possible fare and don’t nickle and dime me with hidden fees” Now that’s a name most passengers will remember.

      Avatar has the potential to be a real game changer and lower the barriers to domestic air travel for average hard working American families.

      I know all the scandalous history about Barry Michaels first hand. I’ve witnessed him being the brunt of off-colored jokes whether merited or not – loses sight of the bigger picture.

      The potential of Avatar to do something completely non traditional in the airline industry: maintain a well capitalized airline, debt free (or as close to it as possible) using the Boeing 747-400 strategically in a domestic market, harnessing it’s size and it’s belly and it’s ingenuity to subsidize the cost for its ticketed air passengers and to do it while maintaining profitability. That is the promise of Avatar in spite of any perceived shortcomings or perceived moral turpitudes you feel obliged to lay at the feet of its founder.

      I invite you all to really give a good hard sobering look at Avatar’s business model as it is explained in depth, in Avatar’s private placement memorandum that Avatar will use to raise capital in order to commence preflight and flight operations.

      Yes, Avatar is an ambitious undertaking that will not happen without ambitious funding. But I can tell you that I am cautiously optimistic that Avatar will be successful in its oncoming attempts to raise the funds necessary to give Avatar the lift it needs to leave the starting gate.

      We are attracting the attention of a lot of very talented, experienced airline professionals and I am truly humbled by it. These forward-thinking leaders in their fields of expertise recognize the power and potential of Avatar to revolutionize domestic air travel for the average working class American. You think that can’t or won’t happen? Need I remind you of what country you are in, where all things are possible.

      1. Michael – Well, I hadn’t included it in a list of failed airlines, because after what, 20 years of trying? I’ve given up. Maybe you’ll get it off the ground one of these days, but I have little to no belief that’ll happen. But feel free to send anything you have to me at and I’ll read them all.

  4. (Side note: I really wish there was a punctuation mark called “the sarcastic exclamation point.”)

    That line is great, find one and it will be well used in the world…

    Part of the rival fad is as you said, people trying to make things like they were. But that is not going to happen since the world changes and you can’t go back.

    1. Can’t link from my device easily, but google interrobang, it is a combo question mark and exclamation meant to indicate just that.

      1. Steve – From what I can tell, the interrobang is meant to just be a question mark/exclamation point combo. So it’s not really sarcastic, just combining a question with excitement.

  5. To start up an airline usually requires finding somebody with lots of money as a backer (unless you’re already super rich and happy to become poor !). You would think that any lender of funds of equity investor with knowledge of aviation (i.e. smart money rather than family or dumb money) would tell the hopeful CEO that trying to restart an old brand is a bad idea that can only end in tears. These financial backers usually don’t have emotional involvement when it comes to things like this and are often happy to steer companies in which they invest away from potential disasters

    1. That reminds me of an old quote from Warren Buffett: How do you become a millionaire? Start with a billion dollars and buy an airline.

  6. One positive of using an old name is you have instant brand recognition. Of course you point out the negatives of that, but to marketing people the positives might outweigh that. For example, if you start up a brand new airline and name it something like AIR Freedom people are going to scratch their heads and say “what’s that, I don’t trust that fly by night start up.” Instead if you slap PAN AM on your airline your operation is no different but you might get a reaction like, “they are legit, I flew Pan Am back in the 70’s.” Never under estimate the ignorance of the public.

    What it all boils down to is that it’s very difficult to start an airline and obviously those that try grasp at anything to help them out.

  7. THANK YOU!!! So many airline employees and observers continue to live in the past and try to resurrect the “glory days” instead of being creative and innovative to create something brand new. Granted I was born in 1990, I honestly don’t believe that the “good ‘ole days” where so great. The industry has made so many great strides that far outweigh the areas they’re weakest in.

  8. Same goes for the new American. Has absolutely nothing to do with the traditions and history
    of the past except the name but all they talk about are the wonderful industry “firsts” of fifty years ago.

  9. What WERE they thinking? Oh, so re-using that name is a good idea?

    We all have a million examples where we just scratch our heads. But, think of how we named our kids. Well, it sounded good, at the time. Poor kid!

    Now, I know there was a good reason for it, but why would anyone use “Cranky” as part of their blog name? I just don’t get the association of a “Cranky” with a blog that is done so well. But, to each his/her own!

  10. The first commercial aircraft I flew was when I joined the Navy. I took Piedmont from Little Rock to Shreveport to Winston-Salem to Raleigh-Durham to Tampa to Orlando. (This was pre-Disney and pre-hub and spoke.) Then there was Southern, Jet America and Frontier (which has been resurrected). I did love PanAm. Flight 1 went around the world to the East and Flight 2 went around the world to the West (or vice versa). How about “Air America”? Anyone?

  11. “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]”

    Someone should consider reviving Southwest Airlines. Theres an impostor flying around in their livery.

  12. I grew up in an Ozark Airlines family and was kind of excited when Ozark II started up flying MDW-COU-JLN-DFW. Nice to see the swallows back in action. Although it morphed into Great Plains and reworked the route system to exclude the Missouri points it still went belly-up, but not as Ozark.

    On the whole I agree to let the old names die out at least where they hold some meaning. There is an Eastern Airways in the UK, and that’s fine by me, I don’t think anyone relates the UK line with the US line.

    If (hypothetically) I started an airline in New Orleans and named it “Southern Airways” but did not attempt to tie it in anyway to the original, would that be so wrong?

  13. So tangentially related to this, does anyone know how American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta Air Lines are going to protect the trademarks of their respective merger partners US Airways, Continental Airlines, and Northwest Airlines?

    I know US Airways did this through renaming their regionals to former the names of their former merger partners. (PSA and Piedmont Airlines are still subsidiaries of American Airlines Group, Allegheny was around until the 2000s.) There are several good airline names still out there, I can see Continental and America West being names worthy of resurrection. (Yes, Continental’s logo couldn’t be reused, since United still uses it.)

    Perhaps this is one of the reasons behind US Airways’s Heritage Logo and the Retrojet trend? The same way that the dependents of Standard Oil, still have a single Standard gas station in each state: to maintain the Standard trademark in relation to gasoline.

  14. I’m going to restart Panagra, and Jet Train.

    But my heart is set on re-starting Family Airlines with A380 service from Palmdale to Las Vegas.

    1. Famiy Airlines, A380, Palmdale to Las Vegas? Hmmmm… Now THERE’s an idea! We just MIGHT show you how we can make a profit doing just that!

      Well… not until the price of a used A380 comes down to something like $10 million, and you can find about 1000 passengers every day in Palmdale to fill it up (after we pack it with coach seats, nose to tail).

      I realize you are taking an amusing shot at the new Avatar Airlines, and I can certainly understand that. Our concept and structure are surprising to most observers… until they serioulsy look at our PPM (Private Placement Memorandum) and see the spreadsheet with all expected costs and revenue sources …. and most come up with something like ” Ah hah! These folks just might have something here!”

      You’ve got to fully understand the concept and the numbers — and you will see that even with expected high-maintenance costs of a 747-400, the (cheap) price of them today, combined with the economy of scale flying 581 passengers on a single airplane and all the other revenue centers we propose, things like the cost of fuel just don’t bother us at all. Our spreadsheet is flexible to allow one to change the cost of fuel and we find we will STILL make a profit if fuel costs double.

      OK… Far too much information for this rebel-rouser web site. Read our site for more information, and if you’ve got some $$$ to invest — please contact us! I’m becoming weary of this unpaid volunteer work!

      Dan Eikleberry
      V.P. Flight Operations
      Avatar Airlines

      1. Heh, Unpaid volunteer work? Perhaps you should bill Marvin Ruthenberg for this work, since its his job to sell the vision of the business.

        Spreadsheets have a way of being set up to meet the needs of the creator, and the old adage about statistics applies to spreadsheets as well: Figures never lie, but liars figure.

        If Avatar were such as slam dunk as you claim it is, it’d be funded and sailing through the FAA and DOT application processes.

      2. Your over the top defensiveness to a joke about a joke of an airline is much funnier than anything I could post.

        Are you still hiring comedians and mimes and jugglers for Family/Avatar? I promise, no TSA jokes.

        Thanks for the continuous comedy gold from “insert graphic here” Airlines.

  15. I took my first trip to Disney World on Eastern Airlines! (Also, my first plane trip ever, and last for another 9 years.) I didn’t realize I was such a cliche…

  16. I totally understand what you’re trying to say. I can imagine the confusion on a customer service representative who may have gotten a question about the old brand and he has no idea about it because he wasn’t aware there was such before. Can’t we think of better and newer names instead?

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