Despite the fact that millions of people a year travel by air, there is an extremely prevalent case of Did Not Do the Research with the way airplanes are portrayed in media. So much in fact, that we have our own trope to document this very phenomenom.
In reality, the commercial airline industry is a unique animal among big businesses that has undegone a huge amount of change over the last decade. What was once a luxury reserved for the rich is now for many people a commodity, and the changes needed for airlines to adapt have resulted in a wave of mergers and consolidation, much to the chagrin of the Fandom. Since the early 90s, many of the legendary names that pioneered the industry succumbed to the pressures and either merged or collapsed.
Speaking of the fandom, it exists and is as thriving as any other one you might might find on the internet. Many fans actively engage in photography, scoping out spots around airports for shooting. Rare aircraft types and special paint schemes are highly sought after. Several locations around the world are famous for the vantage points they offer such as the In-N-Out Burger just outside LAX and most famously, Maho Beach, adjacent to Princes Juliana Airport in St Maarten which regularly sees planes as large as 747s go right overhead on extremely low approaches.
So enjoy these Useful Notes. They may come in handy the next time you take to the skies.
Wikivoyage does a much better job of describing the process of flying than we could ever hope to do.
Airlines: Airlines today generally fit into one of four categories (with some overlap): Legacy, Low Cost, Low Fare, and Regional. Legacy carriers are the large flag carriers of their respective companies and as such, have significant legacies going back many years. Low Cost and Low Fare carriers are generally newer startups. The difference between the two isn't perfectly defined but generally a LFC will do anyhing in their power to offer the lowest fare possible, often at the expense of passenger comfort. An LCC makes a point of keeping their costs low through operational efficiency in order to offer reasonable, albeit not rock-bottom fares while not sacrificing passenger comfort. LCCs are more common in North America while LFCs are more common in Europe and Asia. Regional airlines operate smaller (<100 seats) aircraft on behalf of a larger (usually a legacy) airline under an "Express" or "Connection" brand as flying them on their own are generally not as economical.
Current[when?] Airlines of the USA
- United Airlines: Headquartered in Chicago with hubs at O'Hare, Houston-Intercontinental, Newark, Denver, Washington-Dulles, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Cleveland, Tokyo-Narita, and Guam. Became the world's largest airline following their merger with Continental in 2010. Current fleet includes the Airbus A319/320, Boeing 737-500/700/800/900, 747-400, 757-200/300, 767-200/300/400, and 777-200. In 2012 will be the first airline in North America to operate the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and will eventually be the largest operator with the initial 25 ordered by Continental and another 25 ordered by pre-merger United to be delivered in 2016. They will also be one of the first North American operators of the Airbus A350.
- Delta Air Lines: Headquartered in Atlanta with hubs there as well as in Detroit, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York-JFK, New York-Laguardia, Salt Lake City, Memphis, Cincinatti, Amsterdam, Paris, and Tokyo. Was the world's largest prior to United having merged with Northwest in 2008. Current fleet includes the Airbus A319/320, A330-200/300, Boeing 737-700/800, 747-400, 757-200/300, 767-300/400, 777-200, McDonnell Douglas DC9-50, MD-88, and MD90]. Northwest was originally set to be the first American carrier to fly the 787 however following the merger, Delta chose to defer their orders until 2020 as it did not fit with their fleet plans. Delta has also placed an order for 100 737-900ERs, primarily to replace their aging 757 fleet.
- American Airlines: Based in Dallas with hubs at Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago-O'Hare, Miami, New York-JFK, and Los Angeles. Before Delta, the largest airline for most of the last decade, mostly through organic growth though they did acquire what remained of TWA in 2001. Current fleet includes the Boeing 737-800, 757-200, 767-200/300, 777-200, and McDonnell Douglas MD-82/83. Future plans for the fleet include the Airbus A320NEO, Boeing 737MAX, and 787-9. Currently undergoing reorganization under chapter 11 bankruptcy with their future somewhat in question. Currently US Airways and Delta have expressed interest in merging, but AA management seems dead set on going at it alone.
- US Airways: Headquartered in Phoenix with hubs in Charlotte, Philadelphia, Phoenix, and Washington-Reagan. Long the Redheaded Stepchild of the legacy carriers, they formed as the result of several mergers of smaller carriers over the course of their history. In 2005 they were acquired by Ameirca West in a first of its kind merger between a legacy and low cost carrier. The US Airways name was retained to reflect the nationwide network of the combined airline. Current fleet includes the Airbus A319/320/321, A330-200/300, Boeing 737-300/400, 757-200, 767-200 and Embraer E190. Has been very adamant about its desire to merge in the near future, most hopefully with American.
Low Cost & Low Fare Carriers
- Southwest Airlines: Based in Dallas with focus cities at Love Field, Chicago-Midway, Baltimore, Las Vegas, Atlanta, Denver, Houston-Hobby, Phoenix, Orlando, and a bunch of other cities. The airline you think of when you think of a low cost carrier. Carries more passengers domestically than any other airline. In 2011 they acquired AirTran Airways and are currently in the process of integrating operations. Current fleet includes the Boeing 717-200, and 737-300/500/700/800. The 800 is a recent addition, entering service in March 2012 while the 717 was inherited from AirTran and is the first non-737 the airline have ever operated in significant numbers. They will be the launch customer of the 737MAX in 2017. Southwest is notable for their crews who make up for their lack of in-flight entertainment by being Fun Personified and their policy of not assigning seats. That particular practice has drawn differing opinions amongst flyers, however most agree that their current method of assigning passengers a specific spot in line to board is much better than their old "cattle call" boarding.
- Alaska Airlines: Based in Seattle with hubs in Sea/Tac, Anchorage, Portland, and Los Angeles. Actually one of the older airlines in existence today but their business model is much more that of an LCC than a legacy, with a route network concentrated heavily on the west coast. Current fleet include the Boeing 737-400/700/800/900. Being Seattle based, they are very proud of their all-Boeing fleet. In recent years have engaged in codeshare arrangements with just about everyone, but especially Delta and American. Due to their relationship with those two, there is constant talk of merger with one of them but currently they seem content to remain independent.
- JetBlue Airways: Based in New York with hubs at JFK, Boston, Ft. Lauderdale, Orlando, and Long Beach. One of the more recent successful startups. Well known for pioneering the trend of inflight satellite television. Current fleet includes the Airbus A320 and Embraer E190 with orders for the A320NEO coming in a few years. Originally founded by a former Southwest executive and many former employees of TWA, they enjoyed much initial success. A few unfotunate PR nightmares have caused them to loose a bit of their luster, but are still consistently rated at the top of customer satisfaction surveys.
- Frontier Airlines: Owned by Indiapolis-based regional Republic Airways, they maintain their primary hub in Denver. Bought out of bankruptcy by Republic who also purchased the failing Milwaukee-based Midwest Airlines and merged the two in 2010, however recent cutbacks have seen the Milwaukee hub completely dismantled and the airline has pretty much shrunk back to its pre-merger state. Current fleet includes the Airbus A318/319/320 and Embraer E170/190 with orders for the A320NEO and Bombardier CSeries. While well liked by passengers for their high service standards and fun animal-theme tails, stiff competition from both Southwest and United in Denever (and previously AirTran in MKE) have made it difficult to stay afloat and Republic is currently planning on spinning Frontier back off into its own company.
- Virgin America: Based in San Francisco with hubs in SFO and Los Angeles. Originally planned as an American expansion of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Group, it ran into legal troubles as US laws prohbit US-based airlines from having majority control by a foreign entity. By the time operations commenced, Branson and co. only retained a minority share and licensed the Virgin brand to the American investment firm that maintains majority control. Current fleet includes the Airbus A319/320 with orders for the A320NEO in the future. Competes mainly by offering more full-service flights at LCC prices, offering a similar coach experience as JetBlue or Frontier, but also adding first class to lure away higher-paying business passengers from legacies, particularly United.
- Spirit Airlines: Headquartered in Ft Lauderdale with hubs there and Detroit. Originally an LCC like any other, in more recent years have reimagined themselves as an "Ultra Low Cost Carrier", the closest thing passengers in the US to the European LFC model, and as such have made them pretty much the most hated airline in the US. Current fleet includs the Airbus A319/320/321 with orders for the NEO upcoming. They specialize in Caribbean destinations from the Ft Lauderdale hub but also pick and choose select high business markets from places like Chicago and Dallas, seeking to steal passengers from the legacies like Virgin America does, but instead of competing on product, they compete on rock bottom fares. As you might expect, you get what you pay for.
- Allegiant Air: Headquartered in Las Vegas with hubs there and in Orlando-Sanford, Phoenix-Mesa, and an assortment of other vacation destinations. One of the more consistently profitable airlines in recent years, having found a niche providing low-cost service to vacation markets from smaller, under-served cities that would otherwise only have regional flights from the legacies to their nearest hub. Current fleet includes the McDonnell Douglas MD82/83/87/88 and Boeing 757-200. Over the past few years they started to get more competition from AirTran starting similar routes from their Orlando hub, but with the merger with Southwest they are now looking at backing away from most of them ceding the niche to Allegiant.
- ↑ including the folks that are responsible for media
- ↑ actually Tempe
- ↑ their network traditionally heavy along the coast while AW was of course, in the west
- ↑ not hubs due to their point-to-point style network
- ↑ they breifly flew a couple leased 727s in their early days, but they didn't last long
- ↑ very similar to those of JetBlue