A triple bankruptcy hasn't hit the industry since 1992, when Continental Airlines, Trans World Airlines and America West Airlines were all in Chapter 11.
But three of the nation's largest airlines could be operating under bankruptcy protection in coming weeks, analysts say, the latest sign of the industry's upheaval as it lurches through a historic transformation.
"Today, you have an entire industry that has been subjected to a paradigm shift by the virtue of new [low-cost] carriers," said Robert L. Crandall, former chief executive of American Airlines. "The outcome in the end will be that every carrier, in one way or another, is going to have to get their costs down to the point where they are essentially the same as low-cost carriers. That means [get] rid of fixed-benefit pension plans, completely and profoundly change their labor contracts, eliminate restrictive work rules, and reduce wage rates."