N649DL wrote:MIAFLLPBIFlyer wrote:I will keep this simple.
Eastern was the only collapse that really impacted travelers and took a while to back fill network wise by other carriers. Pan Am & TWA had been basket cases for years and year. In Pan Am's case having assets to sell at a time of restricted int'l air travel via bilaterals etc to raise funds kept the airline going longer than it should have. Pan Am's purchase of National in 1980 was a disaster. Pan Am and TWA were actually both in horrible financial shape in the early 1970's after the 747 came on line. The route swap and right-sizing of both airline in 1975 ushered in an era of more success for them, but long story short, both had high costs, fundamental network issues and probably were lucky to last as long as they did.
Eastern also always had financial issues but such an important part of air travel domestically especially along the east coast, its downsizing post 1986 and eventual collapse had more of an impact IMO.
TWA was actually doing OK in the late 1980s and was going through a bit of an International renaissance at JFK (and having a massive STL hub through acquiring Ozark in 1986.) Things didn't go south for them until Carl Icahn came along in the early 1990s.
IIRC, Pan Am might've been turning a corner in terms of profitability and getting it's costs in line in circa 1986-1987, but any forward progress was killed off by the Lockerbie crash. Delta invested heavily in Pan Am in the early 1990s and when they decided to pull the plug on PA's funding, they were completely done. Pan Am also did a complete overhaul of it's aging 747 fleet back then, so they weren't complete relics like they were by the time TWA flight 800 occurred in 1996. Pan Am almost merged with Northwest in 1989 and was looking to create a PA-NW-KL alliance (sort of in the same way DL-KL-AF in the late 2000s.) Had that happened, Pan Am's future would've been completely different during the 1990s.
It's still a bit surprising that the US Government let Pan Am die the way they did, but IIRC, Pan Am also made a lot of enemies over the years politically (could be a factor as of why.) Back then the US Government wasn't really in the business of bailing out the airlines either like they did after 9/11 or even during COVID-19.
I read somewhere that Pan Am was stunned by how much both the Johnson and Nixon Administrations disliked them, undercutting them on the Trans Pacific Route Case and not allowing them to carry domestic passengers. They made tons of enemies through the years politically.
Also in hindsight it was probably good for the US traveler to get Pan Am and TWA out of the way as their service levels were terrible by the late 1980's.
Delta, American and United all were more able to be competitive with European flag carriers in the 80's and 90's. Obviously since 9/11 the industry has changed and that logic doesn't hold water anymore, but throughout the 90's it was better to have UA and AA at Heathrow for the American traveler and DL throughout much of the rest of Europe and India than Pan Am or TWA. The standard of service had slipped that far.