I was fortunate enough to be part of TWA's Commemorative Final Flight on December 2, 2001, from MCI
, on TWA's "Wings of Pride" MD
-80 series aircraft.
It was a flight I will absolutely never forget. I still have the certificate hanging on my wall, and I still have the gift box they provided all of the passengers with wine and TWA-logoed wine glasses still stored away.
Here's a copy of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch report from that day:
"TWA CHECKS ITS BAGGAGE, BEGINS FINAL LEG TO
By Cynthia Wilson
Of The Post-Dispatch
Robert Cohen And Rick Pierce Of The Post-Dispatch Contributed To This Report.
Today, airports throughout America will look a little different.
Gone are the blue, red and gold colors that denoted the oldest name in commercial aviation.
TWA, the brand created by Trans World Airlines, was replaced overnight Saturday with the red and blue of American Airlines, its new owner.
American bought the St. Louis-based airline last April in a $4.2 billion deal that helped make the successor carrier the world's largest airline. American is based in Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas.
Airline executives and employees retired the TWA name Saturday with a commemorative flight from Kansas City, home of the airline's main maintenance hub, to the airline's main hub in St. Louis.
The send-off of Flight 220 began with a water cannon salute, prompting the control tower to ask, "Is somebody retiring?"
Capt. William Compton, TWA's retiring president, replied, "Yes. TWA is retiring." Compton piloted the afternoon flight.
Passengers on board the MD
-80 included paying customers and the media. All were given a certificate signed by Compton that marked the historic flight by noting its flight number and the names of the cockpit and cabin crew. The box lunch on the 40-minute flight included a bottle of Merlot and keepsake wine glass.
After working all night, Sandy Melton, a reservations agent based in Norfolk, Va., with 13 years at TWA, took an early morning flight to Kansas City to be a part of the send-off.
"I had to be here to say goodbye to TWA," Melton said. Normally, she can fly standby. But for this sought-after flight, she bought a ticket because she didn't want to risk not getting a seat.
Although TWA is retiring, the spirit of the airline will live on, said Bob Baker, vice chairman of American and chief executive of TWA Airlines LLC. He told the crowd gathered at the Kansas City airport that he is confident that "we" will strive, despite the problems the industry faces in the aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
"I commend you for all you've accomplished as a family and as a company," Baker told employees in Kansas City and again after the plane's arrival in St. Louis.
Since taking control of TWA's assets, American has made several changes to TWA's operation. It has discontinued unprofitable routes and operations, and added more coach leg room to TWA airplanes.
But starting today, American's stamp will be more visible on TWA, the airline that long dominated service at Lambert Field and once did so at Kennedy Airport in New York.
Starting today, passengers holding TWA tickets will be directed to check in at American Airlines ticket counters and gates. Aircraft previously operated by TWA will begin to lose the TWA emblem and bear only the name of the new owner. TWA's Ambassador Club members will have access to American's Admiral's Club.
TWA Aviators frequent-flier program members whose miles have been transferred into American AAdvantage accounts may begin to redeem their miles for travel on American and any of its Oneworld Alliance partners.
TWA Airlines LLC still exists. That's the subsidiary set up by American to hold TWA's assets until the airlines are fully combined. Federal agencies still must declare the two airlines as a single carrier and designate TWA airplanes as American's.
TWA's inventory of seats will be sold as an American Airlines product. Flight information monitors in airport terminals will show TWA flight numbers as American's.
In preparation for the changeover, American ran newspaper ads in key markets, including St. Louis, informing passengers of what to expect.
"There's no need to exchange your TWA tickets for American Airlines tickets. In fact, you don't have to do anything," the ad states.
TWA Flight 2, from Honolulu to St. Louis, was expected to arrive at 6:30 a.m. this morning. It was the last flight actually scheduled to fly under the TWA name, said Julia Bishop-Cross, a spokeswoman for TWA and American.
Airline officials chose St. Louis and Kansas City for the commemorative flight partly because the communities are home to the bulk of TWA's employees, Bishop-Cross said. The cities also hold historical significance for the airline, she said.
"Both cities were stops along the first coast-to-coast air and rail service on a route laid out (in 1929) by Col. Charles Lindbergh, one of TWA's founding fathers," Bishop-Cross said.
Although its latter years were marred by financial turmoil, TWA was a pioneer in the airline industry. Among its innovations, TWA was the first U.S. airline to offer an all-jet fleet.
The TWA brand was born Oct. 1, 1930, when Transcontinental Air Transport and Western Air Express merged to form Transcontinental and Western Air Inc. Later that month, TWA inaugurated coast-to-coast, all-air service.
The cross-country journey took 36 hours and included an overnight stop in Kansas City, where in 1931 TWA relocated its headquarters from New York.
Often called the airline to Hollywood stars, TWA returned its headquarters to New York in 1964 and was once a leading international carrier. But the airline didn't adapt well to deregulation, which allowed the airlines to openly compete.
When it moved its headquarters to St. Louis in February 1994, TWA had completed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization only three months earlier. Within 18 months, it underwent a second bankruptcy reorganization.
Earlier this year the airline filed for its third bankruptcy in less than a decade, setting the stage for American Airlines' buyout of TWA's assets. Compton said then that TWA's would-be owners were attracted by its reputation for reliability and dedication to service, as well as its geographic location. He repeated those points again Saturday, as he thanked employees after his flight arrived at Lambert Field's Gate C-10.
He was met by a cheering crowd of teary-eyed employees, retirees and sentimental customers. "We're here today because of TWA employees and those TWA employees that came before us," Compton said.
Although the TWA brand name disappears, Bishop-Cross said longtime TWA customers have much to look forward to.
Beginning Sunday, American's newest passengers will have access to the world's largest airline network, with more than 900 destinations. Passengers also will be able to use new self-service check-in equipment to get boarding passes and check baggage with a ticket agent waiting nearby. Likewise, passengers who check baggage with a skycap can get boarding passes at the same time.
Although new security rules have affected check-in procedures, American passengers who have a ticket, a printed itinerary or a boarding pass and who don't check baggage can bypass the ticket counters and go directly to departure gates to check in, Bishop-Cross said.
A ticket, a printed itinerary or a boarding pass is needed to clear security checkpoints. By year's end, passengers who are booked and not checking bags, but who lack tickets or printed itineraries, will be able to use express check-in service at American's ticket counters to get boarding passes.
It was hard for many TWA employees, retirees and customers to say goodbye.
Peggy Gustafson of Columbia, Mo., is a longtime TWA customer. She said she was saddened at the thought of visiting Lambert and not seeing TWA signs, partly because it will remind her that there is less competition in the industry.
In addition, "I feel like St. Louis has lost something . . . even Missouri has lost something," she said.
Said Willie Crutchfield, a TWA skycap at Lambert: "I hate to see TWA go, but there's nothing you can do about it. We'll do the same job we do for American that we do for TWA."
In Kansas City, Kevin McMahon brought his family to the ceremony because he wanted his children to remember that he had worked for TWA. McMahon said he also will hold on to his TWA caps, posters and other memorabilia.
In the basement of the TWA Training Center on Natural Bridge Road, business was brisk Friday at the memorabilia store. Frieda Sparks, a TWA flight attendant since 1977, flipped through $10 foam models of a 747 jetliner, looking for one without dents.
Big sellers were TWA coffee mugs, calendars, Christmas ornaments and clothing commemorating the final days of TWA. All were being scooped up by a steady stream of pilots, flight attendants and ground personnel.
By far, the most sought-after souvenir Friday was a $5 poster of New York, a night skyline scene with the World Trade Center towers prominent and the TWA logo on the bottom.
TWA'S LOCAL IMPACT
* The airline had 8,700 local employees who generated more than $2 billion a year in local economic activity as of last spring.
* TWA was responsible for pumping $9.3 billion a year into the region's economy, including the activity of other airport-related businesses.
Reporter Cynthia Wilson:
E-mail: [email protected]