Legacy carrier

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A legacy carrier, in the United States, is an airline that had established interstate routes before the beginning of the route liberalization permitted by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 and so was directly affected by that Act. Legacy carriers are distinct from low-cost carriers, which, in the United States, are generally new airlines and were started to compete in the newly deregulated industry.[1]


A typical characteristic of legacy carriers is that they usually provide higher quality services than a low-cost carrier; for example, a legacy carrier typically offers first class and business class seating, a frequent-flyer program, and exclusive airport lounges.[2] Many legacy carriers are also members of an airline alliance through which they agree to provide those services to each other's passengers. Also, legacy carriers generally have better cabin services, such as meal service and in-flight entertainment.

The term 'legacy carrier' has generally not been used outside the United States. Many other countries have long-established flag carriers that are or were historically owned by or often given preferential treatment by their national governments. The national airlines occupy a position roughly equivalent to the American legacy carriers on quality of service and membership in international alliances compared to newer low-cost carriers. None of the American legacy carriers is an official flag carrier of the United States.

Since the Deregulation Act, many legacy carriers have folded or merged with other carriers. Those that survived now benefit from the fact that low-cost carriers no longer hold large cost advantages over the major legacy carriers.[3][4]

A trend among legacy carriers is to outsource short-haul and medium-haul flights to regional airlines. In 2011, 61% of all advertised flights by American, United, and Delta were operated by a regional airline, an increase from 40% in 2000.[5] Another trend is for legacy carriers to aggressively challenge the low cost carriers resulting in some LCCs failing.[6]

Active legacy carriers[edit]

The list has shrunk over the years. In 2005 there were four legacy airlines which were under Chapter 11 bankruptcy.[7] More mergers took place in the decade 2010-2019 and more low cost carriers emerged.[8][9] As of 2020, the list of legacy carriers remaining after 10 years of mergers is as follows:

Defunct legacy carriers[edit]

Through the mid-20th century, the "Big Four" domestic airlines were American, Eastern, TWA, and United. Additionally, Pan Am focused exclusively on international service and was the unofficial U.S. flag carrier. Many smaller airlines operated concurrently, and some grew into national airlines in the years surrounding the 1979 deregulation.

By the end of 1991, there were seven remaining transcontinental legacy carriers: American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, TWA, United, and USAir. These seven stood for a decade until TWA was incorporated into American in 2001; the remaining six subsequently stood for nearly another decade until three of them were respectively incorporated into the other three during the early 2010s.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "TURBULENCE in the Airline Industry". SGR Law. Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  2. ^ "The Effects of US Airline Deregulation 1970 - 2010". thetravelinsider.info. Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  3. ^ "Legacy vs low-cost carriers: Spot the difference". The Economist. March 26, 2013.
  4. ^ "'Low cost' vs. 'legacy airlines'". KPMG. August 25, 2022.
  5. ^ "Think airline seats have gotten smaller? They have". USA Today.
  6. ^ "Legacy Carriers Are Killing Their Low Cost Subsidiaries". Simple Flying. June 24, 2019. Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  7. ^ "The Day That 4 American Legacy Carriers Went Bankrupt". www.aerotime.aero. Retrieved January 20, 2020.
  8. ^ "The runway to the final four". CNNMoney.com. Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  9. ^ "U.S. Legacy Carriers Vs. Low-Cost Rivals in 8 Charts". Skift. January 14, 2016. Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  10. ^ "ATDB.aero aerotransport.org AeroTransport Data Bank". www.aerotransport.org. Retrieved January 26, 2020.
  11. ^ Hengi, B. I. (2000). Airlines remembered : over 200 airlines of the past, described and illustrated in colour. Lewis, Neil. Leicester, England: Midland Pub. ISBN 1-85780-091-5. OCLC 44395047.
  12. ^ "JetPiedmont || T.H. Davis, The Early Years". jetpiedmont.com. Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  13. ^ "Air Transportation: Eastern Airlines". www.centennialofflight.net. Retrieved January 22, 2020.
  14. ^ "Air Transportation: Pan American: The History of America's "Chosen Instrument" for Overseas Air Transport". May 11, 2009. Archived from the original on May 11, 2009. Retrieved January 21, 2020.
  15. ^ Grant, Elaine X. (July 28, 2006). "TWA - Death Of A Legend". www.stlmag.com. Retrieved January 21, 2020.
  16. ^ "Delta reaches deal on Minnesota jobs". www.bizjournals.com. Retrieved April 10, 2021.
  17. ^ "Two mega-airlines are United: Continental is no more". Houston Chronicle. March 3, 2012. Retrieved January 21, 2020.
  18. ^ Mutzabaugh, Ben. "US Airways' final flight closes curtain on another major airline". USA TODAY. Retrieved January 21, 2020.