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Legacy carrier

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Title: Legacy carrier  
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Legacy carrier

A legacy carrier, in the United States, is an airline that had established interstate routes by the time of the route liberalization which was permitted by the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 and was thus directly affected by that act. It is distinct from a low-cost carrier (a term fostered as a form of disparagement against post deregulation start-up air carriers, and the traditional airlines' once heavily unionized work groups), which in the United States are generally new airlines that were started to compete in the newly deregulated industry.

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. Many legacy carriers are also members of an airline alliance through which it has partner carriers that agree to provide these services to their own passengers as well. Also, legacy carriers generally have better cabin services, such as meal service and in-flight entertainment.

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 airlines.[1][2] There are currently four US-based legacy airlines left that operate transcontinental and overseas route networks. That number will shrink to three once American Airlines and US Airways complete their merger, most likely in 2015.

A trend among legacy carriers is to outsource short and medium haul flights to regional airlines. In 2011, 61% of all advertised flights by American, United, Delta, and US Airways were operated by a regional airline. This figure was only 40% in 2000.[3]

Legacy carriers

Current transcontinental legacy carriers

Current regional legacy carriers

Defunct legacy carriers

Through the mid-20th century, the "Big Four" domestic airlines were American, Eastern, TWA, and United. Additionally, Pan American 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, USAir, and United. These seven stood for a decade until TWA was incorporated into American. The remaining six stood for nearly another decade until three of them were respectively incorporated into the other three (the merger of US Airways into American is slated to conclude in 2015).


  1. ^ "Legacy vs low-cost carriers: Spot the difference". The Economist. 26 March 2013. 
  2. ^ "‘Low cost’ vs. ‘legacy airlines’". KPMG. 
  3. ^
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