Buyout of Piedmont Airlines
Date: February 23, 2002 09:15PM
is Like Loosing an Old Friend.
I am going to miss Piedmont Airlines.
It won’t make any difference to most airline travelers of course. The name on the tail of the aircraft in which you fly is of no real significance to anyone other than the stockholders and the employees. They all cost about the same to fly and they all get you there most of the time.
To the folks at USAIR who recently made a deal to buy Piedmont it is solely a business decision. Piedmont has been a successful profitable airline for several years, and it was prime pickings for the merger moguls and corporate raiders who buy and sell companies like you and I buy and sell cars. Somebody is going to make a lot of money and that is what it is all about.
But Piedmont represents more than a bottom line to the people of North Carolina. It is our airline, it is Air Carolina, if you will, our very own homegrown little puddle jumper that made it big.
Don’t get me wrong I have no stake in Piedmont. I don’t own any stock in the company, and I don’t know anyone who does but I’ve flown Piedmont enough to make it my first choice. And when I fly, it feels like I’m flying with home folks.
There was a sense of coming home when I flew Piedmont. Coming back from overseas in the mid 1960’s I flew a variety of big airline jets including Northwest Orient, TWA, American and Delta to get to Atlanta, and then I crawled on a little rattling Piedmont propeller driven plane and headed for North Carolina. It was like catching a ride home with a neighbor.
I was traveling in uniform with several other guys and we were all heading for Raleigh on our way to our homes in Eastern North Carolina. There were not many people on the plane- unlike now when it seems that everybody is trying to get to Raleigh and the stewardess, who had a brother in the war , took time to chat with us. She asked us all where we were from and when I told her I was from Wilson we got to talking about mutual friends. I hadn’t met anyone for a long time who even knew where Wilson was.
She was one of us, a pretty North Carolina girl with a sweet southern accent, and as we flew above the dark Southern fields below, we knew we’d made it home even before the plane touched down. And that sweet thing served us free drinks all the way.
Piedmont brought travel to Eastern North Carolina when no one else would take a chance. Sure we made fun of it. We called it Trans-Terrify-ing Airways. But while the big airlines were battling to get landing rights in New York, you could fly in and out of Goldsboro on Piedmont Airlines. I remember one night from Fayetteville to Washington, Two of us soldiers were on a prisoner pickup assignment and as we took off from Fayetteville, the pilot said we’d be stopping in Goldsboro. I wasn’t aware of an airport at Goldsboro and as we came in for a landing it was obvious that we were landing at Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. That little Piedmont plane landed in midst of the giant war planes and taxied to a stop outside a mobile home that was the terminal.
You’ve got to feel kindly toward an airline like that.
Piedmont has been the nice neighbor down the block who worked hard and made a success of himself, the kind of guy that everyone in town pulled for. And now our neighbor is leaving home for the big city.
And besides, Piedmont has a safe track record and that is important to scared flyers like me. Piedmont’s last fatality occurred in 1968 and last year a study showed that Piedmont had the fewest number of what the industry calls “ Incidents”—which are anything from a blown light bulb to a blown engine---of any other airline in the country.
Piedmont’s success has mirrored the success of North Carolina. It wasn’t long ago that our state was just another sleepy Southern state and only home folks flew Piedmont. But North Carolina and piedmont have hit it big in the last decade and, while I’m not a Wall Street business analyst, it seems that the two success stories must be related.
USAIR says it has no plans at the present to change the name of Piedmont Airlines. They say it will be a wholly owned subsidiary with its own name and identity, But those in the know say that won’t last---the best guess is that the name might change after a year or so--- and one day we’ll go out to the airport and there won’t be a Piedmont anymore.
That won’t make much difference to most people, I suspect. But it will to me.
Those of us who have had to live away from the South have all experienced the heart-warming joy of hearing a telephone operator with a Southern accent when we called home from whatever corner of the world we found ourselves in. It was the same with Piedmont. Other airlines flew anywhere you wanted to go, but for a long time, if a North Carolina boy or girl was flying home, they flew on Piedmont.
I’ll miss that.