A Timeline of US Airline Merger History

Locations in this article:  London, England

Last week, the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) moved to block its first airline merger in the last decade. If the merger between American Airlines and US Airways goes through there will be only three legacy carriers in the United States.

While the next six months will determine the fate of that merger, it’s worth it to take a moment and look back at U.S. aviation history.

In 1978, the government passed the Airline Deregulation Act, which phased out the Civil Aeronautics Board’s authority over pricing, routes, mergers, and interline agreements, and shifted that control to the airlines. More than 30 years later the effects are still being felt by airlines and by air travelers.

In the years that passed, a number of airlines bought out or merged with smaller or struggling carriers. In more recent years, major carriers have started to merge, creating the largest airlines in the world, and those airlines have started cutting capacity and flights, cities and routes — and in the process raising fares.

Here is a look at some of the major airline mergers, acquisitions and shut downs in the last 40 years.

1972: Delta purchased Northeast Airlines

1979: After a series of acquisitions and mergers, Allegheny Airlines became US Air

1982: Eastern Air Lines acquires Braniff Airlines’ South American routes; Braniff files for bankruptcy and ceased operations.

1985: Southwest buys the financially struggling Muse Air

1986: Northwest Orient Airlines merges with Republic Air, despite opposition from the Justice Department. The airline changes its name to Northwest Airlines.

TWA merges with Ozark Air Lines, creating the sixth-largest commercial air carrier.

1987: Frontier, New York Air and People Express merge into Continental

The DOT formally approves the merger between USAir and Piedmont

American acquires AirCal

Delta merges with Western Airlines. The Supreme Court rejects emergency requests by Western unions and clears the way for the merger.

1988: US Air buys PSA

1990: American acquires Eastern Air Lines South American Routes

1991: Eastern Air Lines shuts down

Delta wins a bidding war for Pan Am’s Northeast shuttles and routes to Europe.  (United already bought Pan Am’s Pacific division and London routes.) Pan Am Airlines shuts down.

1993: Southwest acquires Morris Air

1997: ValuJet Airways merges with AirWays Corp., and becomes AirTran Airways

1999: American buys Reno Airways

2001: American buys TWA

2005: US Airways merges with American West Airlines

2008: Delta merges with Northwest

2010: United merges with Continental

2011: Southwest merges with Air Tran

For more information on recent merger history: