ST. LOUIS -- In the left seat for the last time, Capt. Bill Compton will spend today bringing home the airline with which he spent his entire career.
He was a fresh-faced rookie barely old enough to drink when he joined Trans World Airlines as a flight engineer in 1968. Today, TWA's last president completes a 33-year career with Flight 220 from Kansas City, Mo., to St. Louis: the conclusion for both Compton and Trans World Airlines.
Officially, Trans World Airlines has been known as "TWA Airlines LLC" for several months. It was one of many changes brought on by the carrier's third and final bankruptcy filing in January.
That filing, which capped more than a decade without profit, was the precursor to a buyout of assets by AMR Corp., the parent of Texas-based American Airlines. TWA Airlines became a subsidiary of American.
The integration of the two airlines, a massive undertaking further burdened by the economic strain after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, is hardly complete, said Ken Gilbert, the managing director of American's integration team.
But starting Sunday, most of the TWA assets purchased in a bankruptcy-court auction will start appearing under the American brand.
That means passengers will line up at American ticket counters and gates rather than those that continued to display the TWA brand following the buyout. Flight numbers will now come with the prefix "AA" rather than "TW."
What was Trans World Express, the airline's commuter operation, is now AmericanConnetion. Tickets purchased for travel after Sunday that say TWA are still valid; passengers will just be traveling on American flights.
The planes themselves will still show off the TWA name -- but not for long.
"We'll see in the next six months the TWA planes being repainted," Gilbert said. "That's one thing that's left to be done."
The changes are also more than cosmetic: The pilots flying what used to be TWA planes are switching to American's computer system.
"There are quite a few changes that we'll have to deal with," said Jeff Darnell, a spokesman for TWA's pilots union. "Mostly, it is how we get out flight plans and some operational specifics. But it's nothing drastic."
Frequent flyer plan
Another change taking place this weekend is the expiration of Aviators, TWA's frequent flyer program. Flyers wanting to use miles to buy tickets needed to do so by Friday.
The miles accumulated on TWA don't disappear, however. Flyers with accounts in both Aviators and American program, called AAdvantage, will see their TWA miles become American automatically, so long as the name and address on both accounts match.
Aviators members without an American account must open an AAdvantage membership, and can then transfer their TWA miles. That's easily accomplished at American's Web site -- www.aa.com/twainfo -- said spokeswoman Julia Bishop-Cross.
"And you don't have to do it now," Bishop-Cross said. "You have a year to do it."
While the brand is changing this weekend, there are other back-office functions of TWA left to integrate into American. Gilbert said TWA will continue to exist legally for a few more years, as the airline's planes are brought one by one into the American maintenance plan.
"That's a pretty complicated process," Gilbert said, "and it requires doing it aircraft by aircraft, engine by engine, and in some cases, part by part to make sure the maintenance plan and record of wear and tear transfers correctly"
Some employees at TWA are already getting paychecks from American, while others will move over in January, when all will start receiving pay and benefits on American's scale. Flight crews will move over at the same pace as the planes.
Outside of American's immediate purview, but still left unresolved, are integration agreements between the two unions that represent TWA employees and their counterpart unions at American.
"Even though the name TWA will be taken down from the livery, the represented employees of TWA have yet to reach agreement for fair and equitable integration of employees, something that was promised to employees and the Congress," Darnell said.