In contrast to countries like Singapore, Japan or South Africa (among dozens of others), the United States does not currently have its own national airline.
For some travelers, an airline, is not relevant, prices of flights and schedules carry more weight than the reputation or the decoration. But for others, an airline, an introduction to the destination, and a vital part of the journey.
Flag carriers in particular are well known for the presentation of a nation kitchen, show off the pennant colors, and presenting a distinct approach to hospitality. And yet, the United States — for all patriotic-sounding (United) and the red, white and blue (American) airlines not have a national airline.
What is a national flag-carrier?
Singapore Airlines is a exemplary airline for Singapore, in both the financial and the symbolic meaning.
For starters, the Singaporean government owns a majority stake of the airline, making it a true national airline.
According to Tracy Stewart, editor of the airline ticket deal site Airfarewatchdog.com, flag-bearers are “international [airlines] that are subsidised or owned by the country where they are registered.”
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In the hands of the government airlines, particularly in the middle of the 20th century, were considered to be “necessary for the preservation of a strong position in the international trade and national defense,” Ed Perkins, the editor-in-chief of travel site SmarterTravel.com, told Travel + Leisure.
Stewart also added that the economic, national-flag carriers can play a huge role in the creation of jobs.
But the Singapore-based carrier is also a national airline, in the sense that it transports travellers to the Lion City long before lifting from the asphalt. Travelers have come to look forward to the meal service, which features traditional cuisine, such as pak choy, and the icy cold of flight attendants (the iconic Singapore Girls who are not the usual sarong kebayas).
Also the new South African Airways interiors integrate colors drawn from the surrounding landscapes and patterns and prints, inspired by traditional African crafts and textiles.
“As a flag-carrier’, the airline head of marketing Kim Thipe, said T+L, “we understand that we represent the people of the first and lasting impression of South Africa.”
“As a flag-carrier, we understand that we represent the people of the first and lasting impression of South Africa,” says Kim Thipe, head of marketing for South Africa’s national airline South African Airways.
But in many cases, Stewart added, “the flag carriers seem to exist purely for the sake of the optics, as a means of showing the rest of the world that a country has a seat on the right global hubs, flag splashed across the fin. Countries such as Greece and Belgium have managed just fine in the years since they scrapped their flag carriers, and we will probably have even more countries to do the same in the coming years.”
Like those previously mentioned European countries, the United States is also done with a single flag carrier. Despite offers names, such as American and United, none of the domestic US airlines are the true flag carriers — although that is not always the case.
What happened with the U.S. flag carrier?
“Prior to the second world War, the U.S. had a de facto international airline in the Pan-American, which tried to retain that position post-war,” Perkins explained. “Instead, [the] U.S. government opted for a competitive airlines.”
After the deregulation of the airlines in 1978, which officially removed government control over fares and routes, competition between airlines increased. And while the rates have decreased, airlines, multiplied, and the routes expanded, the United States has a single national carrier for the favor of a number of domestic and regional airlines.