AirCal, the only commercial airline based in Orange County, disappeared from the ranks of the nation's air carriers Wednesday, merging into American Airlines 21 years after its founding in Newport Beach.
There were a few tears, especially among some of the administrative employees at AirCal headquarters. But for the most part, the day was a time for toasts and celebration by officers and employees of both airlines.
AirCal signs at airport terminals throughout the West were taken down Tuesday night and decals on the company's jets have been replaced with American logos--done in AirCal's purple, plum, orange and yellow color scheme.
American officials said they are not sure yet how many of AirCal's 39 jets the company will keep, so they did not want to spend the money to repaint them all with American's red, white and blue stripes.
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American, which paid $225 million for AirCal, feted AirCal's administrative employees at a reception Tuesday evening and held formal "changeover" ceremonies Wednesday at the Los Angeles and Orange County airports.
It plans to do the same today in Vancouver, Canada, where it will take over AirCal's ticket and check-in counter and begin flying to that city for the first time.
The merger generally has been seen as a good opportunity for both companies. It gives American the major presence that it had lacked on the West Coast, and it gives AirCal employees more job security in an industry where regional airlines are having an increasingly difficult time competing with the giants.
American has given jobs to all but about 200 of AirCal's approximately 3,700 employees. Most of those who did not switch over simply did not want to relocate, said James Miller, AirCal's director of personnel and one of those who chose not to join American.
"I've been in Southern California for 10 years now--eight of them with AirCal--and I've been spoiled," Miller said. "I would have had to go to Dallas or Tulsa if I wanted to be an officer in American, but I didn't want to move."
Miller and a few other AirCal employees will continue working through July to wind up the business. Their tasks will include closing down pension and profit-sharing plans--transferring accounts to American or to other plans designated by former employees--and cleaning up payroll and personnel records.