Like Eastern, TWA and Pan Am before it, Independence Air flew into the history books Thursday night.
The final arrival at Washington Dulles International Airport, Flight 687 from Tampa, Fla., touched down shortly after 9 p.m. EST. The pilot, Capt. Curt Selbert, said he played the Vera Lynn song "We'll Meet Again" on the plane's PA system.
"Not a dry eye in the house, including mine," he said afterward.
Walking out the arrival door, flight attendant Patty Shea, a 14-year veteran of the airline and its predecessor, Atlantic Coast Airways, carried a sign reading "buh-bye."
Passengers on the final flights arriving at Dulles said onboard attendants tried to keep the mood upbeat.
Teary-eyed airline employees shared hugs behind the counter at Washington Dulles International Airport after turning in their ID badges.
Ticket agent Cheryll Butler said passengers had been bringing the workers bouquets of flowers and other tokens of affection in the four days since the bankrupt airline announced it was going out of business.
Thousands of phone messages and e-mails came into the company's headquarters since the shutdown was announced Monday, company spokesman Rick DiLisi said.
"Almost all of them say the same thing, which is, `We're really sorry that you're leaving and we enjoyed flying with you.' We feel the same way," said DiLisi, one of about 2,600 Independence Air workers facing unemployment.
The carrier's fleet of 42 planes - a dozen 132-seat Airbus A319s and 30 smaller 50-seat Bombardier CRJ jets - was left at Dulles. At its peak, the Independence Air operated about 87 aircraft.
Independence Air began nearly 19 months ago as former executives from Atlantic Coast Airlines tried to turn a contract carrier for Delta and United into a discount airline that would eventually serve 36 markets from its Dulles hub. Parent company FLYi Inc., filed for bankruptcy Nov. 7.
Planes operated at 50-75 percent of capacity on many routes this week, as the airline worked to accommodate ticket holders.
Passenger Shirley Blaes, a retired teacher, was headed back to South Carolina Thursday from Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Conn. She said she flew Independence Air for the first time to visit her children for the holidays.
"I thought it was really very nice," she said. "Everything went right on time. The people were very friendly."
Analysts said Thursday that high fuel costs and low passenger loads in the months preceding the bankruptcy filing prompted the company to reduce its ambitious flight schedule. Some markets that once had a dozen or more flights each day were served by only a few flights in recent days.
"We're losing an airline that brought super low fares to America," said Tom Parsons, president discount travel Web site Bestfares.com. "Those super low fares put them into bankruptcy, too."
He predicted that markets not served by discount carriers JetBlue, Spirit, AirTran or Southwest will be among the first cities formerly served by Independence Air to see significant air fare increases.
Over the next few weeks, about 180 employees will work to liquidate or secure the company's assets. At Dulles, that will involve cleaning out equipment at 35 gates and 18 ticket counters. Some of those jobs could last up to six months.
On Friday, some former employees planned to attend a job fair at the company's headquarters.
Associated Press writers Cara Rubinsky in Hartford, Conn., and Ashton Williams in Chantilly, Va., contributed to this story.
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Independence Air: http://www.flyi.com
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