WASHINGTON -- It is hard to imagine that the initials of British Airways, the world's most profitable and prestigious airline that yesterday said it would invest $750 million in USAir, were once fTC commonly said to stand for "Bloody Awful."
That was in the days when British Airways was a nationalized company, financed and managed by the government and run like a provincial transport service.
Today, its initials could more appropriately stand for "Best Available."
By almost any standard, the turnaround in the past 12 years of British Airways from a loss-making carrier into a world leader in both cash and style is impressive.
The airline recently reported a 120-percent leap in profits to $544 million for the year ended in March, defying the almost global decline of the airline industry, which last year lost more than $1.5 billion.
The architect of British Airways' supremacy was Lord King, 75, who resigned as chairman last week, saying he hoped he had left "some small footprint in the sands of time." He retains the title of president.
The BA-USAir merger would form the largest air network in the world.
It would open 231 cities in the United States, Canada and the Bahamas to the British flag-carrier, most of whose trans-Atlantic traffic ends on the East Coast. It would widen USAir's horizons to the world through BA's 151 destinations in 70 countries. For passengers of either carrier, it should eventually provide longer, smoother, more convenient journeys inside and beyond the United States.
Maybe most important for passengers at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, where USAir controls nearly two-thirds of the market, is the question: Can British Airways do for USAir what it did for itself?
According to expert analysts, the answer is probably a resounding "Yes." It could make USAir both a smarter and richer company.
"BA is not just going to feed passengers into sloppy service," said Tom Albrecht, with A.G. Edwards and Sons Inc. in St. Louis.
"They would like that to be as seamless as possible, where you don't notice any deterioration in service when you get off one service onto a USAir flight. Certainly, there is the potential for that kind of service improvement, that kind of overall reputation enhancement."