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5 Most Beloved U.S. Airlines of All Time

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (TheStreet) -- What I remember most about the day Pan Am folded is that sometime that morning, I started to cry.

It wasn't loud sobbing or anything dramatic. It was about 30 seconds of quiet crying. I don't think anybody even noticed. I was seated in my desk at The Miami Herald, talking to someone about Pam Am's death, which occurred when Delta (DAL) declined to honor a commitment to fund the airline following its bankruptcy.

I went back to work immediately. Dec. 4, 1991, was a busy day at the Herald, given that the new Pan Am, which was to continue to serve the airline's Latin American routes as well as domestic destinations out of a Miami hub, could not take shape if Delta did not support it financially. On that day, Miami lost about 7,500 jobs.

The moment sticks in my mind because I now realize that I had come to love Pan Am and its glorious history during the two years that I got to cover the carrier, the last two years that it existed.

In compiling a list of the most beloved airlines, I consulted with several airline lovers, generally the same ones who helped me to compile the list, The 5 Worst Airlines of All Time, which TheStreet published last month. Once again, the list is biased in favor of airlines I have covered, although I covered Piedmont Airlines retroactively.

The most difficult question I faced this time was whether to include JetBlue (JBLU) . The airline has won affection from many fliers. Aviation consultant Michael Boyd famously said: "Jet Blue doesn't have passengers. It has groupies."
Like most airlines on the list, JetBlue is narrowly focused geographically, in places where it has a loyal following.

However, weighing against its inclusion, JetBlue is a relatively new airline and it has at times alienated passengers with operational shortcomings, although it has always apologized profusely and has tended to offer compensation beyond what other airlines might offer. I bet Wall Street hates that.

Possibly, the question of whether JetBlue is beloved could be clearly answered over the next year, as the airline attempts to withstand pressure from Wall Street to do away with some of the things its passengers most love: extra legroom in coach, free Wi-Fi and a free first checked bag.

Perhaps a wise marketer will even devise a "Save Our JetBlue" campaign that makes it clear just how beloved JetBlue is.

In the meantime, Midwest Airlines made it to our list. Arguably, the most symbolic act in its decline,  the elimination of the showcase chocolate chip cookies that were baked on board, mirrors what Wall Street would like to see happen at JetBlue. 

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