Airlines: Vienna Waltz

Along with a flag and an anthem, the symbols of nationhood all too often include a money-losing national airline. Since 1950, the number of "flag" carriers has proliferated to the point that there are almost as many as there are countries in the U.N. At least one airline is sensibly going against the trend. Tiny Austrian Airlines, which is distinguished by excellent service and frequent deficits, is seeking a shelter under the broad wings of Swissair.

Both airlines are among the pleasantest to fly on—expert pilots, comely stewardesses, gourmet food—but the similarity ends there. Austrian, which is 98% state-owned, has...