65 Years of Jet Travel

65 Years of Jet Travel

By David Keller

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May of 2017 marked the 65th anniversary of something we have long taken for granted, jet-powered air transportation. As much as air travel shrank the globe by cutting transit times from weeks (or months) to days, jets have further reduced those days to mere hours.

On May 2, 1952, the era of jet powered airline service began when a BOAC de Havilland Comet lifted off from London Airport enroute to Johannesburg via Rome, Beirut, Khartoum, Entebbe and Livingstone. The May 1, 1952 timetable shows this initial service, which arrived in Johannesburg on Saturday afternoon, departing on the return Monday morning.

As the world’s first jet transport, the Comet was trailblazer, operating at speeds and altitudes not attainable by propeller-driven aircraft of the day. As additional aircraft were delivered, design flaws began to take a toll, and in less than 2 years, 5 aircraft had been lost in accidents. The most devastating flaw was metal fatigue, which after only a few thousand cycles made the aircraft susceptible to explosive decompression while in flight.

The Comet would never recover its reputation after being grounded in 1954, despite the creation of a much-improved version in the late 1950’s. Comets returned to airline service in 1958 in the form of the Comet 4, but by then, superior models from Boeing and Douglas Aircraft were on the horizon, and only 76 Comet 4s were delivered.

The next jet transport to enter service was the Soviet Union’s Tupolev 104. This type had a design similarity with the Comet, in that the engines were placed inside the wing, near the fuselage. US manufacturers eschewed this engine placement in favor of suspending them from the wings on pylons, which reduced the likelihood of structural failure in the event of a fire, and I would imagine made them more accessible for maintenance.

Several hundred TU-104’s were built, with the type remaining in service with Aeroflot for roughly 30 years.

While these and other early jet transports played a role in the technological advances of commercial aviation, it was largely the US-built types that led to the rapid expansion of jet service across the globe. This article will highlight the jet service inaugurals of US trunk carriers, which all occurred in just over 2 years, as those companies raced to join the Jet Age.

The aircraft widely considered to be the first successful jet transport was Boeing’s model 707. On October 28, 1958, Pan Am inaugurated 707 service, putting the type to work on the New York – Paris route. The timetable from this date has an image of the 707 wings and engines on the carrier’s traditional blue cover.



The gatefold has an ad promoting 707 service to Paris and Rome, with London starting a few weeks later. (In the timetable itself, it becomes evident that the continuing service from Paris to Rome was actually operated by a DC-6.) While most of the transatlantic services in this timetable were being operated by DC-7’s, the arrival of the Boeings meant the days of the Douglas piston types were numbered.

In December of 1958, National Airlines scored a coup by placing leased Pan Am 707s in service between New York and Miami, thus claiming the title of the first airline to offer domestic jet service in the United States. 707 flights were inaugurated on December 10, 1959, and the timetable dated December 14, 1959 shows 2 round trips being operated (one of which became effective on December 16th)


Flight timings meant that 2 different aircraft were required on any given day. But no 707’s were painted in National colors which likely means the aircraft were “wet-leased” and the actual ships on the Florida run varied from day to day.

In January, 1959, American Airlines inaugurated transcontinental 707 service. Further info and timetable scans were included in the previous Captain’s Log issue from earlier this year, so be sure to check out the article on American Airlines.

TWA was next with jets, also using them on transcontinental routes beginning in March of 1959. The timetable dated April 26, 1959 shows on the 707’s engines (which seemed to be popular subject matter for timetable covers), and advertises service between New York and Los Angeles/San Francisco, as well as between Chicago and Los Angeles.

 

 

Interestingly, the back cover of this timetable advertises Los Angeles to New York flight times as 4 hours and 55 minutes, while American inaugurated this route boasting of a 4 ½ hour flight time only a few months earlier. It seemed odd that TWA would be willing to concede a significant speed differential to its rival, particularly given the atmosphere of one-upmanship that prevailed as additional airlines acquired their first jets. However, a check of American’s timetable for the same date shows that the advertised flight time from Los Angeles to New York was also 4 hours, 55 minutes. Part of this would have been attributed to the slowing of the Jetstream winds from winter to spring, but it also appears that the additional fuel burn required to maintain those very high cruise speeds was not worth the few minutes saved.

Continental Airlines’ April 26, 1959 timetable shows their initial 707 schedules, slated to begin on June 8th. A single round trip was operated between Los Angeles and Chicago, with 2 additional round trips being added on June 22nd. As with the previous airlines, Continental’s 707s were -120 models sporting non-fan engines. Not requiring transcontinental range, Continental would later opt for a fleet of medium range 720B fanjets that served until the mid-1970’s.

  

On this same date, April 26, 1959, the Sud Aviation Caravelle also entered service, with SAS being the first airline to operate the twinjet. The Caravelle was used primarily in Europe, although United Air Lines did order 20 aircraft, putting them into service in July, 1961. As the timetable dated February 1, 1963 shows, United used the Caravelle largely on the former Capital Airlines routes, from the East Coast as far west as Minneapolis/St. Paul, and along the eastern seaboard, as far south as Miami.

Almost a year after the 707’s entry into service, its primary competitor, the Douglas DC-8 began scheduled flights. As advertised on Delta Air Lines’ September 1, 1959 timetable, the carrier started DC-8 service on the 18th of that month. Two round trips between Idlewild Airport in New York and Atlanta were initially operated, with the aircraft overnighting on the East Coast. In mid-October, an aircraft originating in Miami began nonstop service to both Chicago and Atlanta.

In a virtually simultaneous entry into service, United Air Lines also put the DC-8 to work on September 18th, operating between San Francisco and New York. Owing to the fact that United’s first jet service departed from the West Coast, Delta’s initial departure was several hours ahead of United’s. Both airlines were operating series -10’s, most of which were upgraded to -20’s or fanjet-powered -50’s shortly thereafter.

Already having been upstaged by National Airlines on the New York – Miami route the previous winter, Northeast Airlines leased a Boeing 707-320 series aircraft from TWA for the 1959 Winter season. The December 1, 1959 timetable shows a single roundtrip beginning December 17th, which was operated 6 times weekly, with no service on Tuesday.

In late 1959, Braniff International Airways placed its “Different and Superior Boeing 707-227”s into service. The 707-220 model combined the fuselage of the -120 with the larger wings and more powerful engines offered on the -320 series. Braniff was the only customer, ordering 5 examples.

The first, N7071, crashed during flight testing prior to delivery, although that registration appeared on the carrier’s artwork for several years afterwards. The remaining 4 aircraft were delivered and served over a decade with Braniff before being traded to BWIA for 727s in the early 1970’s. Braniff had something of a penchant for oddball models of the 707, as they also acquired 4 short-bodied 707-138Bs from Qantas in the late 1960s.

Eastern Airlines’ January 24, 1960 timetable shows the carrier’s initial jet service on what was obviously one of the most hotly contested markets in the nation, New York to Miami. Being a bit late to the party, 4 roundtrips were being offered, with 2 more being added in February. Eastern’s DC-8’s were delivered as -20s, initially referred to by the airline as DC-8Bs, sticking with the nomenclature used for Douglas’ piston transports.

Another airline to start service with DC-8-20 series aircraft in 1960 was National Airlines. The carrier’s April 24, 1960 timetable shows the discontinuance of 707 services as of April 25th, with the DC-8’s assuming the pure jet duties. Flight segments between New York and Florida were scheduled for 10-20 minutes less with the Eights than with the Boeings.

 

The third player in the competition amongst US companies to build jet airliners was General Dynamics. The company had purchased Convair in the 1950’s, and attempted to win a significant portion of the market by offering aircraft that were faster than the Boeing or Douglas types.

Delta Air Lines placed the Convair 880 into operation in May, 1960. As the timetable dated April 24, 1960 advertises, initial services were from New York to Atlanta, Houston and New Orleans. (The flight to Houston was scheduled to require 28 less minutes than the DC-8 previously used on the route.)

Additionally, Delta put the 880 into service with all “Deluxe First Class” seating, and utilized a special paint scheme that appeared on no other aircraft type. In less than 2 years, the Convairs were converted to a 2 class seating configuration, and they would eventually be repainted in the “widget” colors that were being applied to the entire fleet.

General Dynamic’s gamble with the Convair 880 (including further development into the model 990) did not pay off. The company had difficulty meeting performance guarantees, and the lower seating capacity and high fuel burn required for high cruise speeds resulted in just over 100 aircraft being built.

Western Airlines entry into the Jet Age came in the form of 2 707-120s which had originally been ordered by Cubana. These aircraft were leased to Western and entered service in the Summer of 1960. The June 1, 1960 timetable shows these aircraft operating 3 round trips between Los Angeles and Seattle, some via San Francisco or Portland.

As was the case with Continental Airlines, Western did not need the 707’s range, instead purchasing the smaller 720B. The 707s remained in the fleet for about 2 years, returning to Boeing as the 720Bs were delivered.

Bring up the rear of the pack was Northwest Orient Airlines, which started operating DC-8Cs (DC-8-30s) “to the Orient”. The July 1, 1960 timetable shows DC-8 service beginning on July 8th, primarily on flights between the US and Asia, thus requiring the longest range version of the aircraft available at the time.

Despite having been a loyal Douglas customer for many years, Northwest soured on the Eight, selling the entire fleet just a few years later as 707-320Bs from Boeing took over the TransPacific services. Northwest would not return to the DC- line until the DC-10 joined their fleet about 10 years later.

In 1961, TWA initiated Convair 880 service, on its way to becoming the type’s largest operator. The February 1, 1961 timetable shows 880s serving medium range routes to 8 cities. With the imposition of fuel quotas in 1974 that resulted from the Arab Oil Embargo of the previous year, there could no longer be any justification for retaining the fuel-guzzling jets, and TWA retired the fleet by the summer of 1974.

Although not the first jet in the fleet of any US trunk carrier, the Boeing 720 was notable for the number of those airlines it flew for. Boeing was able to create a slightly smaller, lighter version of the 707, albeit with a high degree of commonality between the two. (In fact, several airlines did not distinguish between 707s and 720s when specifying equipment in their timetables.) Every trunk airline that purchased 707s also operated 720s at some point (either purchased or leased), and given Douglas’ lack of an equivalent aircraft, 720s were also operated by United and Eastern, each having substantial DC-8 fleets.

The July 1, 1961 Northwest Orient Airlines timetable shows the 720B entering the fleet with service from Minneapolis/St. Paul to Chicago, Milwaukee and New York. This paved the way for the 707s to take over the Asian services from the DC-8s, and it is my understanding that 720s were used to Asia on an interim basis until there were enough 707s available to operate the full schedule.

Despite being very popular in the early 60s, most of the trunks were quick to dispose of the 720Bs, phasing them out in the late 60s or early 70s, while keeping their 707s or DC-8s. Western Airlines was the primary exception, maintaining 720 service until the late 1970’s.

It is worthy to note that all of the 720 operators ordered large numbers of Boeing aircraft that was more suitable for medium range flights, the 727. In fact Eastern and United were 2 of the first customers.

65 years on, and some things remain largely the same. Fuselages are still long, roughly cylindrical compartments with passengers above, luggage and cargo below, a cockpit at the front and a tail at the rear. Most types still have jet engines suspended below the wings on pylons. Despite a trend from the 1960s to the 90s for rear- and/or tail-mounted engines, most of those are out of production and the vast majority of jets being built today have wing-mounted engines.

And yet, things are very different as well. Jet aircraft are much quieter, and no longer leave black exhaust trails to mark their passing. While 4 engines were pretty much a requirement in the early days (particularly for overwater flights), they are a liability in today’s environment. Boeing and Airbus struggle to find buyers for their 747 and A380 models, while pushing twin engine aircraft out the door at record rates.

In the never-ending desire to make aircraft lighter, manufacturers are making increasing use of carbon-fiber composites rather than traditional metals. In essence, some aircraft, such as the 787 and A350 are largely made of plastic.

And the long, narrow jet engines of the past have been superseded by gaping high-bypass turbofan engines. (The engine nacelles on the 777 are approximately the same diameter as the fuselage of a 737.) And those engines power aircraft on nonstop flights lasting up to 18 hours, a feat that would have required multiple stops for their predecessors.

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American Airlines Timetables

American Airlines – An Abbreviated Timetable History

Written by David Keller

One of the most renown and enduring names in the history of commercial aviation is that of American Airlines. While many other pioneers of the airline industry have fallen by the wayside, American has persevered for over 8 decades, surviving economic collapse, wartime, and terrorist attacks.

The seeds that would eventually sprout and combine to form American Airlines were sown in the 1920’s. Like many of the US trunk carriers, American’s formation resulted from an amalgamation of dozens of small, short-lived entities that were acquired by other companies in an error to stitch together a nationwide air network.

One such airline was Colonial Air Transport, which operated between New York and Boston, as depicted on the June 1, 1929 timetable. Colonial also had divisions known as Colonial Western and Canadian Colonial, which operated to Cleveland and Montreal respectively.

   

Another of those early lines was Universal Air Lines. The timetable dated November 1, 1929 shows 5 divisions being operated, representing airlines which had been added to the Universal system in the past few years. Universal and Colonial were quickly gobbled up by The Aviation Corporation, which began operating as American Airways in 1930.

   

The February 10, 1930 American Airways/Universal Division timetable is one of the earliest to display the American Airways name. Other timetables were still being issued for the other divisions, and the only logo appearing on the timetable is that of Universal Air Lines.

    

By mid-1931, American Airways had started using an early version of the familiar AA logo with the eagle, although timetables were still issued by division. The illustrated timetables from the Universal and Embry-Riddle Divisions show that a standard format was being used across the system. Additionally, each has a promotional message on the back entitled, “A Nationwide Network of Airlines”, to promote the American Airways system as a single entity.

The October 17, 1931 issue dispenses with the individual divisions and, with the exception of Alaskan operations, brings everything together into a single timetable. The route map shows the carrier’s (somewhat circuitous) transcontinental network.

           

The timetable dated February 1, 1934 was issued shortly before the Federal government decided to cancel all airmail contracts later that month. Air Mail contracts were the lifeblood of the industry and the survival of the airlines operating those contracts was put into serious jeopardy by this action.

     

After a few disastrous months of having the air mail routes flown by the military, new contracts were awarded, with the caveat that those possessing the cancelled contracts, would not be eligible to bid on the new ones. The existing airlines simply altered their names to become “new” applicants, and ended up receiving contracts that closely resembled those they had lost a few months prior. The June 15, 1934 timetable shows the carrier now operating as “American Airlines”, albeit with the same logo employed under the prior name. This timetable also contains an ad for Curtis Condor sleeper service. New aircraft were on the horizon, and the Condor would only remain in service for a few years.

  

The most significant of those new types was none other than the Douglas DC-3. A development of the DC-2, American was the first airline to place the Three into service in June of 1936. The timetable dated June 1, 1936 has several pages dedicated to the new aircraft and promotes the new services starting “on or about” June 25th.

   

   

By 1941, the varied types used in the mid-30’s were gone, frequencies were increasing and the entire schedule was operated with Douglas equipment, either “Skysleepers” or 21 passenger “Flagship Clubs”. Based on that, it appears that the small fleet of DC-2’s the carrier operated prior to the introduction of the DC-3, had already been phased out.

   

The timetable dated August 1, 1942 shows the impact of the United States entry into World War II. The timetable dispenses with the red, white and blue covers that had been a staple since the mid-1930’s, and also shows reduced services resulting from many of the carrier’s aircraft being put into wartime roles.

   

After the end of the war, American and the other US airlines were clamoring for newer, larger equipment. In March of 1946, American Airlines began service with the Douglas DC-4. The timetable dated March 27, 1946 shows DC-4’s operating American’s “Mercury” transcontinental service.

   

The following year saw the DC-6 enter service with American. The timetable dated April 27, 1947 promotes one-stop transcontinental service “starting soon”, with service already being offered between Chicago and New York. This type proved to be popular with the airline, and was utilized until the mid-1960’s, making it the last piston-powered type to be retired from American’s fleet.

   

Continuing the rapid succession of new equipment introductions, American became the first operator of the Convair 240 in early 1948. In just over a year, the Convairs had replaced the DC-3 on the shorter segments, and the timetable dated April 24, 1949 shows the schedule operated entirely by the DC-6 and Convairs.

   

   

Another facet of American’s operations after the war was its Transatlantic services via American Overseas Airlines, made possible by the acquisition of American Export Airlines in 1945. DC-4s, Constellations and Stratocruisers flew for AOA before American sold the division to Pan Am in 1950. The Transatlantic Service timetable dated May 1, 1948 depicts a Constellation, which was operating “Mercury” services to Europe.

In 1953, American was once again the first to introduce a new type with the introduction of DC-7 service in November, 1953. The November 1, 1953 timetable contains a full page promotion for the aircraft, despite the fact that it wasn’t slated to enter service until November 29th. The DC-7 enabled American to offer the first nonstop transcontinental service in both directions. (TWA began eastbound-only nonstop service a few months earlier.)

   

January, 1959 saw the simultaneous introductions of American’s first turboprop and pure-jet types. The January 23, 1959 timetable shows the Lockheed Electra operating between New York and Chicago, with service to Detroit following shortly thereafter. The Electra served in American’s fleet for approximately 10 years, before being retired in the interest of an all-jet fleet.

The same timetable also shows the introduction of the Boeing 707 on the New York to Los Angeles run. Flight times were 4 ½ hours eastbound, with the return trip requiring an additional hour. Being the first to operate jet service domestically, the 707 received a full-page promotion, while the Electra didn’t receive any mention at all.

In the summer of 1960, the Boeing 720 entered service with American. This was a shorter, lighter, reduced-range version of the 707 designed for routes not requiring a 707’s capabilities.

For all the advantages the early jets offered by cutting flying times, they were actually somewhat underpowered. A step toward remedying this situation came in the form of the turbofan engine, which had greater thrust and did not require water injection which was utilized by the early turbojets. The timetable dated February 5, 1961 contains a promotion for the introduction of the new fanjet-powered 707, which the carrier dubbed “Astrojet”. Besides taking new deliveries of the fanjet 707s, American decided to convert all of their previously-received aircraft to the “B” standard, with fanjet engines. This timetable also shows the carrier differentiating between the 707s and 720s in its fleet, although this would be short-lived, and all aircraft in the 707/720 family would soon be generically identified as 707s in the timetables.

    

Joining the Boeings in 1962 was General Dynamics’ Convair 990. Although the 990 was intended to be a fast aircraft capable of transcontinental operations, the promised performance was never achieved, and as the April 29, 1962 timetable illustrates, they were utilized on shorter routes. The 990 only remained in the American fleet for about 6 years.

   

As the manufacturers shifted their focus to smaller jetliners, American signed up for Boeing’s model 727. The new trijet went into service in April of 1964 between Chicago and New York. The routes that appeared in American’s quick reference specified all of the jet equipment as “Astrojets”, so it isn’t possible to determine which flights were being operated by the 727. However, one of those flights continued to Dallas, and is shown in the columnar section of the timetable where the jet types were specified individually. Although there are no promotions for the 727 in this timetable, the October 5, 1964 timetable does have a full page ad for the 727, which was fulfilling a new schedule of 5 roundtrips between Cleveland and New York.

   

   

Continuing the trend towards smaller jets, American also purchased the British Aircraft Corporation One-Eleven to serve on short hauls. The 1-11 was placed into service on March 6, 1966 between New York and Toronto. Although largely used for high-frequency services from New York, the twinjets would eventually operate as far afield as Dallas. In the end, the 1-11 was another short-timer in American’s fleet, and disappeared from the schedule by early 1972.

   

The Trans-Pacific route case was a political football that had been kicked through 4 presidential administrations, with recommendations being made only to be later overturned. The case finally concluded in 1969, which resulted in American receiving route authority to Hawaii with continuing service to the South Pacific, including Australia and New Zealand.

The timetable dated October 1, 1969 shows displays a pineapple on the cover and has a “Pacific Here We Come” promotion on the back cover. However, service wouldn’t actually start on the new routes until the following August. The August 1, 1970 timetable contains a special supplement highlighting the new service. In the mid-1970’s American swapped these routes to Pan Am, receiving Caribbean routes in exchange.

   

   

As much as the race was on to inaugurate jet flights in the late 1950’s, 1970 was a competition to offer 747 service. American’s initial 747s weren’t due until the Summer of 1970, but to avoid losing ground to TWA (which inaugurated service in February), American utilized leased aircraft from Pan Am, and was able to start transcontinental 747 service in early March, only a few weeks after TWA. The March 2, 1970 timetable touts the new service with several promotional mentions.

   

The following March, American completed the acquisition of Trans Caribbean Airways, gaining routes to 6 Caribbean destinations. The March 2, 1971 shows some of those flights still being operated with DC-8 aircraft formerly operated by Trans Caribbean. (Those would quickly be replaced by American’s own 707s.)

   

American’s next widebodied type, the DC-10, went in to service in 1971. Despite being the first carrier to place the DC-10 into service on the Los Angeles – Chicago run in August, the July 6, 1971 timetable contains no acknowledgement of the new aircraft. (It does have a very nice color centerfold promotion for the 747, though!) The September 13, 1971 does feature the DC-10 on the cover.

   

   

Late 1973 saw the airline industry reacting to the shock of the Arab Oil Embargo, which reduced the availability of jet fuel, eventually resulting in carriers operating with reduced fuel allocations. Airlines quickly grounded many of their gas-guzzlers, which were generally either older first-generation jets or 747s, in favor of smaller types. The October 28, 1973 timetable, which was printed before the Embargo was announced, features a DC-10 on the cover, and 12 daily 747 departures from Chicago. In the January 7, 1974 timetable (which features 727s on the cover), many schedule changes were made, including the removal of many 747’s from active service. In this issue, there were no longer any 747 services being offered to Chicago.

   

The Airline Deregulation Act was passed in 1978, allowing airlines much more freedom to set fares and enter new markets. The initial flurry of new route applications was for dormant route authority, plus each airline was allowed entry on one route of its choosing. While most airlines proudly announced new routes in their December timetables, American waited until their January 20, 1979 timetable to inaugurate the new services. (However, none of the new cities appear on the route map in this issue.)

In the deregulated environment of the 1980’s, the airlines focused on expansion, both through mergers and the creation of hubs.   Much of American’s expansion was achieved by adding international routes to its network. In the summer of 1982, American was awarded its first European route connecting Dallas/Ft. Worth and London, courtesy of Braniff International’s bankruptcy. The June 1, 1982 timetable shows the new service, although it only merited a one-line blurb on the route map page.

    

Later in 1982, American put the Boeing 767 into service, its first new model in over a decade. The November 1, 1982 timetable dedicates most of the back cover to promote the inaugural service, unfortunately, equipment was not being specified in order to determine which flights the 767 was actually operating.

   

The following summer, another new aircraft joined the fleet, this time a McDonnell Douglas offering, the MD-80 (dubbed Super 80 by American and other carriers). These planes arrived as part of a small order on very favorable terms, in the hope that the carrier would be pleased and order more. This worked out very well for the manufacturer, as American would eventually amass a fleet of over 300 MD-80s.

   

Most airlines have “regional” code-sharing partners nowadays, and American’s November 1, 1984 shows the modest beginnings of American Eagle. Seven destinations were served from Dallas/Ft. Worth, operated by Metro Airlines. Today, American Eagle services are provided by around 10 airlines operating hundreds of aircraft, most of which are regional jets.

   

American was one of the more aggressive airlines in the hub-building arena. In addition to its major hub operations in Chicago and Dallas, the April 15, 1986 timetable shows the creation of a new hub in Nashville. American initially operated 20 routes from Nashville, with 9 additional routes being flown by American Eagle.

   

By the spring of 1987, American was serving 8 European destinations, but had yet to acquire highly-coveted routes to Asia. In the April 5, 1987 timetable, American was finally able to boast a new Tokyo route, with flights beginning in May. Because American did not have aircraft capable of operating nonstop from its Dallas/Ft. Worth hub to Tokyo, a pair of TWA 747SPs were acquired to handle the service.

   

The June 15, 1987 timetable saw American engaging in substantial service expansion on both sides of the country. In the east, a new north/south hub had been created at Raleigh/Durham with new service to 35 cities. And in the west, American had acquired AirCal, with those flights being effective on July 1.

   

The December 17, 1988 timetable shows American building San Jose into a north/south hub on the West Coast. This was part of the “H” route strategy that was thought to be the key to success, having strong north/south route networks in place on the coasts, connected by east/west transcontinental service.

   

In the summer of 1990, American greatly expanded its international network with the addition of Latin American routes previously operated by Eastern Airlines. The June 15, 1990 timetable details the new service, which would eventually result in an American hub being set up in an almost unthinkable location – Miami!

   

A little under 20 years after inaugurating DC-10 service, American put the MD-11 into service between San Jose and Tokyo. The MD-11 was essentially a stretched DC-10 (with other improvements), but needed a new model number due to a series of high-profile DC-10 accidents. American (like many of the other MD-11 customers) was not overly pleased with the aircraft, and sold the entire fleet to Fedex.

   

By the early 1990’s, American was performing hub operations in 7 locations; San Jose, Dallas/Ft. Worth, Chicago, Nashville, Raleigh/Durham, Miami and San Juan. The first of these to falter was San Jose, with American making arrangements for Reno Air to replace it in a number of markets. The timetable dated July 1, 1993 shows a good portion of San Jose services discontinued as of July 15th. Ironically, in 1999, American would purchase Reno Air, thereby reacquiring many routes it had surrendered.

   

In 2001, American absorbed a much larger carrier, as it merged with the long-ailing TWA. The July 2, 2001 timetable shows the TWA logo with the moniker “An American Airlines Company” beneath it. Unfortunately, events that unfolded later in the year resulted in most of the routes, aircraft and personnel acquired in the merger being shed shortly thereafter.

   

The darkest day in American’s history came later that year, on September 11th, as two of its aircraft were deliberately crashed, taking the lives of all on board and many on the ground. The first timetable issued after the attacks was the December 15, 2001 edition, displaying the very subdued cover design that would be used on the remaining timetables until the cessation of publication the following summer.

The age of the printed timetable had largely ended, but September 11th didn’t cause the airlines to stop issuing printed timetables, it merely hastened what technology was making inevitable. Several airlines had already stopped printing for prolonged periods (including American, which did not issue a timetable for most of 1999), only to restart publication later.

The past 15 years have been difficult ones for American, as the carrier struggled financially while watching United and Delta grow with their acquisitions of Continental and Northwest, respectively, But American’s recent merger into US Airways (which retained the American name), has vaulted it past it’s competition and made it the world’s largest passenger-carrying airline. The “AA” that graced the airways for some eighty five years will soon be history, but the eagle soars on.

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Timetables: Looking Back, Looking Forward

This article appeared in The Captain’s Log, Issue 40-4, Spring 2016
Written by David Keller

Editor’s Note: Some images/figures are spread throughout the article. Images referenced in the article that do not appear within the article body are included in a slideshow gallery at the bottom.

1975. The average American family didn’t have mobile phones, computers or internet service, and TV options consisted of the handful of local stations nearby. Except for a few visionaries, we wouldn’t have been able to imagine the digitally connected world of today.

Most commercial jetliners were manufactured in the US, with DC-9s, 737s and 727s (especially 727s!) just about everywhere. You could walk up to a ticket counter in nearly any airport or ticket office and come away with a printed timetable for your efforts. And the first issue of Captain’s Log was distributed by the World Airline Hobby Club (WAHC).

All fares and route authority in the US had to be approved by the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB). Fares generally fell into a few basic categories (Coach, First Class, etc.) and (with some limited exceptions) did not differ between carriers. It also wasn’t possible to fly nonstop between certain cities, such as between Denver and Atlanta (which even then were two of the nation’s busiest airports).

Figure 1

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 2

The 11 trunk and 8 local airlines typically operated with load factors that hovered around 50%. And it was possible to book a multi-stop flight in many markets.

The cover of the illustrated Delta timetable dated October 26, 1975, shows the airline’s special bicentennial logo. [Fig. 1] Later issues (i.e., March 1, 1976) depicted the widget with stars and stripes overlaid on it, which was the design that was applied to the logo near the forward door on Delta’s fleet. [Fig. 2] The itinerary section finds the workhorse DC-9s operating a number of multi-stop flights with as many as 9 segments.

Figure 3

Figure 3

American Airlines’ October 26, 1975 timetable shows another feature that disappeared shortly thereafter; fares for each route. While some routes only display the traditional Coach, Night Coach, First Class, and Deluxe Night Coach fares, others show various Excursion fares, which were an early step that would lead to the proliferation of fares in existence today. [Fig. 3]

Figure 4

Figure 4

For those not in a hurry, Frontier Airlines’ June 1, 1976 timetable offered a leisurely five stop itinerary between Dallas and Memphis, which required just over 4 ½ hours. This timetable also shows Frontier’s pending route applications, including the coveted Denver/Atlanta service. [Fig. 4]

Figure 5

Figure 5

While the trunk carriers operated all-jet fleets, each of the local carriers had a fleet of propeller aircraft to serve smaller communities. While in most cases that meant turboprops, Southern Airways bucked the trend by keeping a fleet of piston-powered Martin 404s in service. The March 1, 1975 timetable shows service from Atlanta, with the Martins identified by 800-series flight numbers. [Fig. 5]

By the mid-1970’s, the local carriers were eager to dispose of their remaining propeller aircraft, and in order to do so, often collaborated with commuter airlines to take over routes that were not suitable for larger pure-jet equipment. (In other cases, commuter airlines jumped in on their own to fill perceived voids in service.)

Figure 6

Figure 6

The result was a large number of commuter airlines being formed in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Many failed in short order, the most drastic example being Sunair in Florida which reportedly only operated a single flight. The timetable dated January 15, 1981, shows that service was planned for 15 Florida cities. [Fig. 6]

Figure 7

Figure 7

Other commuter airlines achieved much greater success. Horizon Airlines began service from Seattle to Yakima on September 1, 1981. The airline was able to capitalize on opportunities that arose when competitors abandoned markets (or went out of business), and was later able to establish a relationship with Alaska Airlines which is still in effect to this day. [Fig. 7]

In late 1978, the US airline industry was turned on its head with the passage of the Airline Deregulation Act. This allowed airlines far more freedom to set their own fares and enter new markets. Initially, carriers were allowed to apply for “dormant” route authority, (i.e., authority being held by other airlines but not being operated). In addition they were allowed free entry into a single market of their choosing.

Figure 8

Figure 8

Figure 9

Figure 9

Recipients of new route authority had a relatively short time frame in which to start service, or risk losing that authority. This meant that many new routes were opened in late 1978 and early 1979, and were often promoted on the timetables.

Ozark and North Central both issued timetables dated December 15, 1978, which trumpeted new service to highly sought after markets, most notably, Florida. On this date, Ozark began serving 4 Florida cities, while North Central added 5. [Fig. 8] [Fig. 9]

Some airlines were cautious, only adding a small number of routes and new destinations. Continental’s timetable dated January 15, 1979 shows Washington D.C. as the only destination added by the carrier. [Fig. 10] National Airlines added San Juan and Seattle, with both being promoted in the March 2, 1979 timetable. [Fig. 11]

Figure 12

Figure 12

On the other hand, there was Braniff International Airways which threw caution to the wind. They camped out at the CAB to be first in line when applications were being accepted for dormant routes. Their December 15, 1978 timetable shows 30 new routes being operated, and 15 cities added to the network. It was a go-for-broke strategy, and succeeded in bankrupting the airline less than 3 ½ years later. [Fig. 12]

Figure 13

Figure 13

Another facet of Deregulation was the certification of new carriers for scheduled service. The first to take advantage of this were the supplemental airlines, which already had fleets and staff available. World, Capitol and Trans International were all operating scheduled services by the summer of 1979.

World Airways wasted no time transitioning to scheduled service. The timetable dated April 12, 1979 shows daily flights shows 2 roundtrips being operated between Newark and Los Angeles, with continuing service to Baltimore and Oakland. [Fig. 13]

Figure 14

Figure 14

The first brand-new startup was Midway Airlines. The timetable dated October 31, 1979 shows new service from Chicago’s then under-utilized Midway Airport to Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City. Prior to that point, service to Midway Airport consisted of a handful of lightly-loaded flights. Within a few years, Midway Airlines had built the airport into a busy hub, attracting millions of passengers and numerous airlines. [Fig. 14]

The floodgates were opened, and many new airlines were proposed in the next few years. Some never made it off paper, and others never got into the air. And of those that did, most only lasted a few years, some, only months.

So many new airlines were being created, that the traditional 2 letter airline codes were being used up. At first, duplicate codes were assigned to scheduled airlines which had previously been assigned to airlines not offering scheduled services. Then, in 1981, airline codes began to appear which had numeric digits to increase the number of possible codes and alleviate the problem.

Figure 15

Figure 15

Best Airlines began service in 1982, and the timetable dated September 13, 1982 shows 2 aircraft operating to 10 destinations. Best may have been the most mobile airline ever, as it seemed that they dropped destinations and added new ones with almost every new timetable. Operations ceased in late 1985. [Fig. 15]

Figure 16

Figure 16

New Orleans-based Pride Air enjoyed a much shorter run. The inaugural timetable dated August 1, 1985 features service to 15 destinations, as the carrier attempted to establish a hub on the Gulf Coast. Only one additional timetable was issued (on October 1) before operations were halted in mid-November. [Fig. 16]

By the mid-1980’s, the tide turned, and the number of airlines operating in the US began dropping. One reason was that most of the new entrants failed rather quickly, as previously mentioned. Another was that the mainline carriers were establishing code-sharing arrangements with the commuter airlines, to provide a common brand, such as American Eagle or Northwest Airlink. The advantage to the qualifying airlines cannot be overstated, and those without such agreements found it difficult to complete. Some merged, and most eventually ceased operations, either voluntarily or otherwise.

In the second half of the 1980’s a number of major carriers were absorbed through mergers, Air Cal, Ozark, Piedmont, PSA, Republic and Western among them. From a timetable standpoint, some of those carriers disappeared without any mention by the surviving airline.

Figure 17

Figure 17

USAir’s timetable dated April 9, 1988 promotes its acquisition of PSA. Perhaps not the best combination from both equipment and route structure viewpoints, most of PSA’s routes would be dropped within a few years as Southwest expanded its presence on the West Coast, and USAir dealt with the acquisition of Piedmont. [Fig. 17]

Figure 18

Figure 18

A somewhat scarce timetable (given its recent vintage) is Northwest Airlines’ issue dated October 1, 1986. [Fig. 18] This is the only “full” system timetable (showing both direct and connecting flights) that was issued after the merger with Republic Airlines. (There were a few international timetables which did show connections but not all services were included.) Northwest changed to a “Frequent Flyer” format, which contained only direct flights, a format which was eventually adopted by nearly all major airlines in the US.

The early 1990’s saw the United States and numerous other coalition members go to war with Iraq. Most airlines struggled with the resulting travel downturn, some went to bankruptcy court, and others failed outright. Midway Airlines became one those casualties in 1991, halting operations after almost 12 years, and having outlasted dozens of airlines that started service in that period.

By the middle of the decade, business conditions were improving, and the allure of the industry was too tempting for some, resulting in a new round of airline creation. Some created “hub” operations in unlikely places such as Colorado Springs, Reno, and Savannah. Others offered service from under-utilized airports serving large cities, to avoid the congestion and higher costs involved with operating to the more popular stations.

Figure 19

Figure 19

Western Pacific inaugurated service in 1995, with the intention of using Colorado Springs as an alternative to the recently opened Denver International Airport, which was 19 miles further from downtown Denver than Stapleton. Particularly for customers in Denver’s southern suburbs, the trip to Colorado Springs was judged to be not much greater than that to the new airport.

The carrier’s timetable dated October 29, 1995 shows several of the airline’s Logojets, which were essentially flying billboards that the company used as an additional source of revenue. The Colorado Springs hub did not work out, and by 1997, the carrier was exploring a merger with Frontier Airlines and moving its operations to Denver. The merger plans did not materialize, and Western Pacific shut down shortly thereafter. [Fig. 19]

Figure 20

Figure 20

While most of the 1990’s era new entrants suffered the same fate as those from a decade earlier, one survived in an unusual way. AirTran Airways was a 737 operator based in Orlando. The carrier’s August 15, 1994 timetable shows service from Orlando to a half-dozen destinations. [Fig. 20]

Odds are AirTran’s story would have ended in bankruptcy like most of the other startups of the period. However, the tragic crash of a Valujet DC-9 in May 1996 while that airline was already being investigated for lax safety procedures, led to the carrier’s grounding several months later. Desperately needing a way to bury the Valujet name while avoiding the obvious implications of a straight forward name change, the airline purchased AirTran the following year. Despite Valujet being the surviving organization, the AirTran name was retained, and persevered until the completion of the merger with Southwest Airlines in 2014.

The events that unfolded following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 shook the airline industry to its core. A number of the 90’s startups failed shortly thereafter, and even most of the major carriers were forced into bankruptcy as cash reserves were depleted.

Figure 21

Figure 21

One of several startups in the 1990’s to recycle the names of airlines from the past was Las Vegas-based National Airlines. A struggling 757 operator that never seemed to find its market, National was already in financial difficulty before 9/11, and ceased operations the following year. [Fig. 21]

Another impact of September 11th, was to hasten the phase out of printed timetables. That day was already coming, given the rapid expansion of internet access worldwide. But the financial hardships being faced by the airlines in the post-9/11 world made printed timetables expendable, and most airlines discontinued their printing shortly thereafter.

Figure 22

Figure 22

American Airlines was one of the carriers whose aircraft were used in the attacks, and the few timetables produced afterwards mirrored the mood of the nation, displaying very somber cover designs as depicted by the January 31, 2002 issue. Their final printed timetable was issued less than a year after 9/11. [Fig. 22]

The last major US airline to issue a printed timetable was Southwest Airlines in 2009. The May 11, 2008 timetable is one of the many “faces” issues that had been the standard since the early 1990’s. [Fig. 23]

Figure 23

Figure 23

The years since have been notable for both the “unbundling” of fares and mega-mergers in the industry. The first involves removing items that were previously included in the purchase of a ticket (e.g., snacks, checked luggage, carry ons, advance seat selection), and charging separately for them. This allowed airlines to advertise lower fares, while turning those add-ons into a substantial revenue source.

These ancillary fees now amount to billions of dollars in revenue industry-wide, and the Ultra Low Cost Carriers such as Allegiant and Spirit make a substantial percentage of their total revenue in this manner. Air and seat belts are still included in the basic ticket price … for now.

The mergers of the past decade have brought the industry very close to the result envisioned by some industry analysts when Deregulation was being considered nearly 40 years ago. Several predicted that the ensuing competitive battles would leave American, Delta and United as the survivors to divvy up most of the US market. (It would have been difficult to predict that a small airline which hadn’t yet left the state of Texas would be able to enter the ranks of those well-entrenched carriers.)

While the airline industry in other parts of the world didn’t necessarily follow the same timelines as it did in the US, most areas experienced similar changes. Air service has largely been deregulated and/or liberalized, and the established legacy carriers are struggling to compete with new startup carriers. Additionally, although 9/11 was an attack on the United States, airlines worldwide felt its impact.

2016. The vast majority of folks in the developed world have access to digital content via computers, tablets, phones, or even watches, and have hundreds of TV channels to choose from. Most of us would have difficulty disconnecting from our electronic connections to the world, and find the memory of life without them fading quickly. (Although I do find it a bit annoying that after all the years of finding schedules for my home town, St. Louis, alphabetized as “Saint Louis” in printed timetables, they are now sorted in online schedules by the abbreviated spelling, and appear after San Francisco, Seattle, South Bend, etc.)

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus has wrestled approximately 50% of the commercial jetliner market from the US. Printed timetables would be eligible for the endangered species list (if such items qualified for inclusion), and are inevitably headed for extinction.

Yield management is so specialized it seems each individual seat has its own fare. And that fare can change from one day to the next.

The four remaining major carriers account for the vast majority of passenger miles flown, and do so with planes frequently 90% full with higher seat densities than ever before.

And this year will mark a transition for The Captain’s Log publication of the World Airlines Historical Society, which move from print to digital distribution. I’m not sure exactly where this journey leads (other than knowing that the images I include in my upcoming articles will be seen in full color rather than black and white), but I’m on board and looking forward to the trip!

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