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History of Safety Cards, Part 2: The Ditching Decade

By Fons Schaefers

Trammel Again

World War Two confirmed the United States (US) as the leader of world civil aviation. The war, which started in Europe and lasted the longest there, caused the European players to lose the dominant position they had gained in the pioneer years of the 1920s and 1930s. In the United States, civil aviation could develop fairly uninterrupted. The Douglas DC-3 became the norm in air travel from 1936 onwards and throughout the war years. It solidified the dominant position that the United States, by now, had reached in civil aviation not only in terms of technology and traffic volume but, also in terms of safety regulatory standards. A position that it has kept ever since.

In the first part of this series, we saw the very first signs of what we now know as cabin safety. An improvement in exit marking and lighting was made in response to the 1943 Trammel accident, but there was also the issue of the exit handles not being apparent to passengers. Coming back to the question about the first safety card in the US, it was brought to my attention that two airlines introduced specific printed instructions to passengers. Presumably, they were inspired by Trammel.

United Airlines added to its flight information folder an item on the location of the control of the ‘auxiliary exits’ in their DC-3s.

United Airlines, c. 1943
TWA, c. 1943

TWA went a step further and added in its “Welcome aboard” folder detailed cabin diagrams of the three DC-3 versions in their fleet indicating exits and equipment. I reproduce the model 277 which has the cabin door at the RH rear side. Instructions for operating the three auxiliary exits are given below the diagram. No instructions were given for opening the main door, however.

While not being true safety cards, these two publications can certainly be seen as forerunners.

Ditching Safety Leaflets

Proper leaflets dedicated entirely to passenger safety followed in the year immediately after the end of the war. Their subject invariably was passenger preparation for ditching. I am aware of leaflets first issued by Pan American World Airways (PAWA), American Overseas Airlines (AOA) and BOAC in 1946, Air France in 1947, SAS[1] and United Airlines in 1948 and TWA and Panagra in 1949. More airlines would follow in the 1950s, as we will see later. Here are some front pages. AOA was the international arm of American Airlines. It flew to Ireland, the UK, the Netherlands, Scandinavia and West Germany. The three languages (English, Dutch and Swedish) represent these countries, except for Germany. It may well be that the volume of German passengers in those years was too low to merit the extra translation. AOA was bought by PAWA in 1950. PAWA’s leaflet shown is the 1947 issue.

American Overseas Airlines
Pan American World Airways, c. 1947

[1]SAS called their ditching leaflets ‘Safety at Sea’ so as to alliterate with their own name.

British Overseas Airways Corporation
Air France
Pan American-Grace Airways (Panagra)

What caused this surge of safety leaflets and why were they all about ditching? The answer is threefold.

Still fresh in contemporary minds was a notable water accident that occurred just before the war. On its way from New York to Bermuda on January 21, 1939, an Imperial Airways Short Empire flying boat named Cavalier had to make a forced landing halfway along its oceanic journey. It broke up upon impact and sank shortly after. All 13 occupants had survived the impact, but three drowned. The flying boat had no life rafts on board and, for that matter, neither did it have seat belts. The only life-saving equipment on board was 22 ‘seat-type’ and six ‘crew-type’ ‘rubber life belts’ (life vests)[1]. Of these 28 life vests only eight were used, four of each. The survivors clung to them for 10 hours in the water, which was moderately warm, before rescue came. The British Air Ministry Inspector of Accidents made a list of recommendations for safety improvements on flying boats, including life rafts as standard equipment and instructing passengers on the fastening of seat belts on take-off and landings, the pointing out of emergency exits and how to fasten life-belts. It was noted that ‘an illustrated notice showing how life-belts should be put on was displayed in each cabin of the flying boat. This, I assume was a fixed message similar to those carried on ferry boats.

[1]Press summary of Report of the Investigation of the Accident to the Imperial Airways aircraft G-ADUU (Cavalier) on January 21, 1939, Office of the Air Attaché British Embassy, Washington D.C., March 25, 1939.

During the war considerable experience had been gained with transoceanic flying, albeit with military transport aircraft. In about 1 per 1,000 crossings[1] they had to make a water landing on the ocean, which became known as a ‘ditching’. The survivability rate was about 30%. This experience, together with that of Cavalier, may well have inspired the US Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) to issue a regulation for increasing the chances of surviving a ditching:

‘The crew of aircraft used in overwater flights shall be drilled periodically in “abandon ship” procedures. Passengers shall be acquainted with the location of emergency exits, with emergency equipment provided for individual use, and with the procedure to be followed in the case of an emergency landing on the water.’[2]

This regulation, which was part of a whole set of new regulations, applied from September 1945 but only to U.S. carriers flying ‘outside the continental limits of the United States.’ At the time, they were only PAWA, AOA and TWA. In 1947 they were joined by United Airlines which started to fly to Hawaii and Northwest Airlines which connected the US with Japan and China.

[1]Human Factors in Air Transport Design, Ross A. McFarland, 1946, p. 534

[2]U.S. Civil Air Regulations, 41.507 Use of emergency equipment, effective September 1, 1945

Thirdly, the Search and Rescue (SAR) division of the then still provisional International Civil Aviation Organization issued in December 1946 recommendations for the briefing of passengers: before take-off, on the use of safety belts and the location of emergency exits; after take-off, on life jackets and other emergency equipment. In the case of an in-flight emergency, passengers should be further briefed in anticipation of an impact that, more likely than not, would be on water.

Thus, the focus of the new requirement and recommendations for briefing passengers was on overwater flights and an emergency landing on water. There was no equivalent requirement for an emergency landing on land. Why not? To answer that question, we have to study accidents of the time. They typically occurred during the cruise portion of a flight. Even in the cases where the aircraft remained controllable, impact landings on land tended to be fatal to all. The 1943 Trammel case had been an exception, but only partial, with two survivors out of 20 occupants. The Cavalier accident and the military services however had demonstrated that a ditching could be well survivable.

So, now that the war was over and commercial air transport was to grow in size and span oceans, a ditching was recognized as the principal survivable accident scenario. They were therefore prone to regulatory support. The form chosen was to mandate that airlines ‘acquaint with’ or brief passengers about ditching procedures. Nowhere were leaflets or booklets mandated, but airlines found they served the purpose.

A Closer Look

Studying these instructions and keeping in mind current practices, a number of differences in tone and directions stand out. The key message was that of aviation being safe, the crew having been thoroughly trained and always in control in which its authority was never to be questioned (see PAWA illustrations above and below).

A ditching, it was believed at the time, would not come sudden but announced, with plenty of time to prepare for it. On the part of passengers, that meant loosening the tie, removing sharp objects, taking off spectacles and high-heeled shoes, putting on warm clothes and then a life vest, sit tightly strapped in and, when so ordered, brace for impact. There was no common opinion on what to do with seatbacks: some airlines said upright, others said recline as much as possible. For some airlines, the brace position for forward row passengers was to sit on the floor with the back against a bulkhead (see illustration Air France 1953).

Opening exits, if even mentioned at all, was to be left to the crew. The American airlines typically added a layout of the aircraft with exit and raft locations, while in Europe this was less common. PAWA included a detailed graph of the life raft and the survival pack contents on their leaflets (see illustration below).

PAWA and BOAC issued new versions of their safety leaflets almost every year. United, TWA and Northwest, on the other hand, stuck to their original designs for at least a decade, only changing them to match fleet updates. For the other airlines, changes were more random.

PAWA, c. 1947
PAWA, c. 1947
Air France, 1953

BOAC’s 1946 folder explained life jackets and rafts, called ‘dinghies,’ but did not have a layout of the aircraft, nor any explanation about where the exits were or how they opened. Yet, seat belts were explained. Contrary to the Americans, who only advised the use of seat belts in preparation for an emergency landing, BOAC advised that the seat belts ‘should be fastened when the aircraft is taxiing[1], taking off or landing’. Clearly, that stemmed from the Cavalier accident recommendations.

[1]The addition of taxiing is particularly noteworthy as that was many decades ahead of becoming common practice in the rest of the world, except that SAS also had this in their safety instructions.

BOAC seat belt instructions

For aircraft not equipped with pressurized cabins, oxygen masks were explained by BOAC.

BOAC oxygen mask instructions

In the 1947 BOAC folder exits were mentioned for the first time, but not depicted. It said, “there are ample emergency exits on all Speedbirds which will be pointed out to you by a member of the crew before take-off.” Also added was a single text line about desert packs ‘containing rations and water’ being carried, as well as ‘very comprehensive First-Aid Packs.’ The portion about the oxygen mask now cautioned ‘please don’t confuse this with a gas mask. It does not have to fit tight.’ With the war still fresh in people’s minds, passengers apparently had made this comparison when reading the earlier version.

Aircraft Diagrams

The summum bonum of 1950s luxury flying was the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser. To give an impression of how cabin diagrams were rendered in safety leaflets, here are five of them, by as many different airlines, so you can compare. BOAC chose to only show the aircraft from outside, with the exits marked with arrows. Conversely Northwest did not point out any exit, but only emergency equipment, using an engineering drawing of the cabin. Yet, on a closer look, the escape ropes gave a hint as to where exits were, at least for those not over the wings. Over-wing exits needed no ropes. The other three airlines also used cabin plans, all in their own fashion, showing both the exits and emergency equipment. They were oriented with the front of the aircraft at the top, matching the compass of a forward-facing passenger. All Stratocruisers had the lower lobe lounge, but only one airline, PAWA, marked its exits, plus that of the storage area ahead of the wings. There are many other interesting features in these layouts such as the spacious, gender-specific washrooms. They are clearly identified in the AOA layout and can also be recognized in the United and Northwest samples.

United Airlines, 1949
AOA, 1949
PAWA, 1958
BOAC, 1958
Northwest Airlines, 1952

Cozy Rafts and Duck Landings

The texts in the safety leaflets were light-hearted so as not to put off passengers by emphasizing the dangers of flying. Phrases were used like:

life vests are fashionable in emergency landings. Yours is bright yellow and quite handsomely tailored


Brace for impact – careful the order is not embrace!’                                                       

Similarly, entertaining cartoons were used, often showing a life raft as a cozy place to be. Here is a collection. Click on each image to enlarge.

Other airlines preferred the analogy to ducks. Shown are Northwest, 1952, and Hawaiian, 1963.

Ditching experience

So, with all the focus on ditching, did they indeed occur, and were life rafts lifesavers? The first recorded use of a life raft, ironically, was not on water, but in a desert, giving shade and shelter. That was following the crash on June 18, 1947 of Clipper Eclipse, a PAWA Lockheed Constellation, in Syria. Star Trek aficionados will likely know this accident. Its creator, Eugene Roddenberry, was the third officer and took a leading role as the two pilots were killed upon impact. In this crash, out of 37 occupants, 22 survived and were rescued.

The first reported ditching was in 1949. Until about 1963, on average one ditching occurred per year, worldwide, making the 1950s the ditching decade. In all cases, it involved piston-engine airliners. Other than as initially predicted and thus advertised in the safety instructions, most were sudden with no time for preparation. On the positive side, many were close to shore rather than mid-ocean, facilitating quick rescue. The survival rate was high; in some cases even 100%.

A new accident scenario

But another accident scenario quickly overtook that of the ditching in terms of numbers and survivability issues and, thus, the need for cabin safety measures. That scenario is the survivable accident involving a fire, at or near an airport.

It first happened three weeks before the Syrian crash, on May 29, 1947. United Airlines flight 521, a DC-4, failed to lift off at New York-La Guardia. It crossed the airport perimeter and half bounced, half flew until it came to rest 800 ft beyond the runway. It caught fire immediately and many occupants perished as they were unable to escape. In a congressional hearing in February 1950, it was testified that ‘passengers were seen by witnesses drumming on the inside of cabin windows, burning to death.’[1] The formal accident investigation by the CAB did not go into any of the survivability issues. Its report, issued after many preventive measures had been taken, concluded that ‘all action that it seems sensible to take has already been taken’. In hindsight, this was quite a cynical comment, as no cabin safety measure had been taken at all, let alone even considered. It needed a second accident before the CAB realized that their focus should not only be on preventing accidents to happen in the first place, but also when they do occur, on survivability issues. In their report on the January 21, 1948, Eastern Constellation crash at Boston they said that ‘this accident forcibly points to the necessity for the development of more suitable passenger evacuation facilities’. In that accident, some passengers survived but, had to jump a distance of more than 15 feet from the airplane to the ground.

[1]Hearings before a subcommittee of the (U.S. Congress House) committee on interstate and foreign commerce, February 14, 1950.

Many similar accidents would follow and in numbers and dramatic impact soon eclipsed the forced ditchings. From two different angles, scientists recognized this serious trend and started tests to collect data to understand the mechanisms of fire spread and airliner evacuation respectively. The Medical Division of the Office of Aviation Safety of the US Civil Aeronautics Administration (now FAA Civil Aerospace Medical Institute) organized evacuation studies and live tests in 1951 and 1952, jointly with the George Washington University, the US Air Force and three airlines: American Airlines, PAWA and TWA. This gave insight into the limitations imposed by exit sizes, sill-to-ground distance and descent assist means as well as human performance and interaction during evacuations. A new regulatory formula was drafted for prescribing exit numbers, sizes and locations which in essence is still in use today.

In the same period, NACA (now NASA) conducted full-scale tests in which self-propelled Curtiss C-46 and Fairchild C-82 aircraft sped along a monorail into concrete obstacles to study fuel fire ignition and propagation patterns and their effect on survival time for occupants.

Although the two scientific programs were done in isolation from each other, their results were merged and ripened the idea of a maximum evacuation time. Even before that, already in December 1951, the CAB had proposed a 90-second evacuation time limit but, this met with resistance from operators. The scientific evidence, aggravated by many more accidents, was needed to overcome that. Eventually, more than one and a half-decade later, a firm evacuation demonstration time limit was introduced, with conditions tighter than those proposed in 1951. More about this in a later part.

The airlines did not pick up the new accident trend as quickly. Rather, over the decade more airlines issued ditching safety instructions. In North America, these were Braniff, Canadian Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Eastern Airlines and Trans-Canada Airlines. In Europe, Iberia (Spain), LAI (Italy), KLM (Netherlands), Olympic Airways (Greece), Sabena (Belgium) and TAI (France). In the rest of the world such major airlines as Avianca (Colombia), Cathay Pacific Airways (Hong Kong), Civil Air Transport (Taiwan), JAL (Japan) and TACA (El Salvador) educated their passengers on ditching preparations.

Three front pages of typical 1950s ditching leaflets are reproduced: Iberia, Eastern Air Lines and KLM.

Eastern Airlines

United’s egress

There was one airline that did recognize at an early stage the land evacuation scenario as serious and dedicated a safety leaflet to it. Not surprisingly, this was United Airlines, the airline of the 1947 La Guardia accident. Its president since 1934, William Patterson was known to care about the happiness and welfare of others and, like others, must have been deeply touched by that accident. From a 1981 biography: ‘Concern for safety had always been a major deterrent to airline travel, and improved safety was one of “Pat” Patterson’s major goals. During his 36 years with United, he personally inspected close to 70 percent of United’s accidents in order to obtain a personal feel for the extent of loss and the hardships brought upon the persons involved[1].’

When the ‘coach’ class was introduced in 1952 under strict CAB regulations, this meant lower fares, which would reduce revenue. To compensate for that, aircraft passenger capacities had to be increased. US airlines were happy to do so, but one: United Airlines. Patterson used the ‘evacuation card’ (no pun intended) to try and reverse this trend which in his view was unsafe. He staged, with the help of Cornell Aeronautical Laboratory of Buffalo, New York, a series of full-scale evacuations of a 66-seat DC-4 (the normal seating on a United DC-4 was 44, so a 50% increase). Passengers were offered a scenic ride over Niagara Falls, then land back at Buffalo where a surprise evacuation was ordered. In one case, the aircraft actually did develop a major engine problem and reportedly landed at Syracuse![2] The results he would then use to try and convince the CAB that increasing capacities would be hazardous. This plan did not work out[3],[4]. Yet, possibly as a follow-on to those tests, United Airlines introduced in early 1953 a safety folder specific to the land evacuation scenario for its domestic, non-overwaterDC-4s and DC-6s. This leaflet, in style and appearance, was completely different from the ditching leaflet used for the overwater fleet. It was called ‘the egress’ and issued in both a yellow as well as a blue version. A later revision (c. 1956) is also known. Note that the main doors are equipped with an escape chute but others only have a rope.

[1]William A. Patterson of United Airlines, Richard E. Hattwick, Journal of Behavioral Economics, Volume 10, Issue 2, Winter 1981.

[2]transcript of Emergency Evacuation Technical Conference, Seattle, September 6, 1985, Volume IV, p. 622.

[3]Aviation Week December 8, 1952.

[4]Regulation of Air Coach Service Standards, Stanley Berge, Journal of Air Law and Commerce, Volume 20, Issue 1, 1953.

The Egress-United Airlines, c. 1953
The Egress-United Airlines, c. 1953

Chutes replace ropes

Towards the end of the decade airlines did add safety instructions for emergency landings on land in addition to, or instead of, those on water. At the same time, passengers were no longer briefed to wait for the crew to open exits, they were instructed how to open them themselves (see Sabena illustration below), or how to deploy and use escape chutes.

The chutes needed to be held taut by two ‘able bodied persons’ who had to jump down first. Still, they formed an improvement over the escape ropes and Jacob’s ladders that were the only descent assist means a few years before. A glance at the instructions for attaching floor straps to ensure that the chute would work will tell you that this would not be easy, especially for novices under stressful conditions. Yet, that was the state-of-the-art in 1957. Self-supporting, inflatable escape slides were about to be invented.

PAWA, c. 1958
BOAC, 1957
Sabena, 1957


How were the safety leaflets circulated? The pre-war practice of issuing flight information packets (‘kits’) to passengers with a host of promotional material was continued well into the 1950s. In a pocketed folder were stacked such items as postcards, route maps, timetables, suggestion forms, stationary, destination brochures and even small dictionaries. Somewhere inconspicuously hidden in between was the safety folder. All was for the passenger to keep as a souvenir. No ‘do not remove from aircraft’ caveats yet. That would come later, as we will see in a future edition of this series. But before that we will look in the next edition what the beginning of the jet age meant for safety cards.

Illustrations reproduced from author’s collection, except for United and TWA 1943 and United ‘s ‘The Egress.’

March 2022

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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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