Five Airlines That Have Shut Down
Airlines that have closed
I've always loved aviation for as long as I can remember. When I was a kid, I used to sit outside on the porch with friends from the neighborhood and play a game called, I spot an aircraft.
The goal of the game was to be the first among the group to spot a plane and if you were really good, you would be able to identify the type of aircraft and the name of the airline.
Back then, we would see all sorts of airlines flying over the skies of Chicago. Many of them had distinctive coloring on the tail – which made them easy to identify as they flew by.
Today, playing a game of I spot the aircraft is much different than it was back during my childhood in the 1970’s Gone are familiar airlines that once streaked across the horizon. Sure, there are a tiny handful left of the legacy carriers but the big ones are essentially gone. They either closed up shop as a result of financial difficulties or merged with another airline as part of an acquisition.
Just for fun, I am going to resurrect five of these airlines and share a little history about each one. I recognize there’s tons of stuff on the Internet about aviation but I figured one more page one hurt. Plus, I think we should try to remember these pieces of Americana because of their historical value.
Just a quick note here – I am providing a basic snapshot of each of these carriers. This article in no way does any of them justice. My goal is to just touch upon very basic information.
OK – let’s jump right in!
I worked at Trans World Airlines (TWA) in the early 1990’s. I was employed (initially) as an international Sales Agent. I liked working here because the carrier was so “vintage” – and I mean this in every sense of the world. I guess there was something cool about working at a place that had so much to do with aviation history.
TWA’s history can be traced all the way back to 1925 when it was called Transcontinental and Western Air. It was one of the “Big Four” carriers back in the day (1930’s & 40’s) along with American, United and Eastern. The carrier was forced to merge by the Postmaster General 1930; a combination of Transcontinental-Air-Transport (TAT) and Western Air Express.
During its Halcyon days, which many believe occurred during the 1960’s and 70’s, the airline had routes that spanned the globe. Among its fleet of planes included aircraft like the Lockheed Tri-Star 10-11 (commonly referred to as the L10-11) and the Boeing 747-100. Other aircraft were part of the fleet as well, including a contingent of DC-9s and a good sized number of 727s. Many of the DC9’s were acquired after TWA merged with Ozark in 1986.
TWA was absorbed into American Airlines in 2001.
Some of you may remember this airline while others do not. Midway Airlines was a carrier that was based on Chicago’s South side.
The carrier was popular among people in the Windy City because it provided an alternative to hassles involved with O’Hare International Airport.
Midway started on October 13, 1976. Many people considered this to be one of the first post deregulation startups but in truth, Midway had received its operating certificate before deregulation officially took place.
Midway started out with 3 DC-9s, which it has purchased from TWA and initially flew out of Chicago to Cleveland, Kansas City and Detroit. As time went on, the carrier grew and kind of picked up the reputation as a vacation airline.
A little known factoid is that Midway Airlines snapped up assets from Air Florida after the company filed for bankruptcy. Obtaining some of Air Florida’s property opened up the markets of Florida and the Caribbean for the airline.
Midway really only had one decade of glory, which was in the 1980’s. It went out of business in 1991 after Northwest Airlines pulled out of an acquisition deal (which Northwest denied), leaving the company dead in the water financially.
Midway officially croaked in November of 1991.
This particular carrier was an oldie but a goodie. It started operations back in 1926 and originally began operations with the name Northwest Airways flying mail.
Northwest (NWA) didn’t begin flying passengers until the year 1927.
Northwest likely had its glory days during the 1970’s and 80’s, which in some ways is similar to TWA. The carrier had an extensive trans-pacific network with lines that could be drawn from the United States to destinations all across Asia. They were a big time player on the trans-pacific front and had a lock on many route going to the Far East.
Northwest also had a fairly large domestic presence with its major U.S. hubs in Detroit, Minneapolis and Memphis.
A little unknown fact about Northwest is that the carrier had a huge cargo operations business – in fact, one of the largest in the world.
The company flew 747 freighters to key cities in the United States and to Asia.
Northwest merged into Delta Airlines in October of 2008, which at the time created the largest airline in the world.
There’s a good chance you remember this airline. It was once the largest international carrier in the world. There is a lot of history with this carrier and this brief passage doesn’t do it nearly enough justice but I will briefly cover the highlights
Pan Am started in October of 1927 and flew mail and passengers out of Key West, Florida to Havana, Cuba. There were a number of mergers and acquisitions with the carrier in its early days, which made Pan Am into the giant airline it would become later in its life.
Pan Am was had really reached its peak during the 1960s and 70’s. At that time, the airline had lines crossing from the east coast (JFK) to multiple European destinations and from the west coast (LAX and SFO) to a host of Asian cities. In fact, Pan Am used to fly to 86 countries that touched six different continents.
As deregulation took, the carrier found itself having more and more difficulty competing with other airlines. Remember, Pan Am was an international carrier and its route structure was set up for long distance service. We had several oil crisis that hit in the decades following deregulation (1978) which helped to push this carrier into the graveyard.
Pan Am ended operations in December of 1991.
Easter Airlines was a major air passenger service carrier in the United States. The company officially began operations in 1926 as Pitcairn Aviation carrying mail.
When you look at the history of this carrier, it really was born out of a composite of different air travel corporations, once holding the name Eastern Air Transport until it officially changed its name to Eastern back in the early 1930s.
Did you know that Eastern was once owned by General Motors? It was. The carrier was purchased in 1938 from GM by World War I legend and hero, Eddie Rickenbacker. Rickenbacker guided this airline during its early days in a way that shaped the company into a giant force to be reckoned with on the global scale.
The carrier really was at its peak during the 1960’s and 70’s and had a boatload of different aircraft. These planes included DC8’s, L-10’s, DC-9s and 727’s. The company had major hubs in Atlanta and New York (LGA and JFK), Charlotte/Douglas International and in San Juan, Puerto Rico.
Like many legacy carriers, Eastern had financial problems. There were other issues involved too with management and leadership that did not help the carrier.
Eastern ended operations in January of 1991.
Which airline do you miss the most?
I have obviously left out a lot of details on the history of each carrier mentioned here. The truth is, there is just no way to cover all of these airlines in one article.
My hope is to use what appears here as a basis for future writing, having this piece acting as a point of reference.
Sadly, there really are only a few airlines left in the United States. The ones that are left of byproducts of acquisitions from the carriers of yesteryear or the result of modern day mega-mergers.
The ability for existing airlines to merge still exists but honestly, there are not many left that can get married. In short, the biggies are all married up.
I do think we have lost something with the collapse of these carriers.
I would love to hear your memories of the different airlines mentioned here – or the ones that are gone that are not mentioned.
I’ve included a poll as well for fun. Thanks for stopping by!