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The First Airline for Air Travel

Updated on January 3, 2014

In some ways, it seems like centuries ago or that the airline passenger services have always been around. But, the reality is, that like in the computer industry, where an old computer is six years old, and things rapidly change, the airline industry has come so far in a mere 100 years.

It was in January, 1914, when the first passenger airline service went into being, The beginning was very humble: a single 75-hp engine, wooden, Benoist XIV flying boat. It took off on its first ever flight carrying one passenger for $400 (in today's dollars, that would be $9300) one way across from St. Petersburg, FL. to Tampa, FL. Flying at a fast 60 mph, this record flight and service took 23 minutes to fly 18 miles. The passenger ( a former mayor of the city) was more curious than not and he received the "natural elements" as an in-flight bonus (the cockpit was not enclosed). Now before you laugh, consider that before this service, it took two hours to travel by steam boat. That difference is a quantum difference. In 1913, a trip between the two cities, sitting on opposite sides of Tampa Bay, took two hours by steamship or from 4 to 12 hours by rail. Traveling by automobile around the bay took about 20 hours. A flight would take about 20 minutes.

The airline was a smash! And after the debut flight, about 1200 others took the same flight one way or not at a cost of only $5 one way (in today's money that is $116).

So, in 100 years, the airline industry went from one passenger to 800 aboard a A380 Airbus and fly over 600 mph for 8500 miles.

Once America caught wind of the first airline service, others popped up between Catalina Island and Los Angeles and another one flying from New York and Atlantic City. The first postal air service was between Petaluma, CA. and Santa Rosa, CA., a distance of 20 miles.

The first airline flight flew no higher than 50 feet over the water. Halfway to Tampa, the engine misfired, and he touched down in the bay, made adjustments and took off again. As the plane landed at the entrance of the Hillsborough River near downtown Tampa, pilot and passenger were swarmed by a cheering, clapping, and waving crowd of about 3,500. In the coming months, the airline made two flights daily, six days a week. Tickets sold out for 16 weeks in advance!

Airline travel has advanced so far, so fast. It is hard to believe it all started this way!

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