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« Sex Linkage | Main | Architecture and Shadows »

May 07, 2009

Gone to Airline Heaven

Donald Pittenger writes:

Dear Blowhards --

When I walk through a shopping mall and along center city sidewalks, or even when driving, I often spy a closed store, its show windows papered over, signage removed. Usually I can't remember what shop or store was there -- even in places where I go frequently (exceptions are usually stores where I did business).

It's different with defunct airlines. One reason is that I maintain a database of my flights and wrote software to compile various kinds of summaries. Among those summary tables is one that shows the number of flights I made on various airlines, ranking them by flight count.

Counting only commercial flights (that is, no military flights, chartered flights, joyrides, etc.) my list contains 28 airlines. For what it's worth, I've flown Alaska Airlines 104 times, followed by United (89 times) and Northwest (78).

These numbers aren't surprising when you consider that 80 percent of my adult life has been lived in western Washington. Seattle is Alaska Airlines' headquarters area and they and subsidiary Horizon Air occupy nearly half the available gates at Sea-Tac airport. Furthermore, back in the days before airline deregulation, if you lived in Seattle and wanted to fly east, United and Northwest were your only reasonable choices. The four airlines mentioned in this paragraph account for a bit more than 60 percent of all the flights I've made.

At the other extreme, I've only flown once on the following: Air France, Alitalia, Go, Hawaiian, Pan American and (believe it or not) Southwest. Of those, Pan American no longer exists and Alitalia might be on the way out. And from the earlier list, Northwest is in the process of merging with Delta.

Other airlines I've flown that aren't flying now due to failure, merger, or other source of name-change are, in descending order of the number of times I've flown them: America West, Eastern, Western, National, Republic, Braniff, Air Cal, Pacific Southwest (PSA), TWA and Allegheny. All told, about 40 percent of the airlines I've flown are no longer in business under the name at the time of my flight.

Do I miss any of them? Only in a nostalgic sense enhanced by whatever knowledge I possess of the history of airlines.

I don't love any airline, nor do I (yet) have enough reasons to hate any airline, either. Some I sort of like, others I'm not sure of and most, I simply tolerate.

Still, once an airline is gone, it seems more special than it was when it was alive and flying.

Later,

Donald

posted by Donald at May 7, 2009




Comments

I can add BOAC, the precursor to British Airways, Iran Air, pre-revolution and Middle East Airlines. The latter being the dirtiest plane I have ever been on. There were streams of toilet paper on the floor leading from the rear of the plane all the way to the cockpit. Also add Japan Air, PSA(we always tried to guess what the destination they would have on the tail of the plane during their commercials), Southwest, Air Canada, Lufthansa, EL AL, Pan Am, United, American, Delta, Northwest(worst air waitresses ever), Horizon, TWA(Teeny Weeny Airlines as my mom called it), Hawaiian Air, Aloha Air, Alaska Air, and Eastern Airlines and KLM(hottest stewardess's on the planet. It has to be those tight blue skirts they wear.)

Posted by: Darby Shaw on May 7, 2009 8:37 PM



One correction, it was Western Airlines that had the commercial not PSA.

Posted by: Darby Shaw on May 7, 2009 8:57 PM



My very first airplane flight as a child was on the now-almost-forgotten Mohawk Airlines, Hartford to Buffalo and return. I really can't say that I remember much of anything about it.

Posted by: Peter on May 7, 2009 11:05 PM



Weird the way some of the great names are gone -- Eastern, PanAm, TWA ... Once when we were in the Caribbean flying from island to island we took a puddle jumper piloted by a guy with dreads who seemed stoned. Can't remember the name of the airlines, but we've referred to that memorable, scary flight as Rasta Air ever since.

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on May 7, 2009 11:18 PM



The marketers Al Ries and Jack Trout once said that naming an airline after a mountain range (Allegheny, Piedmont) represented some sort of death wish.

I used to miss "Northwest Orient", as I flew it before I was born, and twice again before my first birthday. But two decades living in a Northwest hub has erased all the romance from the brand.

Say, you wouldn't remember the NWO Stratocruiser's route from NYC to Seattle in the '50s, would you? There were several stops along the way, but we have no record of them. Our trips were to and from Anchorage-- oh, to have those frequent-flier miles!

Posted by: Reg Cæsar on May 8, 2009 2:13 AM



Say, has anyone else bought a ticket just to experience a particular airline? I once flew east to a conference, and bought a ticket on TWA, only because they didn't seem long for the world, and I had seen them from the plane window on many trips as a kid but had never ridden with them. I probably could've saved $100 by shopping around, but didn't care.

Turned out to be a smart move. Our hub airline went on strike that weekend. The last leg home on Sunday was packed with diverted NWA folks. Many more were left at the gate-- but I walked past them, clutching my prized TWA boarding pass.

It also allowed me to see St Louis's terminal, designed by Seattle native Minoru Yamasaki, better known for the also-now-defunct Pruitt-Igoe and World Trade Center.

Posted by: Reg Csar on May 8, 2009 2:25 AM



Ethiopian Airlines - my golly, the stewardesses were pretty; otherwise, a good source of anecdotes.

Posted by: dearieme on May 8, 2009 7:18 AM



Reg -- I'm not sure about the Stratocruiser route; no doubt some hobbyist has an old time table. However, well into the 1970s, (many, all?) NWA flights from Chicago would stop in Spokane before arriving in Seattle, increasing trip time and giving rival United an advantage because they flew direct.

The Stratocruiser had the range to fly non-stop (they were on the Hawaii run from the coast on United and perhaps Northwest, a similar distance). Even so, I wouldn't be surprised if they stopped en route in Minneapolis, NWA's headquarters city.

I never flew a Stratocruiser, my commercial flying being strictly jet age, starting in 1961 when the Army sent me off to California (on a Western Airlines Boeing 720) for Basic Training.

Posted by: Donald Pittenger on May 8, 2009 10:15 AM



Ah yes, the fallen flags. Some that I experienced that are no longer around: Aviateca (Guatemala), Air Panama International, AeroPeru, SAHSA (Honduras), Republic, VIASA (Venezuela), LACSA (Costa Rica, now part of TACA, aka "Take a Chance Airlines"), and many others.

Posted by: Sgt. Joe Friday on May 8, 2009 11:45 AM



Braniff, the Texas-based airline, had Calder design the paint scheme that they used for a couple of years, long before airlines turned their planes into flying billboards as they do now. They had all-leather seating. I never flew Braniff, though, and suspect it really wasn't that special.

But that was the era when flight attendants ("stewardesses"!) wore miniskirts and were hired for looks. Yes, it reduced the FAs to sex objects and no doubt brought them unwelcome attention at times — I don't defend it — but they were probably better paid and got more respect (as well as admiring glances from male passengers, which no one would dare do now) than today's miserably exploited cabin crewmembers.

Posted by: Rick Darby on May 8, 2009 4:35 PM



MB:

You probably should have asked him to pass the kuchie to the left hand side. Nothing like hotboxing a Cessna to get over those turbulence jitters!

Rasta Air: We take you higher.

Posted by: Spike Gomes on May 8, 2009 7:26 PM






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