Commentary on Business & Society
Gather round, kiddies, for a nostalgic view of the airline industry and its exciting early days. Airlines and the cities they headquarter in are very importawnt business partners! Back in our early journalistic days we were “an aviation writer,” something there are very few if any of today in newpapers, wire services, even broadcasting (the ABC TV Network even had a full-time av-writer in the space shot days).
Most airlines with familiar brand names came to life in the 1929 – 1940 era and were headed by luminaries and industry legends — CR Smith at America; WE Woolman at Delta; WA Patterson at United. (Most didn’t use their first names, as you see — the airline brand was more important to build!)
Airlines were glamorous endeavors (once upon a time), before the cattle-car days that came with wide-bodies like the Boeing 747. Why, this writer even remembers having to wear a suit and tie when boarding first-class on most airlines!
Airlines grew up around cities that they served – and the identification as an “airline city” was very important to local business interests — as it is in Atlanta today.
Atlanta had Delta (which began life as a southern crop-dusting operation); United called Chicago home; American Airlines started in Texas, moved to Chicago and then called New York City home before moving back to Dallas-Fort Worth. Pan Am (“Pan American World Airways,” America’s foreign flag carrier to the world!) was always a New York City fixture with additional outposts in Miami (its gateway to Latin America). Eastern started out in New York with Rockefeller Family seed money, with WW I aviation hero Eddie Rickenbacker at the helm; it shifted to Miami after space hero Frank Borman took over and looked to cut costs. Continental Air Lines was headed by the dashing Bob Six who called Denver and the Rockies — the Continental Divide — home. Trans World Airlines (TWA) began as Transcontinental Western Air (TWA) and called New York home “at the end” (it was absorbed into American Airlines). The legendary aviator and investor Howard Hughes owned this airline (and others).
Regional airlines — Allegheny before it became USAirways — similarly served local cities they grew up in. Mohawk, upstate New York. Southwest — today’s darling profit-maker — was a tiny Dallas-based carrier serving Texas. Alas, nothing is forever (especially in business, and airlines are businesses, even if losing money most of the time!)
Hometown business interests were loyal to their hometown airline — and corporate fliers made up the bulk of scheduled airline profits. Then came de-regulation (late-170s/early 1980s). Things were never the same for airline managers — and passengers!
We hope Atlantans get to keep their airline at home. What would Atlanta be without Coca-Cola headquarters? Looking at the “Official Airline Guide” of late-1937 — 70 years back — we find Delta Air Lines — “the trans-Southern route” — connecting Atlanta with such cities as Birmingham, Charleston, Shrevesport, and Dallas. And its been an important part of the great city of the south — Atlanta — ever since. Great them for campaign — Keep Delta My Delta — and in Atlanta! Good luck. If Delta were to move…it would be one more indication of how far we have moved from the glory days of the American airline industry.
Editor – AC
Disclosure – HB was once American Airlines’ PR manager in NYC and then manager of corporate social responsibility programs for USA. His past airline consulting clients have included Royal Jordanian, American, NY Helicopter, Tower Air, SAUDIA, and other scheduled carriers…in the good old days! Sic Tempus Fugit! Time flies indeed — especially if you are in the “flying” business.