Takeoffs and Landings: Airlines Lost in Time
Pan Am was a name ubiquitous with travel. At its pinnacle, it was the largest U.S. airline. With 150 jets flying to 86 countries on every continent except Antarctica, it seemed invulnerable. Unfortunately, even great things can crash and burn, and the 1970s oil crisis triggered a descent into bankruptcy and closure for this transport giant.
However, many airlines never even get to experience such highs. For some, their lows have left them all but forgotten. These airlines tried to make it big but ultimately ended up just like Pan Am.
Carnival Airlines 1988-1998
Fun, affordable, and successful cruise line? Yes. Successful air travel? Not so much. When Carnival Cruise Lines purchased Pacific Interstate Airlines in 1988, they launched Carnival Air Lines to connect the Eastern Seaboard to the Bahamas, Haiti and Puerto Rico with quick and convenient air travel.
Hooters Air 2003-2006
While the main company may be known for its wings, Hooters Air struggled with takeoff. When restaurant owner Robert Brooks bought Pace Airlines in December 2002, he quickly envisioned a fleet of "flying billboards" for his chain. With seven planes, Hooters Air connected 18 airports to the company’s Myrtle Beach hub in hopes of bringing casual and tournament golfers to the area's more than 100 championship golf courses.
PeoplExpress Airlines 1981-1987
PeoplExpress was THE low-cost air carrier before companies like Spirit and Frontier. Utilizing a simplified fare structure, passengers paid for their flight in cash while on-board. One carry-on bag was free, and each checked bag cost $3, making PeoplExpress the first airline to charge for checked luggage.
Monarch Airlines 1946-1950
Formed in 1946 by F.W. Bonfils and flight school operator Ray M. Wilson, Monarch Airlines flew commuters from Denver to Durango, Colorado. As a result of being based in a cold climate, they pioneered all-weather operations by utilizing their own navigation system.
Sky King/Songbird Airways 1990-2017
Based in Miami, Sky King started as a charter airline in 1990 for the NBA Sacramento Kings. By 2002, 98 percent of the airline's flights were for hockey teams, and that continued until the NHL lockout in 2005.
In its brief existence, ValuJet made a name for itself with questionable standards and dangerous cost-cutting measures. The budget airline flew used planes with undertrained workers and was already facing attempts at grounding by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) when tragedy struck in 1996.
Pet Airways 2009-2011
Sounding like something out of an SNL skit, Pet Airways provided air travel exclusively for animals. Owners would pay up to $1200 to transport their pest between 11 U.S. cities while tracking their pet's journey online. "Pawsengers" were dropped off at special airport pet lounges where airline staff would give them pre-boarding walks and potty breaks before boarding them into the main cabin and checking on them every 15 minutes throughout the flight.
Central Airlines 1949-1967
Beginning as a glorified bus route, Central Airlines was a local service carrier running flights between Fort Worth, Texas and Oklahoma City with stops in Dallas and Gainsville. Eventually adding more cities and routes, Central transported around 24,000 passengers monthly.
Family Airlines — Never Took Off
Family Airlines generated buzz as a proposed ultra-low-cost airline geared to families by advertising fares from Dallas to Los Angeles for $49 and Los Angeles to Honolulu for $89. The airline claimed it would make just as much money in advertising as it did in ticket sales by plastering every surface of their 581-seat planes with sponsored ads.
Eastern Airlines 1926-1991
Getting its start via the scandalous Spoils Conference air mail fiasco in 1930, Eastern was part of the "Big Four" legacy carriers and dominated the air travel market of the East Coast.
MGM Grand Air 1987- 1994
In the late 80s, MGM Mirage (now MGM Resort International) decided to enter the luxury charter airline business. Reconfiguring Douglas DC-8 and Boeing 727s into lavish premium seating aircraft, MGM Grand Air began operating VIP charter and scheduled services from Los Angeles to New York.
Braniff International Airways 1928-1982
With services focused around the South, Midwest, and Latin America, Braniff International Airways suffered from many of the same issues as Eastern Airlines. Prior to ceasing flight operations, Braniff maintained one of the youngest and most modern fleets in the industry by purchasing at least eight new jets every year through the 70s.
Leisure Air 1992-1995
Started by Harold J. Pareti (former co-founder of PeoplExpress) as a charter airline based in North Carolina, Leisure soon entered the discount travel game with coast to coast fares for $99 each way. To reduce operating costs, the airline rented airport counter space from other carriers at $150 a flight and served turkey sandwiches for every meal.
Flying Tiger Line 1945-1989
Named after the WWII fighter unit and formed by ten former American Volunteer Group (AVG) pilots, Flying Tigers was the first scheduled cargo airline in the U.S. Beginning in the 1950s, the airline chartered trans-Atlantic passenger flights. At its peak, it employed 998 pilots and 251 flight attendants, transported 594 passengers and operated Happy Tiger Records.
Slick Airways 1946-1966
Founded as the air cargo division of the Slick Corporation in 1946, Slick Airways began commercial air travel in 1949. Within two years, it was the largest cargo airline in the United States and the first airline to operate the freighter version of the Douglas DC-6.
Kiwi International Air Lines 1992-1999
In the wake of Eastern's bankruptcy and sudden closure, thousands of airline employees were left without jobs. They called themselves KIWIs (like the flightless bird) because they were no longer flying. With a $2 million investment from a group of out-of-work Newark-based pilots, Kiwi International Air Lines was born.
Midwest Express 1984-2010
When Kimberly-Clark (the makers of Kleenex, Kotex, and Scott) started their own private carrier for company executives in 1948, they had no plans to run scheduled passenger flights. However, airline deregulation opened that door, and Midwest Express operations began in 1984 based out of General Mitchell International Airport in Wisconsin.
Air California 1967-1987
Featuring sunny yellow and orange stripes on a white plane, Air California was created with one market in mind: non-stop travel between Orange County Airport and San Francisco International Airport. Previously an unserved route, passengers could now travel quickly between the two cities on one of five daily roundtrip flights.
Mohawk Airlines 1945-1972
Starting small in upstate New York, Mohawk Airlines began local carrier services with single-engine planes equipped for three passengers. Within eight years, it was one of the largest regional airlines, flying two million passengers between 15 airports.
Independence Air 2004-2006
Born from the former Atlantic Coast Airlines, which operated feeder flights for Delta and United for over a decade, Independence relaunched as a low-cost carrier in 2004. The airline was unique in the budget market for using 50-seat regional jets, and they revolutionized Washington Dulles International Airport by bringing a million new passengers to the airport in its first three months of operation.
Champion Air 1995-2008
Dick Page of Front Page Tours purchased the airline operating certificate from MGM Grand Air in 1995 with the idea of offering charter services for sports teams and their fans to various events around the country. In addition to securing contracts to fly 13 NBA teams, the airline was the main contractor for "Con Air" — the Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System.
Air America 1950-1975
As part of Civil Air Transport, former Flying Tigers (the WWII pilots, not the airline) airlifted supplies into war-torn China. In 1950 the company was secretly bought by the U.S. government and branded as an American passenger and cargo airline advertising, "Anything, Anywhere, Anytime, Professionally".
Chalk’s International Airlines 1919-1980s
When Arthur "Pappy" Chalk returned from WWI in 1919, he offered flying lessons, tours of Miami and charter service to Bimini in the Bahamas from his seaplane. For seven years, he operated from a beach umbrella before building a terminal on Watson Island, where Chalk's Flying Service operated for the next 75 years.
Midway Airlines 1993-2003
Formed out of Jet Express in 1993, Midway began service from Chicago to New York. Competition and limited gates led to a hub transition to Raleigh-Durham International Airport (RDU), and operations steadily grew to nearly 200 daily flights and 33 destinations.
Paradise Island Airlines 1988-1989
While Chalk's was flying tourists to Paradise Island during the day, they were limited by their seaplanes' inability to land on water at night. Owner Merv Griffin, who also happened to own several resorts on the Bahamas island, wanted to increase tourism traffic and decided a connector airline was the ticket.
Denver Ports of Call 1966-1992
Established in 1966, Denver Ports of Call was the largest U.S. travel club with over 66,000 members at one time. The travel club operated private domestic and international trips with flight attendants who doubled as tour guides on themed vacations.
Evergreen International Aviation Inc. 1975-2013
Beginning as a commercial helicopter company known for aerial application of fertilizer, herbicides and fire suppressants, Evergreen International Airlines was formed when Delford M. Smith bought the planes and airline license of a small supplemental carrier. The global airline operated all-cargo Boeing 747 freighters, including the "Evergreen Supertanker," which could deliver 10 times the water (20,000 gallons) of a conventional tanker to a forest fire.
Direct Air 2007-2012
Operating as a charter service out of Myrtle Beach, Direct Air leased aircraft with charter airlines to serve smaller cities and destinations. Controversy ensued when the company canceled all flights overnight, citing a missed fuel payment as the cause, and stranded customers in airports.
Air Midwest 1965-2008
Beginning as a human remains transport company, Air Midwest first flew living passengers in 1968 when the Kansas market opened up with Frontier Airlines' departure from the area. Eventually, they operated 118 planes that conducted feeder flights for Eastern, TWA, US Airways, Braniff and Ozark airlines.
While technically an airline divisional brand, Ted was United's attempt at a low-cost carrier to compete with Frontier out of Denver. Serving 23 destinations throughout the U.S. and Mexico, Ted’s planes were all 156 seat Airbus A320s.