Vanished Airlines

Posted: March 15, 2012 in Economics, History, Technophilia

My father, who enjoyed a long career at Trans World Airlines (TWA) and retired before it merged into American Airlines, sent me an e-mail called Vanished Airlines that features a blurb on 35 distinct American airline companies that were either lost to bankruptcy or merged out of existence with another airline. The e-mail includes a pic of a plane from each fleet. (I don’t want to reblog the entire thing because it’s not my original content, but the text can be found here and a PDF with text and pics is found here.) As an airline brat, I flew with some frequency, and from early on, I was enamored of the distinctive paint jobs and tail designs each airline used to designate its planes. I flew in and out of TWA’s hub in St. Louis a lot and felt some (unjustified) pride that my father’s airline had more planes than any other at the gates and on the tarmac.

Perusing the list of vanished airlines, it strikes me that only the strong survived merger mania and a wave of bankruptcies that swept away so many others from 1975 to 1991 when Eastern, Pan Am, and Midway all finally succumbed. The economics and logistics of operating an airline are obviously complex, and routes, gate leases, and fleets are typically absorbed by another airline rather than being abandoned outright like so many hulking buildings and boats.

Now older and perhaps wiser, my infatuation with airlines is long since over, especially considering air travel has worse environmental impacts than other means of conveyance. Similarly, nostalgia expressed in comments at the first website linked above demonstrate that people liked the experience of flying far better with some of these vanished airlines, before deregulation pushed fares low enough for nearly everyone to afford and passengers became just so much cargo to air service operators. (Not to mention passengers themselves behaving like boors and buffoons or for that matter no longer fitting within a normal adult seat.)

I’ve blogged numerous times about technophilia, notably big projects such as skyscrapers, and the aftereffect of both waste and habitat destruction. No need to repeat myself here. Although it is bad character to celebrate the demise of any endeavor, I can’t deny that I look forward to a time soon when air travel against becomes an exceptional experience, undertaken at some prohibitive cost and with a honest appraisal of its very real effects.


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