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A Survey of twenty American commercial aviation companies and of the routes which they operate



PART OF “THE GREAT SILVER FLEET” of Eastern Air Lines. In 1938 the company’s equipment included eleven Douglas DC-2 fourteen-passenger aircraft, ten Douglas DC-3 twenty-one-passenger air liners and a number of Lockheed Electras for use on some local routes. The aircraft in this photograph are Douglas DC-2s. Eastern Air Lines ranks as a major air line although it does not operate a coast-to-coast route.

THERE are 30,000 miles of internal airways operated on regular commercial schedules in the United States of America. An official timetable shows twenty companies, ranging from the great corporations operating coast-to-coast routes to small companies running short lines. The development of commercial aviation in America has been rapid. Its origin virtually dates from Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh’s Atlantic flight in 1927, which gave a great impetus to American aviation.

The basis of this vast flight system is air mail. The first regular scheduled air mail service was established on May 15, 1918, by the U.S. Army, between New York City and Washington. Three months later the Post Office Department perfected a civilian organization and assumed full charge of the air mail service.

A year after the opening of the first service, the first section of the transcontinental route was flown. On September 6, 1920, coast-to-coast air mail schedules between New York and San Francisco were established. This coast-to-coast service was not air mail as we understand it today. It consisted not of a through service, but of daylight relaying of railway mail. The practice was to fly the mail as far as possble during the day and to send it on by train at night.

During the following years experiments and research into night flying were conducted. On July 1, 1924, the flying of mail by night was begun. Modern air mail had come into being.

In the spring of 1925, the Postmaster-General was authorized to contract for the operation of air mail routes by private enterprise. In February 1926 the first contract air mail route was opened. This first route was between Detroit (Michigan), Cleveland (Ohio), and Chicago. By August 31, 1927, the Post Office Department had relinquished to private operators the last of its routes.

Air mail was thus the basis of commercial flying in America. After the election in 1933 of President Franklin Roosevelt, there was a change. In 1934 all Government air mail contracts were cancelled. For a while an attempt was made to operate the air mail lines with Army aeroplanes, but there were many accidents and the scheme was dropped. There followed the Air Mail Act of 1934, which now governs U.S.A, commercial aviation. Under this act there are three controlling bodies — the Post Office, the Interstate Commerce Commission and the Bureau of Air Commerce.

The Post Office awards air mail contracts, fixes routes for the various lines and regulates schedules. The Interstate Commerce Commission oversees rates. This function is in line with the Commission’s activities in all forms of Interstate commercial traffic. It was originally set up to protect railroads from the competition of road transport. The Bureau of Air Commerce licenses aircraft and personnel. This body is responsible for aerial safety (see the chapter “Air Routes Across America”).

The Act, moreover, limited the basis of payment for the carriage of air mail. The result has been that since 1934 the receipts from air mail, which used to be the lifeblood of aviation, have become gradually less. Instead, however, there has been a remarkable growth in passenger and freight receipts. With this growth, air line companies have been able to reduce their charges to a point where they can be said to be truly competitive.

For the individual passenger air travel is made as easy as possible. He makes his reservation at the air line office, or a representative will call on him for the purpose. On the day of his journey he goes to the office with his baggage. A conveyance waits to take him to the airport. In New York City most of the big lines are now using a type of limousine seating eight or ten passengers. A charge of one dollar (about 4s.) a head is usual for this service. At the airport there are modern terminal buildings, most of which have restaurants, barber’s shops, telegraph offices and other facilities.

Once the passenger is aloft, no pains are spared to study his comfort and peace of mind. On the famous coast-to-coast routes there are “day planes”, with reasonably commodious seating, and “sleeper planes”, with berths and reclining chairs (see the chapter “Air Routes Across America”). It has become the custom on transcontinental lines to serve meals free to passengers because of the intense competition between air line companies. The institution of air hostesses is well known and has a greater value than mere publicity. The presence on board an air liner of one of these young women has been found to have a reassuring effect on nervous passengers. There is, however, a tendency to substitute men stewards.

Another element of passenger comfort is the air-conditioning of aeroplanes. When the machine is on the ground a van drives up and pumps in cool or warm air, according to season. Once the machine is in the air a system of controlled ventilation is at work. Air is admitted at the nose of the aircraft and the entire air content is changed every minute. In cold weather the air is preheated by a steam system before passing into the cabins.

Such other attractions as special china, silver and linen, individual tables, individual toilet kits, and even telephones are advertised by the big companies. Other amenites are soundproofing, so that conversation may be carried on in normal tones, and the elimination of vibration by mounting

engines and chairs on rubber. At the end of his trip the passenger disembarks and is carried to the centre of the city by another air line car, similar to that in which he began his journey.

The third factor in American commercial flying is freight or “express”. This is growing at a faster rate even than the passenger traffic. Figures over the five complete years 1932-37 showed an increase of between 400 and 500 per cent in air express.

Nation-Wide Freight Organization

Virtually the whole of the business is handled by the Air Express Division of Railway Express Agency, Inc. (or R.E.A.), the great carrying concern of the United States. The completeness of this service was attained on September 1, 1937, when a new agreement came into force by which the air express business of the great air line, Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc., was taken over.

Before 1936 most lines were handling their own freight business. Then came the first deal by which most air lines made arrangements with R.E.A. to handle this side of the service. The advantages were great from all points of view. R.E.A. has a nation-wide delivery and collection service, such as no air line could hope to set up. From the public’s point of view the consignment of goods for air transport was much simplified when the familiar procedure, as for goods for rail transport, was applied to air freight. Moreover, the new scheme enabled a joint rail-air service to be worked.

The system of handling express is as follows. R.E.A. collects the goods from the premises of the consignor, conveys them to the airport, loads them on the aeroplane, unloads them at the destination and delivers them to the consignee.

One enterprise has brought greatly increased freight revenue to Pan American Airways on the route between the United States and South America. This is the trade in baby chickens. These are now shipped when scarcely twelve hours old. In one month more than 1,000,000 have been sent. The story of this particular item of “express” is interesting.

LOADING AIR EXPRESS on to a United Air Lines aeroplaneLOADING AIR EXPRESS on to a United Air Lines machine at Burbank, California. “Express” is the American term given to freight, which is an important factor in American commercial flying. Freight traffic is increasing at a greater rate than passenger traffic Railway Express Agency, Inc., handles all express and is responsible for its transit from door to door.

One of the staple articles of diet in Latin American countries is chicken. Yet, until recently, the breed had been allowed to decline to a low point, and the cost of replacement would have been prohibitive. Ship transport took so long that hatching eggs spoiled before they could reach their destination. Grown chickens, to survive the voyage, needed large crates, special care and an attendant.

A Pan American traffic official, aware of these facts, interested a poultry farmer of the Middle West in the idea of shipping hatching eggs by air. In the autumn of 1929 an experimental shipment was sent to Guatemala, Central America. Only two eggs out of a gross were broken. The farmer then decided to cover a broader field. Special egg crates were built and shipments were carried as far as Panama by air.

From this the farmer had the further idea that it would be possible to ship young chickens instead of the eggs. A special container was devised — a corrugated cardboard box, with removable floor, water and feed trays, light and air vents. The first shipment was an unqualified success. Soon about a thousand young chickens a week were being sent to Central America; the chicks were fed and attended to during the overnight stops. A later development improved on this system, and is

now the standard. A poultry expert reasoned that newly hatched chicks do not eat or drink at all for seventy-two hours. If he could ship them straight from his incubators — and confine his deliveries within a radius of seventy-two hours from there — he would be saving about 20 per cent in weight by not having to send the feed and water with the chicks.

Continuous Day and Night Service

The poultry expert, in conjunction with one of the air line traffic staff and an air engineer, worked out a suitable carrier. They designed a light-weight reinforced paper box, divided into sections, each holding twenty-five chicks; the sections were complete with replaceable floors, air vents and windows.

By this means it was possible to send chicks first to the nearer West Indies and then to the north coast of South America. Since then, with the faster schedules that have been brought into operation, shipments have been made to points as far distant as Rio de Janeiro (Brazil) and Lima (Peru). The baby chickens are so much easier to handle than older chickens that the line will

not accept fledgelings more than twelve hours old.

The twenty commercial companies in the United States operate coast-to-coast lines, north-to-south lines, or feeder lines. The coast-to-coast services are in the hands of three companies— United Air Lines (U.A.L.), Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc. (T.W.A.), and American Airlines. The activities of these companies are described in the chapter “Air Routes Across America”. The origins of these lines are of interest.


 PREPARING THE AMERICAN AIRLINES FLAGSHIP MASSACHUSETTS for flight at Fort Worth, Texas. The van on the left is pumping cool air into the air liner; in winter warm air would be pumped in. This air-conditioning is continued when the aircraft is in flight by a controlled ventilation system which changes the whole of the air in the aircraft every minute.

The history of United Air Lines goes back to April 1926, when a firm known as Varney Airlines, Inc., began operating from the State of Washington. A month later National Air Transport began services in the Middle West between Chicago and Dallas (Texas). In September the same year Pacific Air Transport pioneered the route Seattle (Washington)—Los Angeles (California). In February 1927 the newly-organized Boeing Air Transport was awarded the air mail contract between Chicago and San Francisco. Finally, to complete the system — which was to become the

present company — National Air Transport, on September 1, 1927, extended its service from Chicago eastward to New York. Shortly afterwards these systems were welded into one and United Air Lines came into being.

Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc. (T.W.A.), claims that its line is the shortest and fastest. The company advertises itself as the “Lindbergh Line”. The reason is that Colonel Charles A. Lindbergh was retained by a group of New York bankers and railroad executives after the completion of his transatlantic flight in 1927. In 1928 he began to lay out plans for a transcontinental system, and he all technical details.

By 1929 the group was known as Transcontinental Air Transport. Its first schedule, flown on July 8, 1929, was a combination of air and rail journey; passengers travelled by train at night and by aeroplane in day time. Lindbergh himself acted as pilot for part of the first coast-to-coast flight by his company. In 1930 this firm became part of T.W.A., the present organization. The other components were Western Air Express, flying between Salt Lake City and Los Angeles, and the Maddux Line, between San Francisco, San Diego (California) and Phoenix (Arizona). There is still a Western Air Express Company (see below).

The first T.W.A. schedule, under this combination of the three lines, was flown from October 25, 1930. On this schedule, T.W.A. ran a cargo aeroplane to carry air mail from coast to coast in twenty-two hours. Passengers flew only by day on a thirty-six hours’ transcontinental schedule; they stopped overnight midway at Kansas City. This was the first all-air coast-to-coast passenger service. In November 1932 a continuous through day and night passenger service was offered on a twenty-four hours’ schedule.

Most southerly of the three transcontinental air routes is that of American Airlines (A.M.A.). The company, with 6,850 miles of route, can claim to be the biggest of the United States domestic aviation companies. It has carried over 1,000,000 passengers in eleven years’ service. Its revenue figures in 1937 compared favourably with those of other lines.

A.M.A. craft are called “flagships”. This line was the first to introduce sleeper service, and the first to convert this into a through service without change of aeroplane. The company was the first to take delivery, in 1936, of the big Douglas DC-3 aircraft, which are now flown by all the major air lines. A.M.A. “flagship sleepers”, of which there are eight, are fourteen-berth machines. By day the twenty-seven “flagship club planes”, also Douglas craft, carry twenty-one passengers. On intermediate routes A.M.A. fly four-teen-passenger Douglas DC-2s and have fourteen of these air liners.

On the staff of A.M.A. are 244 qualified pilots, 588 trained maintenance and overhaul men, 127 radio operators and meteorologists. Including office staffs, salesmen and so forth, the total of employees is 1,835. The stewardess corps numbers ninety-four.

RADIO INSTALLATION at an intermediate landing ground of Eastern Air Lines

RADIO INSTALLATION at an intermediate landing ground of Eastern Air Lines. Radio greatly helps in the safe operation of the air services, and Eastern Air Lines has the best record of safety, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. At the end of 1937 Eastern Air Lines had covered approximately 180,000,000 passenger miles without a passenger fatality.

The chief claim put forward for its coast-to-coast route by A.M.A. is that the crossing of the Rocky Mountains is made at a more favourable level than by its competitors. A considerable network is operated by A.M.A. in the north-eastern states. From Boston a line goes west to Buffalo (N.Y.), Detroit and Chicago, whence another route goes south-west to St. Louis (Missouri) and Tulsa (Oklahoma). Here the line forks, one branch going to Dallas, the other to Fort Worth via Oklahoma City. At Dallas and Fort Worth the main coast-to-coast line is met. Ranking as a major air line, although it does not fly a coast-to-coast route, is Eastern Air Lines (E.A.L.), which operates a network of services on the eastern seaboard from New York to Miami (Florida) and inland as far as Chicago, Atlanta (Georgia) and Houston (Texas).

The proudest tradition in this line is that of safety. Early in 1937 the American National Safety Council awarded the company a certificate of special commendation “in recognition of its outstanding record in safe air transportation, never having had a passenger fatality during its entire operating history, 1930-36, with an accumulation of 141,794,894 passenger miles. This, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce records, is the best air transport accomplishment to date”.

A further National Safety Council award came at the end of 1937, stating: “Winner of the First Aviation Safety Award, covering the operating period including years 1930-36, Eastern Air Lines increased its safe operating record during the year 1937 to include approximately 180,000,000 passenger miles without a passenger fatality”.

E.A.L. aircraft are known as “The Great Silver Fleet”. The latest details of equipment available show this to include eleven Douglas DC-2 fourteen-passenger transports and ten Douglas DC-3 twenty-one-passenger aeroplanes. Lockheed Electras are used on some local services. It was this line that first instituted air hostesses (in 1931). Today, alone among the major domestic lines, the company has discontinued the hostesses. This occurred as an economy move in 1934, when mail contracts had been cancelled and passenger comfort became the concern of the co-pilot. Later, E.A.L. installed a service of men stewards. Men stewards are employed also by Imperial Airways and Pan American.

The operating history of the company dates back to February 1927, when Pitcairn Aviation, Inc., began to fly mails between New York and Atlanta. This route was later extended to Miami. In July 1929 the Pitcairn line was taken over by North American Aviation, Inc. On January 17, 1930, Eastern Air Transport, Inc., came into existence. In that year, on August 18, passenger services were inaugurated over the system. By 1931 the line was flying 10,200 miles a day and new schedules were being added rapidly, until the whole area between New York, Miami and Atlanta was being served.

In 1933 came a merger between North American Aviation and General Aviation Corporation, by which control of the organization was taken over by General Motors. On February 16, 1933, Eastern Air Transport had bought the Ludington Lines, which were operating an hourly service between New York and Washington. After the air mail cancellation (February 9, 1934), a new company, Eastern Air Lines Division of North American Aviation, Inc., was formed to bid for the new contracts. That is the present Eastern Air Lines.

In 1936 the Wedell-Williams Air Service Corporation was acquired, with airmail contracts covering the territory between New Orleans (Louisiana) and Houston (Texas). This enabled the institution of direct air services between New York and Houston, and between Chicago and Houston.

A LARGE LIMOUSINE-TYPE CONVEYANCE is used in New York to carry passengers from the town office of Eastern Air Lines to the aerodrome

A LARGE LIMOUSINE-TYPE CONVEYANCE is generally used in New York to carry passengers from the town office of the air line company to the aerodrome. The road journey from the office of Eastern Air Lines to Newark Airport, New Jersey, takes half an hour. One of the busiest of E.A.L. routes is that between New York and Washington ; some fifteen round trips a day have been made on this route.

Eastern Air Lines carried in 1937 2,467,152 lb. of mail and 126,334 passengers. An example of the steady growth of American commercial aviation was the E.A.L. 1937 record of increases: 24 per cent in revenue passenger miles, 28 per cent in revenue passengers carried and 7 per cent in aeroplane miles flown. At the beginning of 1938 the company was operating 3,943 miles of passenger, mail and express routes.

The main E.A.L. route has been largely built up on the carriage of tourists from New York and Chicago to Florida. A special feature due to this factor has been that the company’s heaviest traffic has offered a peculiar problem of its own. The peak of the traffic comes in winter time, when flying conditions on the northerly sections are far from ideal — a fact which speaks highly for the safety record of the line.

Another feature special to the line is the high demand for passage between New York and Washington, the capital of the United States. Fifteen round trips a day have been flown on this service and plans have been perfected for increasing the number to twenty or more. So busy is this service that it has been nicknamed the “Merry-Go Round”.

United Air Lines, Transcontinental and Western Air, American Airlines, and Eastern Air Lines are the largest four companies. There are sixteen other companies flying scheduled routes in the United States. These lines have their own services and connexions as well as feeder routes to the big lines.

Northwest Airlines operates between Chicago and Seattle. From Chicago two lines go to Rochester (Minnesota), one of these lines goes via Milwaukee.

Pennsylvania Central Airlines operates between the Great Lakes and Washington.

Western Air Express (or W.A.E.) is distinct from the company that became part of T.W.A. (see above), and is based on Burbank (California). The company operates services in conjunction with U.A.L.

Feeder Routes

Airline Feeder System, Inc., operates a short line between the Connecticut Valley and Newark Airport, the principal commercial flying ground for New York City.

Wyoming Air Service, Inc., operates a route running north from Cheyenne (Wyoming) via Casper, Sheridan, Billings (Montana), Lewistown and Great Falls (Montana). This line is a feeder to U.A.L.

Boston (Maine) Airways, Inc., and Central Vermont Airways, Inc., operate jointly in the extreme northeast of the United States. Their most important line is the international line from Boston to Montreal.

Braniff Airways operates an important north-to-south service in the Middle West. The route is Chicago-Kansas City-Brownsville (Texas).

Chicago and Southern Air Lines has another important north-to-south route in the Middle West. Its route is Chicago to New Orleans. There are connexions with all three coast-to-coast lines.

Delta Airlines operates an east-west route in the south from Charleston (South Carolina) to Dallas (Texas).

National Airlines, Inc., operates a short route in Florida between Miami and Daytona Beach, via Tampa. Hanford Airlines operates the route Minneapolis (Minnesota) - Omaha (Nebraska) -Kansas City-Tulsa (Oklahoma).

Continental Air Lines, Inc., operates a route southward from Denver (Colorado) to El Paso (Texas), on the Mexican border.

Mayflower Airlines, Inc., operates a short route in Massachusetts between Boston and Springfield.

Miami-Key West Airways, Inc., operates a shuttle service over the sea. Key West is an island off the southwest coast of Florida and a favourite winter playground. The aircraft are eighteen-passenger Commodore flying boats.

Wilmington-Catalina Airline, Inc., operates on the west coast of California; its route is over the thirty miles which separate the Catalina Island playground from the mainland.

A DOUGLAS MONOPLANE in front of the control buildings at Glendale Airport

A DOUGLAS MONOPLANE in front of the control buildings at Glendale Airport. Considerable night flying is carried out on American air lines and sleeping berths are provided on many of the aircraft. Radio communication, radio beacons and light beacons help to keep the night pilot on his route, and emergency landing grounds make flying at night almost as safe as during daylight

Click here to see the photogravure supplement to this article.

You can read more on “Air Routes Across America”, “Charles Augustus Lindbergh” and

“Pan American Airways” on this website.

Commercial Flying in the U.S.A.