#FlashbackFriday: A List of Defunct Major Airlines

Airline History

The commercial airline industry is littered with carriers that have come and gone.  Some were victims of airline deregulation, while others driven out of business because they couldn't remain economically viable or were unable to compete. But legions of aviation enthusiasts and historians keep these carriers alive. Below are six airlines immortalized on my Pinterest board, "Airlines No Longer Flying."

  • 01 of 06
    Rare Book Division, The New York Public Library. "Trans World Airlines" The New York Public Library Digital Collections, 1987

    The airline was created in 1925 under the name Transcontinental & Western Air. It operated a route from New York City to Los Angeles via St. Louis and Kansas City. Millionaire aviator Howard Hughes bought the carrier in 1939, renamed it TWA and made it into a global carrier. After airline deregulation in 1978, the carrier struggled, after being taken private, selling off its valuable London Heathrow slots and going bankrupt twice before being acquired by American Airlines. 

  • 02 of 06
    Photo courtesy of Braniff/BFC Collection

    Braniff International was formed in 1928 on routes covering the midwestern and southwestern United States, Mexico, Central America, and South America. It merged with Mid-Continent Airlines in 1952, expanding its footprint in the midwest U.S. it expanded in South America after buying Pan American-Grace Airways (Panagra) from shareholders of Pan Am and W.R. Grace in 1967. In the late 1970s it expanded to Asia and Europe. The airline abruptly ceased operations in May 1982, unable to keep up in a deregulated industry. 

  • 03 of 06
    Photo courtesy of PanAmerican1963

    San Diego-based Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) was started on May 6, 1949, operating weekly flights from San Diego and Burbank to Oakland using Douglas DC-3s. Because the U.S. airlines were operating under regulation by the Civil Aviation Board, the carrier could only fly within California. The iconic smile on the nose of its fleet came in the 1960s. After deregulation, the airline was hobbled by a pilot strike in September 1980 and the PATCO air traffic controllers strike in August 1981. In 1987, USAir bought PSA. 

  • 04 of 06
    Image courtesy of SenseiAlan/Flickr

    Eastern Air Lines, one of the "Big Four" airlines (along with United, Delta and American), started flying officially in 1930. It was the first airline to take the Boeing 727 and the Airbus A300. After deregulation, the carrier was hobbled by unhappy labor unions, fierce competition and heavy debt. The carrier was folded into Texas Air in March 1986 and it shut down in January 1991. 


    Continue to 5 of 6 below.
  • 05 of 06
    Photo courtesy of AshleyB.org

    Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) was founded in 1927 as a mail and passenger carrier. It operated flights between Key West, Florida, and Havana. It eventually turned itself into the unofficial international flag carrier of the United States. The carrier launched the jet age when it became the first to fly the Boeing 707 in October 1958. It was also the launch customer of the Boeing 747 jumbo jet. But the airline, which only flew international routes, was also a victim of a deregulated industry. It bought National Airlines in 1980 to build its domestic operations, but it was handled badly and debt piled up. It sold its iconic Pan Am building to MetLife in 1981 and its Pacific route network  to United Airlines in April 1985. The end came in December 1991.  

  • 06 of 06


    Photo courtesy of Hunter Desportes/Flickr

     This Newark-based carrier, created in 1981, was one of the first new airlines created after deregulation. It started flying Boeing 737s up and down the East Coast. in 1983, it went international, buying a Boeing 747 and flying from Newark to London's Gatwick Airport in 1983. PeoplExpress did things like having passengers their fares onboard the flight, offering simple fares, one class of service and charging a $3. checked bag fee and charging for food and beverages. It went on a buying spree starting in 1985, acquiring Frontier Airlines, Britt Airways and Provincetown-Boston Airlines. But thanks to heavy debt and trouble integrating Frontier, the carrier was sold to Texas Air in February 1987.

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