Talking Transportation: Fallen Flag Airlines

Do you remember PEOPLExpress Airlines? How about the Northeast? Or Mohawk?

Those airlines of the past are what we call “fallen flags”, remembered perhaps, but no longer in business, at least not under those names. The US domestic airline industry is littered with baggage from our travel past, each of which brings back memories of a time when flying was fun.

Newark-based PEOPLExpress was one of my favorites, running out of the old North Terminal and charging super low fares that were charged during the flight. Like many aircraft carriers, they got too big, too fast, and were bought by aviation pariah Frank Lorenzo.

We’ve also had Pan Am, Eastern, TWA, Northwest and Continental, each swallowed up or merged with much larger operators, leaving us with, some say, a much less competitive (and more expensive) travel industry.

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Some of the lost airlines were airlines within an airline, such as Song (Delta’s low-cost carrier targeted specifically at women) or Ted (a no-frills subset of United). Texas-based Braniff has had the distinction of being the only US airline to fly a Concorde (although it is an Air France and British Airways lease and has flown subsonic over US airspace).

A number of regional carriers are gone forever: Mohawk (taken over by Allegheny, itself merged into USAir which was in turn acquired by American). Piedmont was also conquered by USAir. North Central and Southern Airlines became Republic, which purchased Hughes Airwest before being acquired by Northwest.

Air Florida flew for 13 years, flying to seven European cities. As with competitor ValuJet, a tragic plane crash for each led to bankruptcy. Tower Air has made a name for itself (and good money) by flying charters to the Pentagon, while also providing an inexpensive shuttle service from JFK to the West Coast.

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Four other carriers, World Airways, Capital, ONA (Overseas National) and Trans International, have also become successful charter lines for civilians and military personnel.

Carnival Airlines, owned by the cruise line, funneled passengers to its own ships on charters and was later acquired by a reorganized PanAm.

Midwest was a favorite for many offering 2 by 2 seats and freshly baked cookies on board. It was started by Kimberly Clark to transport her employees. But there were also regional carriers Vanguard, Air South, Eastwind and McCain.

To cross the “lake” there were several failed airlines that offered first-class comfort at cheap fares: L’Avion, Eos, MaxJet and SilverJet. Still flying is one of my favorites, the French airline La Compagnie, which carries just 76 passengers on an A-321neo that can carry over 200, at lower fares than traditional business class.

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Domestically, MGM Grand Airlines was popular with Hollywood audiences, flying from LAX to JFK in a DC-8 lavishly outfitted with couches and such.

When smoking was banned on US flights, the American Tobacco Institute talked about opening a smoking-only airline, but that never happened.

One airline that flew, for a few years, was Hooters Air, owned by the restaurant chain. Cabin crew on flights targeting golfers to Myrtle Beach wore the same skimpy outfit as the restaurant waitresses. Hardly PC and never profitable.

Yes… flying used to be fun. But not so much anymore.


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