From its beginnings, TWA, or at least its predecessor, was ambitious, transcending the traditional concept of exclusively postal air transport with the incorporation of passengers, incorporating intermodal means by combining surface or rail sections, and setting its sights on the Costa West from East, to significantly reduce transcontinental travel by means of wings and wheels.
Originally known as Transcontinental Air Transport (TAT), which was formed on May 16, 1928 by a conglomerate of prominent business interests, it inaugurated service on the route charted by Charles Lindbergh, taking to the skies during the day in a Ford TriMotor and rails at night, allowing passengers to retire in the comfort of a Pullman stateroom. But the venture proved less than lucrative.
The mail, as had already been shown, would continue to be the financial impetus for the plane, albeit in much shorter segments, and depending on the TAT authority for it by Postmaster General Walter Folger Brown was his suggestion to merge with another competitor, Western Air Express (WAE), to avoid duplication of government payments.
Redesignated Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA) upon its merger on July 24, 1930, it was awarded the mail contract for the 36-hour trip that stayed true to its “transcontinental” name, but with a mid-night stopover. on the way, specifically in Kansas City.
Despite their soulless states, airlines invariably took on the personalities of their owners and leaders.
John “Jack” Frye, a former Hollywood stunt pilot and the airline’s first COO, was instrumental in determining the specifications for TWA’s all-metal, low-wing, 12-passenger Douglas DC-1 and its successor, the 14-passenger DC-2, aeronautical answers to Boeing’s B-247, whose cramped cabin was hampered by the wing spar running through it. As a licensed pilot, he flew the first Douglas design while the DC-2 entered service on May 18, 1934, from Columbus, Ohio, to New York.
The even larger and wider DC-3 entered the route system three years later.
Extravagant to the point of eccentricity, but flush with money, Howard Hughes was drawn to the fledgling airline, becoming its largest shareholder in 1939.
Its first pressurized aircraft, the four-engine Boeing 307 Stratoliner, entered service on the one-stop transcontinental route from New York to Los Angeles via Chicago on July 8 of the following year.
Although the military hiatus required by World War II deprived it of equipment and route development, its end marked the beginning of another battle, with American and United over the transcontinental crossing, which had given rise to its name. Hughes, instrumental in the design of the Lockheed L-049 Constellation, with its distinctive triple-tail, airfoil-shaped fuselage, secured TWA’s competitive advantage with an aircraft that was superior to United’s DC-4s, which entered the service on March 1, 1946. But Lockheed’s counterpart allowed the airline to spread its wings across the Atlantic, with a New York-Gander-Shannon-Paris route, later extended to Rome and Bombay, breaking the international monopoly Pan Am after the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) granted it route authority.
Four years later, its “TWA” abbreviation stood for its now official “Trans World Airlines” designation.
However, the aircraft manufacturers’ war – for sales – raged on. While American and United introduced larger-capacity Douglas DC-6s, TWA, capitalizing on Hughes’ influence, responded with the Lockheed L-1049A Super Constellation, which offered a 35 percent increase in passenger capacity over the previous model. above and facilitated the opening of the first non-stop transcontinental sector, from Los Angeles to New York, on October 19, 1953.
The final L-1649A Starliner, which introduced a longer wing and increased range provided by its fuel capacity, opened the Los Angeles-San Francisco-London polar route in October 1957.
Despite Hughes’s positive influence on the airline’s expansion and modernization, he was involved in few corporate decisions, firing Frye, sinking into seclusion, and allowing him to go into debt, prompting the airline’s lawsuit against him. forcing him to surrender his majority control. . He sold his remaining shares in 1965.
Entering the jet age, TWA inaugurated Boeing 707-120 service on the transcontinental route between New York and Los Angeles on March 20, 1959, and the type entered the international arena nine months later on November 23.
Medium-range domestic routes were served by the four-engined Convair CV-880 when it was introduced on January 12, 1961 and was soon replaced by the three-engined Boeing 727-100 in 1964 and the twin-engined Douglas DC-9 . 10 in 1966.
Taking delivery of its first wide-body Boeing 747-100 on December 31, 1969, the year it had usurped Pan Am as America’s largest transatlantic airline, it became the first airline to offer domestic service in USA York segment on February 25 of the following year. The Lockheed L-1011-1 TriStar, their second wide-body aircraft, followed in 1972.
Establishing hubs in New York, St. Louis, Chicago and Kansas City, it served 49 domestic US and 16 European destinations by the end of the decade, the latter including Athens, Barcelona, Dublin, Frankfurt, Lisbon , London-Heathrow. , Madrid, Malaga, Milan, Nice, Paris, Rome, Santa Maria, Shannon, Terceira and Vienna, along with Cairo and Egypt in North Africa and Tel Aviv in the Middle East. As the seventh largest airline in the world, it carried more passengers between the United States and Europe than any other, including on the Los Angeles-London polar route, with a total of 22,653,000 in 1979.
While Hughes ultimately proved detrimental to the airline, another famous figure, Carl Icahn, a corporate raider who bought most of TWA’s stock in 1985 when financial perils brought on by deregulation left few options if he wanted to stay in the air, he left his own image tarnished. in it, taking the once illustrious international airline and turning it into a low-cost rag.
A brief respite showed promise when it acquired Ozark Air Lines, giving it a monopoly at its St. Louis hub, and similarly spiraling Pan Am’s carefully selected international routes offered attractively priced assets. But his precarious financial burden broke his back, causing him to slowly sell off his own strengths, notably his London routes from Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles and New York to the United States, for $445 million in 1991, a year before it was forced to sell. file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
Another purchase of the route authority, by USAir for service to London from Baltimore and Philadelphia, filled its coffers with a little more cash.
An August 24, 1992 agreement with the three major TWA unions exchanged the concessions for a 45 percent stake, and Icahn resigned as president the following January, leaving the bird a plucked carcass.
Promise once again reached its peak when it emerged from bankruptcy on November 3, 1993, having now counted the twin-engine wide-body Boeing 767-200, narrow-body MD-80 and Boeing 757-200 in its fleet. , but it went back in less. than two years later, in June.
However, the wings, once clipped by deregulation and a tarnished image associated with low-cost airlines, were virtually impossible to restore, leaving AMR Corporation’s American Airlines to acquire most of its assets and supply financing for its return. from bankruptcy on January 10, 2001. after flying three-quarters of a century as one of the “big four” airlines after Eastern, United and the one that kept its spirits in the skies.