Defunct airlines that you forgot about
Before the aviation industry was dominated by giant airlines like United, Delta and American Airlines, a plethora of smaller, regional companies flew the great blue yonder. Deregulation of the industry, competition, fuel price increases, and 9/11 made it hard for airlines to survive.
Here are some now extinct airline companies you might have never heard of.
1. Pan American World Airlines
In business from 1927-1991
You might have also heard this airline referred to as “Pan Am” for short. The big American company had a long reign of glory, even once flying Brit rockers The Beatles to New York City in 1964, says Yahoo Finance. Pan American had big ambitions, even wanting to fly people to the moon!
After 64 years of flying around the world, Pan Am closed its doors for good in 1991. The announcement was made one day after it was supposed to emerge from almost one year of operating under bankruptcy court protection, wrote the LA Times in 1991.
NEXT: This airline’s marketing slogan had been “Work Hard, Fly Right” since 1998.
2. Continental Airlines
In business from 1934-2012
We tricked you — this airline company isn’t actually, really dead. However, it might have been if it hadn’t merged with United Airlines’ parent company, the UAL Corporation in 2012. Yahoo Finance says that deal was worth $3 billion. Following the merger, the companies revealed a new logo for their operations.
Yet Continental Airlines employees still wear the Continental uniform while on the job — the same as their predecessors. The New York Times said this deal would create a strong presence in leading domestic markets and extend the companies’ network internationally.
NEXT: Did you know this cruise ship company also had an airline?
3. Carnival Airlines
In business from 1988-1998
The company didn’t have the same success with airlines as it did with its cruise ships. Carnival had a fleet of 25 planes and a network across the Eastern Seaboard and the Bahamas, Haiti, and Puerto Rico, says Yahoo Finance. It was then taken over by Pan American.
THEN, the airlines’ parent company had some financial troubles and were bought by Boston-Maine Airways. This Massachusetts-based company then met its demise in 2008, just as the American recession began. Turns out that cruise ships worked for Carnival but not airplanes.
NEXT: Pilot Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger was flying this airlines’ plane when he landed it miraculously on the Hudson.
4. U.S. Airways
In business from 1979-2015
It originally started as All American Aviation in 1937 and went through a few changes before it actually became the U.S. Airways you might be familiar with. American Airlines absorbed U.S. Airways in 2015, says Yahoo. U.S. Airways is probably most famous for Flight 1549 — “the miracle on the Hudson.”
In 2009, pilot Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger was able to successfully land Flight 1549 safely on the Hudson River after a flock of geese knocked out the plane’s engine. Sullenberger saved all 155 people on board with this maneuver, says CBS.
NEXT: This restaurant started an airline and ended up losing $40 million.
5. PeoplExpress Airlines
In business from 1981-1987
When you think of low-cost airlines today, Frontier Airlines or Spirit come to mind. PeoplExpress was somewhat of a forerunner, says Yahoo. Business was good for a few years. PeoplExpress even offered transatlantic flights to London in 1983. Things outside of the company’s control caused its demise.
Several things contributed to PeoplExpress going out of business, says Yahoo. These include diminishing returns from a broadening network and cheap airfare. Continental Airlines bought up PeoplExpress in 1987. Continental was then bought itself by UAL Corporation in 2012.
NEXT: Actor Leonardo DiCaprio portrayed this airlines’ owner in the 2004 movie The Aviator.
6. Trans World Airlines
In business from 1930-2001
Trans World Airlines (TWA) might be best known to mainstream audiences as the company of Howard Hughes, portrayed in The Aviator by Leonardo DiCaprio. Originally, TWA came to be from a merger with Western Air and Transcontinental Air Transport in 1930, says Yahoo. The merger was government mandated.
Hughes didn’t start TWA but took control of the airlines in 1939. Yahoo said that the company dominated the skies for years but ultimately the management of second primary shareholder Carl Ichan drove it into the ground. American Airlines bought it in 2001.
NEXT: The crash of Flight 592, which killed all 110 passengers, led to this airlines’ demise.
In business from 1992-1997
Like Hooters Air, this company wasn’t in business for very long. It had a network of 28 U.S. destinations while in existence, says Yahoo. The tragic crash that led to ValuJet’s end was Flight 592 in 1996. All 110 passengers on board were killed during the crash.
Bound for Atlanta, the plane had not even gone 100 miles from Miami International when it crashed, says the Miami Herald. ValuJet ended up merging with Airways company and became AirTrans Airways.
NEXT: This airline had a disastrous flight — flight 243. The pilot was able to land safely but there was one fatality.
8. Aloha Airlines
In business from 1946 to 2008
Rising fuel prices and competition are what led Aloha Airlines to go out of business, says CheatSheet. It had been Hawaii’s second largest carrier until its demise. ABC News interviewed aviation historian Peter Forman who said that Aloha was “responding to the prejudices of the time.”
Forman said that founder Ruddy Tongg thought there was discrimination in the aviation industry. Customers might have lost faith in Aloha after Flight 243 — part of its roof flew off taking one flight attendant with it. The pilot was able to land the plane safely, however.
NEXT: This airline might have lost out because of a lack of customers.
9. Central Airlines
In business from 1949-1967
Like its name indicates, the airline serviced the heartland of the U.S. — states like Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas. Yahoo said this focus ultimately didn’t help the company succeed as the heartland is sparsely populated (some cities no bigger than 20,000). Sparse population means less airline passengers.
Headquartered in Fort Worth, Texas, Central Airlines was bought up by Frontier Airlines (not the one that operates today, a different one). If we were to take a lesson learned by Central’s downfall, it might be to diversify your client base.
NEXT: Luckily for this airline, it got a second chance to soar the great blue yonder in 1994.
10. Frontier Airlines
In business from 1950-1986
Like some other airlines, Frontier was born of a merger. Arizona Airways, Challenger Airlines, and Monarch Airlines combined to create Frontier in 1950, says Yahoo. Its headquarters were in Denver, Colorado with hubs in Kansas City, St. Louis, Salt Lake City, and Dallas. USA Today attributed its demise to competition.
Luckily, Frontier had a second iteration that is still flying the skies today. The Frontier Airlines we know today (the airline with the various animals featured on its tail) was established in 1994, says Yahoo. The second Frontier Airlines was eventually purchased in 2009 by Republic Airlines.
NEXT: This company never actually took off.
11. Family Airlines
Never started operations
Based in Las Vegas, this airline promised budget-friendly flights when starting out. Fares were going to be as low as $49 between Dallas/Fort Worth and Los Angeles and $89 between Honolulu and Los Angeles, says Dallas News. As the name suggests, this airline was geared towards families.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) said it wouldn’t process Family Airlines’ application so it could begin service. Family tried again this time, reported FOX30 in 2014, under the moniker Avatar Airlines. FOX30 reported that the government had concerns about its founder, Barry Michaels.
NEXT: This airline struggled for two years while in bankruptcy, then decided to call it quits.
12. Eastern Airlines
In business from 1926-1991
This business had some help from the government in getting it started up, says Yahoo. The government divided up mail subsidies among airlines. Curtailing of aviation regulations by the federal government was what contributed to Eastern kicking the bucket in 1991. Airline Pan Am also ceased operations in 1991.
Eastern had been struggling for two years to rebuild with protection from bankruptcy court, says the New York Times. Five thousand of Eastern’s 18,000 employees were expected to be dismissed immediately with some staying on to maintain planes until buyers swept them up.
NEXT: They can do resorts and entertainment, but apparently not airlines.
13. MGM Grand Air
In business from 1987- 1994
Resort and entertainment company MGM Resorts International (formerly MGM Mirage) operated MGM Grand Air until it was sold to Champion Air, says UNLV Center for Gaming Research. Then, Champion Air ceased to exist itself in the early 2000s (we’ll discuss its demise in future slides). MGM Grand Air was a charter air service.
Turns out the Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts didn’t need an airline to boost its profits. The resorts company went on to continue its success in the hospitality business. Probably good it decided to shed that extra weight and trouble that MGM Grand Air was causing it.
NEXT: South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker named their production company after this defunct airline.
14. Braniff International Airways
In business from 1928-1982
This airline was based in Texas, covering the South, Midwest, and Latin America. There were several factors that led Braniff to go out of business, Yahoo says. The publication lists the chaotic oil market, the Airline Deregulation Act, and fallout from the Professional Air Traffic Controllers Organization strike.
South Park creators Matt Stone and Trey Parker named their production company (Braniff Productions) after Braniff. Five seconds of a Braniff commercial was used as part of their production logo at the end of South Park episodes until the company renamed itself Parker-Stone Productions.
NEXT: There’s a rainbow on this failed company’s logo.
15. Mid Pacific Air
In business from 1981-1995
Mid Pacific Air hailed from Hawaii, like fellow airline Aloha Airlines, but didn’t last as long as Aloha. In a brochure from Mid Pacific Air, the airline said it offered “the lowest inter-island fares of the three major inter-island carriers.” This seems similar to a lot of other advertising that fellow airlines were marketing back then and even now.
The brochure goes on to say “Low fares are only a part of what has made Mid Pacific Air a phenomenal success in an era of failing airlines.” Mid Pacific was soon added to the list of failed airlines of the ‘90s.
NEXT: This company got a second chance after merging with Kalitta Air.
16. Kitty Hawk International
In business from 1999 to 2000
In 1997, American International Airways (AIA) merged with Kitty Hawk Inc., says the biography on Kalitta Air’s website. Kitty Hawk International (the former AIA) stopped operating in 2000 and filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Connie Kalitta himself purchased the Aircraft Certificate, then the airline received its DOT and FAA authority November 2000.
Thanks to Kalitta, Kitty Hawk International now soars the skies as cargo airline Kalitta Air. Its base is in Ypsilanti, Michigan but it flies domestically and internationally with a fleet made up of all Boeing freighters. Kalitta says it’s expanding rapidly — unlike former Kitty Hawk.
NEXT: There are rumors of a comeback in 2020 for this Midwest airline.
17. Midwest Express
In business from 1984-2010
This airline operated out of the areas its name suggests — Milwaukee and Kansas City. Yahoo says its network expanded beyond its base throughout the years and added more and more destinations for travelers to go to. The Midwest-based airline changed after several mergers in the 2000s, morphing into Frontier.
Mergers seem to be very common in the airline industry, no? Midwest Express might be making a comeback in 2020, Chicago Tribune reports. Unnamed investors dumped $750,000 into the airline’s revival, according to a filed U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission report that the Chicago Tribune found.
NEXT: California sunshine is the first thought that comes to mind when you see these brightly colored planes.
18. Air California
In business from 1967-1987
You can’t help but think of California sunshine when you see photos of these bright colored planes. Painted in yellow, orange and white, Air California was based out of John Wayne Airport in sunny Orange County, says Yahoo Finance. Air California flew passengers just to 13 destinations.
It was founded by two OC businessmen, William E. Myers and Bill Perrera. Air California (like many small airlines do) merged with a bigger airline in 1987 — American Airlines. Yahoo notes that smaller regional airlines gave way to the big airline companies we have today. Think United, Delta, American Airlines, etc.
NEXT: Its heyday was in the 1960s.
19. Hooters Air
In business from 2003-2006
To the delight of some, Hooters had their own airline for three years. It operated under Pace Airlines which was owned by Hooters owner, Robert Brooks (Brooks acquired Pace in 2002, says Yahoo Finance). Hooters flew passengers to places in the U.S., Puerto Rico and the Bahamas.
Business Insider says that Hooters Air did end up closing for several reasons, including a $40 million loss and operating within a tough industry. It did make an economic impact on Myrtle Beach, South Carolina — the company’s headquarters.
20. Mohawk Airlines
In business from 1945-1972
Mohawk expanded at a steady pace outside of its mid-Atlantic network during its first 20 years of existence. It became one of the top 13 local service airlines in the U.S. after adding new routes during the 1960s, says Yahoo Finance. However, all good things must come to an end…
Two major strikes within the company happened during the 1960s — one lasted 154 days. As you can imagine, there was lots of negative press around the airlines which contributed to its demise. Mohawk folded into Allegheny Airlines, which then became U.S. Airways.
NEXT: This is one of the oldest airlines on our list.
21. Northwest Airlines
In business from 1926-2010
This might be one of the oldest airline companies on our list! Northwest Airlines started out as an airmail carrier in 1926. Passenger airlines were added to their services a few years later. Unlike other airlines, the deregulation act did not affect Northwest Airlines’ success. It even started flying to Asia!
Northwest Airlines’ long run eventually came to an end. CheatSheet attributed its failure to the 9/11 terrorist attacks (which forced Northwest to reduce flights 20 percent), Hurricane Katrina making fuel unaffordable and ticket inflation. Delta absorbed the airline in 2010.
NEXT: Low cost airlines, like this next one, have historically struggled to stay alive.
22. Independence Air
In business from 1989 to 2006
Originally starting out as Atlantic Coast Airlines, Independence Air was a budget airline. This business model has had a hard time keeping a foothold in the market, says CheatSheet. Like its fellow cheap airlines, it try to lure consumers with sweet promotions.
These same promotions meant to draw in more business, actually led to the companies’ demise. ABC News wrote in 2006 that Independence’s failure was hardly a surprise. “the failure further underscored the old but true adage that to make a million dollars in the airline business, you simply start with a billion,” said ABC.
NEXT: Another Midwest-centric regional airline failure.
23. Mid-Continent Airlines
In business from 1928-1952
Like the name suggests, Mid-Continent Airlines operated in the central U.S. Mid-Continent flew important routes for the region. It eventually merged with Braniff Airways, which then ceased operations in 1982. (See slide 15 for more on Braniff.) At the time of the merge, it was based in Kansas City, Missouri.
According to a historical website dedicated to Braniff International, Mid-Continent Airlines was operating a fleet of 23 Douglas DC-3’s and four Convair 240’s over its 6,241 miles of routes. Its routes in the 1950s stretched from Minnesota to North Dakota to the Louisiana Gulf Coast and Texas.
NEXT: This airline was started by fighter pilots in World War II.
24. Flying Tiger Line
In business from 1945-1989
This was an air cargo carrier with service spanning the globe. It was founded in 1945 by a group of pilots from the famous Flying Tiger fighter squadron, says the New York Times. The Flying Tigers formed to protect the Burma Road to China from the Japanese during World War II.
Flying Tiger Line’s parent company, Tiger International Inc., had suffered some financial losses throughout the years. While he was chairman of Tiger International, Stephen M. Wolf helped the company profit but he eventually left. Tiger was bought by Federal Express in the late 1980s for $880 million.
NEXT: Before it was this airline, it was MGM Grand Air.
25. Champion Air
In business from 1993-2008
Minnesota-based Champion Air announced in March 2008 that it will go out of business later that year, reported the Star Tribune in 2008. Champion’s CEO Lee Steele said this in a statement: “Our business model is no longer viable in a world of $110 oil, a struggling economy and rapidly changing demand for services.”
Champion started out in 1993 as MGM Grand Air, says Star Tribune. Dick Page acquired the airline’s operating certificate from MGM Grand Air to found Champion. New owners took over Champion in 1997, then sold the charter service to Steele and others in 2003.
NEXT: An action-adventure movie shares the same name with this defunct airline.
26. Air America
In business from 1950-1975
Like the action-adventure movie of the same name, Air America was also a flop (the movie Air America scored 13 percent on Rotten Tomatoes). It was owned by the U.S. government, says AirAmerica.org, and the U.S. Treasury received the profits from its eventual sale. There isn’t a ton of verifiable information on this airline online but here’s what we found out:
Air America was run by CIA personnel initially, says AirAmerica.org. Other accounts gathered by Wikipedia say it was used as a dummy corporation for the CIA operations in Southeast Asia. Planes did serve alongside military and intelligence agents often in Asia.
NEXT: This small company based in Florida was flying for 76 years.
27. Chalk’s International Airlines
In business from 1919-1980s
A.B. Chalk started this company in Miami, Florida, wrote the Los Angeles Times. Initially, he sold flying lessons, air tours of Miami, and trips to the nearest Bahamian island, Bimini. As the company expanded, Chalk’s began taking famous passengers like Howard Hughes and Errol Flynn.
After Chalk died at age 88, his company went through various owners and then eventually got bought up by United Capital Corp. Chalk’s had a long run, however — 76 years! Some of these companies on our list only lasted a handful. See: Hooters Air.
NEXT: This company filed for Chapter 11, then eventually Chapter 7 after it couldn’t recover itself.
28. Midway Airlines
In business from 1993-2003
There was another airline of the same name but this one was based in North Carolina. It was formed out of Jet Express beginning with Chicago to New York City service in 1993. It ended up being based in North Carolina due to competition and limited gate space.
The company filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on August 13, 2001, then ceased operations in 2002. Eventually, Midway Airlines filed for Chapter 7 in 2003, says a government document detailing company bankruptcies. It was unable to reorganize and rehabilitate its business say court documents.
NEXT: Chalk’s operated this airline, which only lasted a year.
29. Paradise Island Airlines
In business from 1988-1989
We’ve seen a resort company start an airline before — see slide 14 for MGM Grand Air. Paradise Island Airlines was started by Merv Griffin Enterprises’ Resorts International. Chalk’s flew tourists to Paradise Island but was restricted to daytime flights. To handle increased traffic, the resort started a new airline.
Paradise Island Airlines folded just a year later due to complications with changes in ownership. Chalk’s operated this airline, said a 1989 article from the Sun Sentinel. It was hoped that Paradise Island Airlines would triple the number of tourists visiting Paradise Island.
NEXT: Its financial struggles led this airline to merge with United Airlines.
30. Capital Airlines
In business from 1936-1961
Capital originally started as Pennsylvania Central Airlines in 1936 and ended its time in the sky by merging with United Airlines. Capital Airlines serviced eastern, southern, southeastern, and the midwestern U.S. It changed its name from Pennsylvania Central Airlines in 1948. The change came with new colors and logo.
In the 1950s it was the fifth largest domestic carrier in the whole U.S. Other big carriers at the time were TWA, American, United, and Eastern. Capital struggled financially at the end of the 1950s and a merger with United Airlines was announced. Former employees kept the memory alive with the Capital Airlines Association.
NEXT: This airline was accused of stealing money from its non-profit museum.
31. Evergreen International Aviation, Inc.
In business from 1975 to 2013
Not every airline has its own non-profit museum dedicated to aviation. Evergreen opened one in 2000, close to its Oregon headquarters. It featured some things that would floor any airline nerd — for example, it had the “Spruce Goose,” an unsuccessful cargo airplane created by Howard Hughes.
Evergreen International Aviation was sued by its former museum director, who alleged the company stole $600,000 from the museum, says Source Watch. Other sketchy things might have been underfoot at the company — it’s unclear if Evergreen’s planes had ever been used for extraordinary rendition.
NEXT: Delta Airlines didn’t seem too worried when a subsidiary of its flopped big time.
In business from 1977 to 2012
Not to be confused with the airline currently operating in South Africa, the U.S.’ Comair had a long run from 1977 to 2012 with hubs in Cincinnati, JFK International in NYC, and Orlando, Florida. It was the subsidiary owned airline of Delta Airlines but Delta didn’t seem too worried about Comair’s demise.
At the time the airline folded in 2012, Comair accounted for only one percent of Delta’s network capacity, Delta Airlines said in a statement. “There will be no disruption to customers and no significant adjustments to Delta’s flight schedule or locations served,” Delta promised in the statement.
NEXT: This airline suddenly canceled all flights in 2012. Stranded passengers worried they might not get home or get their money back.
33. Direct Air
In business from 2007 to 2012
Direct Air spent only five years in the air before the company came crashing down. A charter airline, it served smaller cities that most big airlines don’t service in the Midwest, East and South, said the Associated Press in March 2012. Perhaps there wasn’t enough business in those areas.
When Direct Air suddenly canceled its flights in 2012, stranded customers were worried as consumer protection laws don’t apply to public charter airlines. Regularly scheduled airlines, like United and American, must adhere to those laws.
NEXT: It merged with another airline but that turned out not to be very lucrative for the airline.
34. Air Midwest
In business from 1967 to 2008
Being a small airline company serving the Midwest isn’t a recipe for success — a ton of these business models are on our list! Headquartered in Wichita, Kansas, Air Midwest was a subsidiary of Mesa Air Group. It operated feeder flights for other airlines, including Braniff and Ozark.
Air Midwest ran into quite a bit of problems. For example, after merging with Scheduled Skyways, Air Midwest inherited its fleet which was riddled with maintenance needs. It also had to sell its Nashville hub due to its continuing money problems. Unlike other airlines, it had a substantial run.
NEXT: The airline was featured on Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie’s reality show The Simple Life.
35. Southeast Airlines
In business from 1999 to 2004
Headquartered in Largo, Florida, Southeast operated with a frequent-flyer program called “Smile Miles.” Cute, right? Turns out an airline needs more than cuteness to survive the competitive skies of the United States. In order to turn things around, Southeast was featured on an episode of The Simple Life.
For those of you Paris Hilton and Nicole Richie fans, you might remember this reality show. The friends embark on journeys feigning dumb blonde intelligence and laughing their way to the bank. The exposure failed to get Southeast the business it needed and the airline folded in 2004. Guess Paris Hilton couldn’t even save Southeast Airlines…