From Flying Boats to Jumbo Jets: Celebrating 100 Years of Commercial Flight

By Paul Riegler on 30 December 2013
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January 1, 1914: First scheduled commercial airline flight

January 1, 1914: First scheduled commercial airline flight

Frequent travelers may take the existence of airlines and airports for granted, but the world’s first-ever commercial flight took place a mere 100 years ago.

The St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, the world’s first airline, launched its inaugural flight on January 1, 1914, from St. Petersburg, Florida.  Its destination: Tampa, a scant 18 miles away.  The flight cut the two-hour steamship journey down to 23 minutes, however, and the airline, over its four-month lifespan, carried over one thousand passengers, each paying five dollars ($116.53 in today’s currency according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator).

The first flight, which crossed Tampa Bay at speeds of up to 60 mph (97 km/h), carried one pilot and one passenger.  The aircraft was a Benoist XIV, a small biplane flying boat that was designed and built for the purpose of carrying paying passengers.

The   flight took off shortly before 10 a.m. that Thursday, piloted by Tony Jannus.  The passenger, former St. Petersburg mayor Abram C. Pheil, had bid $400 ($9,322.76 today) in an auction for the right to be the first passenger.

A reenactment of the  event, using a reproduction of a Benoist biplane, had been planned for this Wednesday, New Year’s Day, but the plane isn’t quite ready for flight yet so a 34-year-old mahogany seaplane will do the honors in its place.


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