Top 10 Milestones in Commercial Aviation

By Paul Riegler on 2 January 2014
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Boeing's 747-8 in Lufthansa livery

Boeing’s 747-8 in Lufthansa livery

The beginning of 2014 brings with it the 100th anniversary of commercial flight as we know it today.   On the first day of 1914, the first airplane flight with paying passengers took off in Florida.  From that point forward, the flying experience saw numerous improvements that today have led to lie-flat seats, in-flight Wi-Fi, and gourmet meals.

(It would be wrong not to acknowledge Delag, which stands for Deutsche Luftschiffahrts Aktiengesellschaft, German for Airship Travel Corporation, the world’s first commercial air carrier.  Delag was founded on November 16, 1909, but it flew lighter-than-air craft manufactured by the Zeppelin Corporation, not airplanes.)

Here is a look at the top ten innovations in flight that have made air travel faster, more convenient, and more comfortable for everyone.

1.)        1914 – First Commercial Airplane Flight

The St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, the world’s first airline, made its inaugural flight on January 1, 1914, from St. Petersburg, Florida. The 23-minute flight cut the two-hour steamship journey down to 23 minutes, 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).

2.)        1936 – Douglas DC-3 Enters Service

American Airlines put the Douglas DST (Douglas Sleeper Transport) aircraft into service on September 18, 1936 on a transcontinental flight between Newark, New Jersey and Glendale, California.  The DST was a prototype of the vaunted DC-3.  Seven were built and delivered to American Airlines.  For the DC-3, the sleeping berths were removed and replaced with seats.  The new aircraft shortened travel time by almost a third, bringing a westbound transcon down to 17.5 hours and an eastbound trip to 15 hours.

3.)        1939 – The First Airport Lounge

American Airlines opened the Admirals Club, the world’s first airport lounge, at the New York Municipal Airport (officially renamed LaGuardia Airport in 1947) in New York City. The lounge had been built by Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia for press conferences and meetings and the lounges that followed have become an indispensable part of air travel, offering a quiet oasis from the hustle and bustle of the terminal.

4.)        1952 – First Commercial Jet Flight

On May 2, 1952, the world’s first regularly scheduled jetliner service commenced with British Airways-predecessor BOAC flight from London to Johannesburg operating a de Havilland DH.108 Comet.  BOAC stopped flying the Comet in 1965 after numerous safety issues arose. The plane’s last commercial flight was in 1981.

5.)        1959 – First Jet Bridge

Passengers take boarding an aircraft through the jet bridge for granted today, but its introduction in 1959 was a huge innovation and allowed airlines to board flights far more quickly and conveniently.

6.)        1961 – First In-flight Movie

The in-flight movie, first introduced on regularly scheduled TWA flights in 1961 using 16 mm projectors, continues to be a major aspect of flying, with digital systems delivering a choice of movies to an individual screen at each seat replacing the overhead projector and communal screen.

7.)        1970 – First Jumbo Jet Enters Service

Boeing introduced the first widebody aircraft, the 747, on Pan Am’s New York-London route in 1970 and it soon earned the nickname “Queen of the Skies.”  The latest variant, the 747-8 Intercontinental, first entered service in 2012.

8.)        1978 – Deregulation

Nothing changed the airline industry as much as the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.  The federal law sought to remove government control and regulation from airline fares, routes, and market entry, phasing out the powers of the Civil Aeronautics Board.  The regulatory powers of the Federal Aviation Administration over air safety, however, remained unchanged.

9.)        1979 – First Frequent Flyer Program

Texas International Airlines, which merged into Continental in 1982, created the first frequent flyer program in 1979 that tracked miles flown and offered rewards to members. While that program was short lived, members of frequent flyer programs today have amassed trillions of miles in their accounts.

10.)      2003 – In-Flight Internet

Flying was never the same after Boeing and Lufthansa introduced in-flight Internet access on January 15, 2003, with the launch of Connexion by Boeing on a Lufthansa 747-400.  The service was discontinued at the end of 2006 but other operators stepped in and began to offer similar services.

(Photo: Accura Media Group)

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