30 Airlines That No Longer Exist from Pan Am and TWA to Wow Air and Hooters

Grumman G-21 Goose in Pan Am livery, ca. 1939 at the Pan Am Museum

By Jonathan Spira on 2 April 2019
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In the past year or so, several airlines have gone out of business although none of them was a major player on the world’s airline stage. Wow Air, which ceased operations two weeks ago, and Primera, which shut down last October, had offered fares reminiscent of what People Express offered in the 1980s, namely $99 fares to Europe. Clearly that wasn’t and isn’t a sustainable business model.

But those carriers were merely a blip on the radar compared to airlines that shaped the future of air travel from the very beginning and no longer exist. Storied names such as Pan Am and TWA still evoke the glamour of travel that for many is only a distant memory.

The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 led to a wave of failures and takeovers in the industry, which accounts for many of the airlines’ presence in this article.

Some airlines were acquired by others, such as Virgin America, while others – Delta and Northwest come to mind – merged with the competitors to form what essentially was a new airline. Here’s a look at some of the most important airlines in aviation history and what happened to them.

The TWA Hotel's Lockheed Constellation

The TWA Hotel’s Lockheed Constellation


Pan Am, perhaps the most storied name in aviation and which ushered in the Jet Age to the world in the 1960s and introduced the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet in the 70s, occupies a unique role in history as having changed how people travel multiple times, going back to its earliest days.  With red ink growing as early as 1980, Pan Am began a slow but steady sale of its assets, starting with the Pan Am Building, above Grand Central Terminal, to MetLife, its Intercontinental Hotels subsidiary in 1981, and four years later, its Pacific Division to United Airlines.  After the 1988 bombing of Flight 103 over Lockerbie, and a spike in oil prices, it sold the Pan Am Shuttle to Delta in 1990 and its London routes to United Airlines.  An attempt to stay alive as a smaller entity failed and the airline was ultimately forced to cease operations on December 4, 1991.

Trans World Airlines, or TWA, began operations in 1927 and, by 1930, was one of the so-called “Big Four” airlines in the United States, along with American, Eastern, and United. Under a Carl Icahn-engineered leveraged buyout that took place in 1988, TWA became saddled with debt and underwent bankruptcy several times. Unable to continue operations, the airline negotiated a deal with American Airlines for it to acquire some of TWA’s assets in bankruptcy without actually acquiring the airline.

Eastern Air Lines was founded in 1926 and enjoyed a near monopoly on flights between New York and Florida from the 1930s through the 1950s. The company strained under labor disputes and high debt in the late 1970s and 1980s, especially after the airline was acquired by Frank Lorenzo in 1985. Lorenzo transferred many of the airline’s assets to his other airlines including Continental and Texas Air. Eastern eventually ran out of money by 1991 and went into liquidation.

Click here to continue to Page 2Braniff, Transaero, Air Berlin, and Other Failed Airlines

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