List of the Oldest Airlines in the USA

The first passenger flights lacked today's amenities.
The first passenger flights lacked today's amenities. (Image: airplane image by Clarence Alford from

In the early days of passenger flight, travel was limited primarily to the upper class, manufacturers' representatives and bankers. According to aviation historian, Roger Bilstein, of the 2,500 airfares sold in 1930, “85 percent of the passengers came from major businesses and high-income residential areas.” Early airlines dealt with passenger fears, such as speed, danger and death, in comparison to train travel, which travelers had become accustomed to.

St. Petersburg-Tampe Airboat Line

On January 1, 1914, the world’s first scheduled airline utilizing winged aircraft was born in St. Petersburg, Florida. Pilot Antony H. Jannus carried passengers on Benoist Model 14 aircraft made of wood, fabric and wire. The plane possessed no windshield and flew little more than five feet above the water. The St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, now the St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport, proclaims “The Birthplace of Scheduled Air Transportation” via a plaque on its main entrance.

Pan Am

Pan American World Airways began in 1927 with a single route, flying from Key West to Havana. Starting with a handful of single-engine aircraft, Pan Am eventually founded more new aircraft evolution than any other airline. Pan Am eventually became the first airline to operate daily worldwide flights. After 64 years of trendsetting, Pan Am buckled under financial pressures in 1991.

Delta Air Lines

Delta Air Lines began in the 1920s as a crop dusting and mail carrier operation. Originally emerging from the Huff Daland Dusters crop dusting operation, Delta Air Lines eventually merged with Northwest Airways. Huff Daland pioneered the first commercial agricultural flight and extended crop dusting services to Peru. Delta's mail carrying operation performed the first international mail and passenger route. By 1929, Delta was operating flights carrying five passengers and one pilot from Dallas, Texas to Jackson, Mississippi.

Braniff Airways

The Lockheed Vega airplane was considered the fastest of the early 1930s. Braniff Airways began with a Vega bearing the Braniff name, accompanied by a B Line and arrow insignia. The plane’s tail indicated the first cities serviced by Braniff: Tulsa, Oklahoma City and Wichita Falls. The Braniff fleet was increased throughout the 1930s by acquiring nearly-new five to six passenger aircraft from disgruntled aviation enthusiasts. Braniff was soon offering service to Tulsa, Oklahoma; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Kansas City, Missouri; Chicago, Illinois; Wichita Falls, Kansas; St. Louis, Missouri; Bartletsville, Oklahoma; Coffeyville, Kansas; Chanute, Kansas; and Springfield, Missouri. Barely surviving the depression, Braniff saw its share of financial highs and lows, but managed to survive a total of 54 years before shutting down in 1982.

American Airlines

Robertson Aircraft Corporation’s chief pilot, Charles Lindbergh, set out in April 1926 with a bag of mail aboard his DH-4 biplane from Chicago to St. Louis, Missouri. At the time, Robertson was the second aviation company to acquire a U.S. mail contract. By 1929, Robertson had been acquired by The Aviation Corporation, which eventually consolidated to form American Airways. In 1934, American Airways became American Airlines. Through the years, American has remained an innovative competitor, implementing such creations as Sky Chefs food service, pressurized passenger aircraft, coast-to-coast jet service and the American Airlines Stewardess College.

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