Several airlines that used to be popular among air travellers have disappeared from the radar of operational airlines. Some merged, and others disappeared into extinction. Many things could be the reason for the demise of these airlines. Airlines had to deal with financial problems and competition from other burgeoning airlines. Labour problems contributed to the fall of some, while for others, plane crashes are some reasons for their doom. 

Many airlines can point to the deregulation of the aviation industry, which led to the massive competition they couldn’t deal with, while others will point to plane crash incidents. Without any doubt, this led to some once-thriving airlines struggling for market share and, in some cases, acquisition by rivals and, in the worst-case scenario, closure. 

We have curated a list of the top 5 airlines that no longer exist. Follow us for a deep dive into the details of why they no longer exist.

Pan American World Airways

Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) is top of our list. Once recognized as one of the world’s leading airlines, Pan American World Airways was a founding member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

In its illustrious years, Pan American World Airways was the leading international air carrier in the United States for more than half a century, running from 1927 to 1991. It was one of the best-known airlines in the world between the 1950s and 1960s.

Pan America Logo
Pan America Logo| © Wikimedia Commons

However, deregulation and increased competition led to the airline’s decline; on the other hand, the increased cost of fuel and declining international travel also contributed to the demise of the airline. 

There is a sense of belief within and outside the airlines that it would have been able to weather the financial storm. However, the infamous Lockerbie crash of Pan Am Flight 103 in 1988 was what finally grounded the airline. A terrorist bombing killed 259 passengers, including crew members and 11 ground crew members.

Pan Am ran for another three years after the incident, primarily by selling some of its assets. However, it became non-operational by the end of 1991.

Boeing 747-121, Pan American World Airways - Pan Am AN0147038.jpg
Boeing 747-121, Pan American World Airways – Pan Am| © Wikimedia Commons

Continental Airlines

Continental Airlines was incorporated as Varney Speed Lines in 1934 and started off transporting mail and passengers to the west. However, the airline soon began flying to Mexico. Continental Airlines purchased Pioneer Airlines in 1953, established a Los Angeles hub in the 1960s, and pioneered economic fares between Chicago and Los Angeles to ramp up its operation.

Like most defunct airlines, the deregulation of the industry and labour troubles could be pointed out as reasons for Continental Airlines’ dwindled fortune. 

Deregulation and labour troubles combined led to its bankruptcy in 1983.

However, unlike some airlines on this list, Continental Airlines survived bankruptcy and emerged with increased profit margins due to reduced labour costs.

Interestingly, the airline soon established a Newark hub for flights to Europe. It ramped up its services by increasing international flights to more destinations. 

However, in 2010 Continental Airlines merged with United Airlines utilising stock swap. Hence, it is most fitting to describe it as a defunct airline despite its merger with United Airlines, given that it is no longer registered as an operational airline.

File:N38257 United Airlines (Continental Airlines) 2000 Boeing 737-824 C-N 30612 (5902108521).jpg
Continental Airlines Boeing-737-824 | ©Wikimedia Commons

Northwest Airlines

Northwest Airlines started as a Minneapolis-based air mail carrier in 1926, and it extended its services to flying passengers just a year after its launch. The airline soon expanded its services to fly nationwide in the U.S. and internationally by providing flights to Asia.

Although it has also disappeared, unlike most airlines, it suffered a less ugly end. The airline exited the air travel landscape through a friendly merger with Delta Airlines in 2008.

File:Northwest Airlines Airbus A320 N374NW.jpg
Northwest Airlines| © Wikimedia Commons

Trans World Airlines

Like Pan America International Airlines, Trans World Airlines (TWA) couldn’t survive the deregulation of the aviation industry and the increased cost of aviation fuel. The airline, which started as two companies in 1926 as Western Air Express and 1928 as Transcontinental Air Transport, merged in 1930 to become TW&A. 

Billionaire Howard Hughes acquired the airline in 1940, an acquisition that lifted its status to become a primary international carrier.

Most people in the aviation industry plausibly know the airline as a luxury carrier and a trailblazer in technological innovations in air travel.

The airline resorted to borrowing money to stay afloat and nearly went bankrupt in the early 1960s. However, Hughes sold his stock in 1965, and the airline seemed to recover.

The airline faced deregulation and the increased cost of fuel. Furthermore, it experienced complex financial problems, which led to the declaration of bankruptcy in 1992 and then again in 1995.

TWA, like Pan Am, suffered a significant plane crash resulting in the death of 230 passengers, including the crew, in 1996.

The airline struggled for another five years and then declared bankruptcy again in 2001 before selling to American Airlines.

Trans World Airlines is one of our top 5 airlines that no longer exist
Trans World Airlines, Boeing 747SP-31| ©Wikimedia Commons

Eastern Airlines

Once a dominant airline in the U.S., Eastern Airlines couldn’t survive stiff competition from other carriers in the eastern part of the country.

The airline was founded in 1930 and was one of the significant air carriers in the United States. Headquartered in Miami, the airline enjoyed a near monopoly on air travel within the region.

Deregulating the industry led to competition with other carriers, and the airline couldn’t stay afloat.

Beyond the stiff competition from other airlines, purchasing the Airbus A-300 created a massive debt for the airline. Added to its current financial struggles, labour problems, and increasing competition, the airline filed for bankruptcy in 1989 and stopped all its operations in 1991.

File:Airbus industrie a310 n215ea reads eastern airlines hautsfield airport ga.jpg
Airbus A310, Eastern Airlines| © Wikimedia Commons

Summary

Sad as it may be, many of these airlines stumbled into extinction due to financial struggles caused by deregulation, labour problems, and the increasing cost of aviation fuel.

However, in their prime, they were the cream of the crop: notable, burgeoning, and operational. The airlines are still remembered today by many people who flew with them in their heyday. And we will continue to recognize them as pioneers and innovators in the aviation industry.

They may be extinct today but they are not forgotten, and history will always bring up their names. 

While some airlines continue to grapple with different issues in the aftermath of the COVID pandemic, these defunct airlines couldn’t deal with all the troubles they faced.

 

Did you fly on any of these airlines in their heyday? Let us know your experiences and memories of them in the comments!

 

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  • It’s all so sad. They were all a part of my youth but for me, the most tragic was the loss of Pan Am. I was a “stewardess” with them in the early 70s and they were truly some of the best years of my life.

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