Up, Up, And Awa-a-ay...
13 July 1925 1 December 2001
Trans World Airlines, whose initials symbolised the best in commercial aviation to much of the world, is now just a memory.
Even after TWA became a wholly owned subsidiary of American Airlines on 9 April 2001, it continued to operate under its own name. On the night of 1 December 2001, however, TWA's long history came to an end when the last scheduled flight, TWA171 from New York's La Guardia Airport, arrived in St. Louis. After its arrival, workers began removing TWA signs and logos from airports across the TWA system, replacing them with American Airlines signs. Beginning at midnight, all TWA flights were shown in computer reservations systems as American flights.
TWA dated its history from the incorporation of Western Air Express on 13 July 1925. Its other parent company, Transcontinental Air Transport, inaugurated the famed coast-to-coast air and rail service between New York and Los Angeles on 27 July 1929. The TWA name was born on 1 October 1930, when TAT and WAE merged to form Transcontinental and Western Air, Inc. and the corporate name was officially changed to Trans World Airlines in 1950.
TWA was the first airline to introduce many of the things air travelers now take for granted: the first all-cargo service, both in the U.S. (1931) and across the Atlantic (1947); the first in-flight audio entertainment (1940); the first freshly-brewed coffee in-flight (1957); the first in-flight movies (1961); the first trans-Atlantic flights without a professional navigator aboard (1962); the first U.S. airline to operate a completely all-jet fleet (1967); the first Boeing 747 service in the U.S (1970); the first no-smoking sections aboard every flight (1970); the first trans-Atlantic Boeing 767 ETOPS service (1985).
In addition, the flight crews of Air Force One, the presidential aircraft, were trained by TWA, and it was the only U.S. airline chartered by the Vatican for all papal visits to the United States.
When TWA ceased operations under its own name it was, at 76 years, 4 months, and 18 days, the oldest continuously operating airline in the United States. It will be remembered as one of the world's truly innovative, truly great, airlines.
For a more complete history of TWA, see Trans World Airlines: Dawn to Dusk, Part I and Part II, originally published in the September and October 2001 issues of Airline Pilot.