We all know and love the big airlines of today. But with over 100 years of commercial flights, it's easy to forget about the iconic airlines of yesteryear.
This post is dedicated to our 10 favourite airlines that have gone out of business, what caused their downfall and why we wish we could bring them back.
Credit: Eduard Marmet on Wikimedia Commons
Founded in 1966 by the famous British entrepreneur Sir Freddie Laker, Laker Airways was one of the first ‘no frills’ airlines to operate between the UK and USA.
Laker used initiatives that included reduced thrust take-off techniques, faster climbs and lower weight to save fuel burn and keep operating costs low.
Unfortunately, the early ‘80s recession and low-cost fares from competing airlines made life difficult for Laker Airways and after 16 years of flying, the airline took its final flight on 5th of February 1982. Today, Laker Airways continues to have an impact on the aviation industry, with low-cost carriers like Ryanair taking inspiration from the business model that Laker pioneered.
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After the end of World War II, Germany split in two and all aircraft in the country was seized. Eventually, in West Germany, a company acquired the Lufthansa trademark. While in East Germany, an airline by the name of Deutsche Lufthansa was established as a rival carrier.
Due to its use of the Lufthansa brand, Deutsche Lufthansa faced legal trouble and was forced into liquidation in 1963. Fortunately, the East German airline industry foresaw Deutsche Lufthansa's inevitable demise and in 1958, had set-up Interflug — a backup airline that was primed to replace Deutsche Lufthansa as East Germany’s national carrier.
Interflug offered flights across Europe and to intercontinental destinations. Its fleet was made up of Soviet aircraft and the pilots were mainly from the National People’s Army. Crew were often screened for their political beliefs and banned from socializing with non-socialist flight crews when travelling.
Interflug operated as the East German national carrier from 1963 to 1991 when it eventually ceased flying.
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One of the names synonymous with air travel is Pan American World Airways (Pan Am). The American carrier was one of the largest airlines in the world when it operated between 1927 and 1991 and was a launch customer for the famous Boeing 707 and Boeing 747 jumbo jet.
For Pan Am, things were going very well through the ’70s, so much so that that the airline became the self-proclaimed ‘world’s most experienced airline’. This optimism didn’t last forever, though. And with the rising cost of fuel and the loss of their internal flight network, the airline filed for bankruptcy in 1991. Many different companies have tried to revive the Pan Am brand since it stopped flying, however, these revivals never lasted long and the original Pan Am remains one of the most famous airline brand names ever.
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Ansett Australia is the only Australian airline on this list and — like many of the other airlines that we feature — has a rich history. The airline’s origins date back to 1935 and stretch all the way to 2002 when it folded.
Before Qantas took over, at one stage, Ansett was the largest airline in Australia. Ansett Australia had a strong focus on providing domestic flights in Australia. And because government regulation only allowed for two airlines to operate domestic routes at one time, the airline really thrived in the country.
Unfortunately for Ansett, this regulation was removed in the 1990s, which is when the airline started running into trouble. In 1996, Air New Zealand took a 50% stake in the airline and took over fully in 2000. But it was not enough to keep them in the skies and Ansett went into voluntary administration in 2001, before finally shutting down in 2002.
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Sabena was the national carrier of Belgium from 1923 to 2001 and had one of the most dramatic falls from grace the airline industry has ever seen. From the outside, Sabena appeared as a shining light in the airline world. But, beneath the surface, there were growing cashflow problems and massive debt.
In it’s prime, Sabena had a good transatlantic network from its base in Brussels, as well as European, Asian and African routes with a total of 99 routes at the time of its demise. Unfortunately, when the final flight landed and stopped, so did the jobs of 10,000 people.
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Whoever said you shouldn’t mix beer and airlines was obviously onto something because it didn’t work out too well for Kingfisher Airlines.
The Indian carrier started flying in 2005 with a range of domestic flights but ran into trouble when it bought fellow airline Air Deccan. An Indian regulation states that an airline must be in operation for 5 years before flying internationally, so Kingfisher bought the more established Air Deccan to get around this rule.
The plan was to speed up the implementation of the new Bengaluru to London route. As the losses increased, the airline went into administration and its CEO Vijay Mallya fled creditors by escaping to London.
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Monarch was the first of a couple of high-profile UK airline collapses in the last few years.
First flying in 1967, the airline was originally aimed at families travelling to European holiday destinations and later became a low-cost carrier. Monarch struggled with sales to its major holiday regions of Turkey and Egypt because of political unrest and consumer uncertainty in those areas.
Eventually, the airline stopped flying in 2017 with approximately 110,000 passengers stranded overseas. The result was the biggest repatriation that the UK had seen since World War II, until a couple of years later when Thomas Cook surpassed it.
Interestingly, when Air Berlin first started operating in 1978 it registered as an American airline to gain access to some flight routes in and out of Berlin that were under Cold War restrictions. However, it was, in fact, a German airline and was also the 4th largest in Europe at one time.
The main issue with Air Berlin was that it was not quite a full-service airline, so it didn’t match the service of legacy carriers but it also couldn’t compete with the low prices of the proper low-cost carriers that were gaining momentum in Europe either. Even funding from the cash-rich Etihad Airways wasn’t enough to keep the airline going and it eventually collapsed in 2017.
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Icelandic airline WOW came into the market in 2011, with bright purple planes and a fresh approach to marketing an ultra-low-cost airline. Using Reykjavik as a hub between Europe and North America, WOW was able to operate a low-cost long-haul model using two flights instead of one.
Problems began to arise when WOW began using wide body aircraft and over expanding its network. Despite attempts from a private equity company and fellow Icelandic airline Icelandair coming to rescue WOW, the airline ceased operations in March 2019.
The name Thomas Cook will always be remembered thanks to the man from Derbyshire that became a pioneering group travel leader. Thomas Cook led his first trip in 1841 and opened a shop and organised group trips within the UK and abroad in the years following.
Eventually, the Thomas Cook group began charter flights and an airline was created alongside the tour operator. In its time as tour operator and airline, Thomas Cook became a staple in British travel and was one of the most recognisable brands in the country.
Unfortunately, Thomas Cook Airlines went under in 2019 along with the whole Thomas Cook group. This resulted in the largest post-war repatriation in the UK to date, overtaking Monarch from only a couple of years before.
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