Ten airlines we really miss

Whether it’s the livery, passenger experience or the aircraft types used, everyone has a soft spot for an airline that didn’t stand the test of time… 

  1. Pan Am 

Once the principal international airline in the United States, Pan American World Airways is affectionately remembered by millions for its many innovations that later set the standard for the international airline industry.  

Aviation Image Network/Bailey
(Photo Aviation Image Network/Bailey Collection)

Its early adoption of jet aircraft and the Boeing 747, along with a computerised reservation system were just some of its claims to fame. At its peak in the early 1970s, Pan Am flew its 150 aircraft to 86 countries on every continent except Antarctica.  

The airline had a diverse fleet which spanned more than 50 types from its founding in 1927, until its collapse nearly 30 years ago in 1991. 

  1. TWA 

Trans World Airlines (TWA) was a major American carrier which operated from 1930 until 2001. Formed as Transcontinental and Western Air, the operator was acquired by Howard Hughes in 1939 and after the end of World War II, was expanded to serve Europe, the Middle East and Asia, making it the second unofficial US flag carrier behind Pan Am. 

The beginning of the end for TWA started in the late 1980s when Carl Icahn took over control of the carrier. The airline became saddled with debt, sold its transatlantic routes subsequently undergoing Chapter 11 restructuring in 1992 and 1995. 

In January 2001, TWA filed for bankruptcy for the third time and was acquired by American Airlines. 

  1. Northwest Airlines 

Another product of the early 20th century, Northwest Airlines was a major player in the American air travel industry for more than 90 years.  

Founded in 1926 as Northwest Airways, nwa dominated the trans-Pacific market with a hub at Tokyo/Haneda shortly after the end of World War II. When United Airlines attempted to gain ground in the market segment by acquiring Pan Am’s Pacific routes, Northwest paid more than $800m to purchase Republic Airlines so it could establish the domestic network necessary to feed its Pacific routes. 

(Photo Aviation Image Network/Bailey)

Lacking a presence in Europe, the carrier entered into an agreement with Dutch flag carrier KLM to create a joint hub at Amsterdam/Schiphol in 1993. The carrier declared bankruptcy on September 14, 2005 and later emerged from the process. 

On April 14, 2008, Northwest Airlines revealed it would be merging with Delta Air Lines to form the world’s largest carrier. This process was completed on January 31, 2010. 

  1. British Midland International 

Moving across the Atlantic to the UK, Castle Donington-based carrier British Midland International was an airline that flew to destinations in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and North America from its base at London/Heathrow. 

The carrier was a big player at the hub at one point because it held around 13% of slots and operated more than 2,000 flights per week.  

British Midland
(Photo Aviation Image Network/Simon Gregory)

Founded in 1938 as Air Schools Limited, the airline traded under various names including British Midland, bmi British Midland, bmi or British Midlands International. The company was sold to International Consolidated Airlines Group (IAG) in April 2012 and was integrated into British Airways by the October. 

The BMI Regional brand continued on after the sale when it was sold to Sector Aviation Holdings in May 2012. Under the flybmi brand name, the carrier conducted domestic and European flights until it fell into administration on February 16, 2019. 

  1. Thomas Cook Airlines 

Another casualty of last year, Thomas Cook Airlines was a British charter and scheduled carrier headquartered in Manchester. Its lineage can be traced back to 1986 when Trans-European Airways was formed. The airline that we know today was formed in 2007 following a merger of Thomas Cook Group and MyTravel Group. 

(Photo Aviation Image Network/BaoLuo)

Serving 82 leisure destinations all over the world from its ten operating bases in the UK, the airline is fondly remembered by the millions of holidaymakers it transported during its history. 

Following its collapse on September 23, 2019, the largest repatriation effort in UK history was completed following the recovery of 165,000 stranded passengers. 

  1. Monarch Airlines 

Sticking with British, the presence of another former heavyweight of the UK aviation scene is sadly missed. Luton-based Monarch Airlines began life in 1967 and continued flying until its collapse on October 2, 2017. 

(Photo Aviation Image Network/BaoLuo)

For the majority of its existence, the firm operated scheduled and charter flights in a full-service capacity, but in 2004 its stopped charter flying altogether and adopted a modified low-cost model, featuring additional charges for food and drink. 

In 2014, the company announced it had selected Boeing, with the 737 MAX as the preferred option for 30 new aircraft. Deliveries were expected to begin in 2018. 

  1. Swissair 

A former flag carrier, Swissair was founded in March 1931 and continued to hold its national airline status until its collapse on March 31, 2002. 

For the majority of its 71-year existence, the operator was a major player on the international airline stage and was known for a time as “the flying bank” due to its strong financial position. Helped by its livery, this description also led it to be regarded as a Swiss national icon. 

(Photo Aviation Image Network/Simon Gregory)

The airline’s downfall began in the early 1990s when a disastrous expansion programme was devised that would see it acquire stakes in multiple airlines in order to grow its market share. In that decade it purchased interests in Air Europe, Sabena, AOM, Air Liberte, Volare, LOT Polish Airlines, Turkish Airlines, South African Airways, LTU and many others.  

This capital expenditure strategy placed the group itself at significant risk and when the airlines began losing money in the early 2000s, things started to go very wrong for Swissair. By late 2000, the group’s board began considering withdrawing from foreign investments. 

Simon Gregory
(Photo Aviation Image Network/Simon Gregory)

The September 11th attacks exacerbated the company’s cashflow problems and on October 2, 2001 it was unable to make payments to creditors and the entire fleet was grounded immediately. Two bridging loans were later granted by the Swiss government but on March 31, 2002 its operations were transferred to Crossair, which later became Swiss International Air Lines. 

  1. VARIG 

The first airline to be founded in Brazil, VARIG was setup on May 7, 1927 and was the country’s leading airline and essentially its only international one for the majority of its history.   

(Photo Aviation Image Network/Bailey Collection)

In 2005, the company underwent judicial restructuring and in 2006, was split into two companies: the now defunct Flex Linhas Aéreas, informally known as “old Varig” and “new Varig” which was eventually fully integrated into Gol Airlines. 

During its 79 years of operations, Varig’s fleet spanned nearly 50 different aircraft. 

  1. Ansett Australia 

Founded by Reginald Ansett in 1935, Ansett Airways later became a major Australian domestic and later international airline.  

The airline competed in an effective duopoly for much of the 20th century in part due to the Menzies government’s Two Airlines Policy, which states that only a pair of carriers were permitted to operate flights between state capital cities. 

The decline of the airline became apparent at the turn of the millennium when competition from Qantas and a succession of low-cost airlines such as Virgin Blue and Impulse Airlines became fierce. 

In February 2000, Air New Zealand acquired full ownership of Ansett, buying out Rupert Murdoch’s New Corporation’s stake, surpassing Singapore Airlines’ bid.  

The new owners attempted to cut costs while expecting to maintain the same level of revenue. This didn’t work. In early 2001, the New Zealand government rescued its flag carrier but cut the Australian airline off. Ansett then quickly ran out of credit lines and enter voluntary administration on September 12, 2001. 

  1. LTU International 

Known for its iconic red liveries, LTU was a German leisure carrier that operated between 1955 and 2009 when it was merged with Air Berlin. The Düsseldorf-based firm operated medium- and long-haul routes and maintained hubs at three German facilities. 

Over its lifespan, LTU became one of the largest and most renowned German carriers. Its red and white paint scheme changed very little over the years and it became very well-known. 

(Photo Aviation Image Network/BaoLuo)

In March 2007, Air Berlin took over LTU International, creating the fourth-largest airline group in Europe in terms of traffic at the time.  

Following this takeover, the branding was retained for around one year until in 2008, its new owners announced the LTU trademark would no longer be used. In October 2017, Air Berlin itself also ceased operations.