America’s first Transcontinental Airline

Written November 1, 2014

With everyone thinking so much about the news about SpaceShipTwo, I thought it would be nice if we looked back at the history of another group of pioneers. The early days of commercial air travel.

Transcontinental Air Transport was originally founded by Clement Melville Keys in 1928. Keys was a financier, sometimes referred to as the Father of commercial aviation in America. He worked closely with Charles Lindbergh to design routes throughout the continental US, founding several airports and building vital infrastructure such as markers for pilots along the way.

In those days, passengers flew in Ford Tri-motors, and traveled by train during the night time part of the journey. The trip from New York to Los Angeles took 51 hours and cost $338 one way. Of course there were many who made fun of the idea, saying that TAT stood for Take a Train. There were setbacks, including a crash in New Mexico in September, 1929 that killed all hands and happened only months after the airline started offering transcontinental service. That made many doubt the safety of air travel.

This was one of the first airlines that specialized in passenger travel. Previously, many had focused on air mail. It was also one of the first to serve meals in flight. TAT merged with Maddux Airlines in 1929, then with Western Air Lines in 1930, eventually becoming TWA.

Now, there are other, older airlines, such as the Dutch KLM, founded in 1920. But TAT was the first transcontinental airline in the US. People made fun of it, said it was too expensive, said it wasn’t practical and no one would use it.

I think the same is true for private space flight. Aviation did very little till it was privatized and opened up to competition. That’s when it truly bloomed.

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