The euphoria of the early jet age reached its peak when widebody aircraft
arrived on the scene in the early 1970s, making it possible for airlines to
offer lavish new amenities, including lounges, piano bars and live entertainment.
Unfortunately, the widebodies arrived at precisely the wrong time. Passenger demand leveled off, and by the middle of the decade, airlines were
faced with a glut of overcapacity. Scores of airplanes ended up parked in
the desert, and the airlines went begging to the government for approval to
negotiate capacity reductions among themselves.
For a while, however, passengers had the best of it. Using a phrase that
would shock airline executives today, American took out about 59 seats “that weren’t being
used anyway” for a coach lounge that evolved into a piano bar.
A piano bar on an American Airlines
widebody, circa 1970.
Air Canada offered “first-class discotheques” on 747s.
On some Pan Am flights, guitarists serenaded, mostly in the lounges, but cartoonists
roamed and sketched about a third of the passengers. Wine tastings were popular.
Continental booked folk-rock artists on its Los Angeles-Hawaii flights in the summer of
1972 to appeal to the youth market.
Those were the days.
In February 1982, in what may have been the most embarrassing phone
call of the decade, American CEO Robert Crandall made what sounded
like an illegal offer to coordinate a fare increase in a phone conversation
with his opposite number at Braniff Inc. A bit more than a year later, the
Justice Department went public with a transcript of the call, which Braniff had taped, and called for Crandall’s resignation. The case was later settled, and Crandall kept his job, but the stigma stayed with American and
with Crandall for quite some time. As for Braniff Inc., it didn’t survive.
Continental shocks the industry by using the bankruptcy laws to break
its contracts with its labor unions. After a brief suspension of service,
the airline reimposes new contracts and emerges with a lower, more
competitive cost structure. Frank Lorenzo, chairman of Continental’s
parent, Texas Air Corp., becomes public enemy No. 1 to airline
The Civil Aeronautics Board goes out of business, and most of its re-
maining functions are transferred to the Transportation Department.
Among its unfinished dockets is the question of whether to adopt rules
regulating display bias and other practices of airline-owned GDSs.
Texas Air Corp. wins approval to acquire both Eastern and troubled upstart People Express, which is later folded into Continental.
Tycoon Donald Trump agrees to acquire Eastern’s venerable Air-Shuttle,
which had operated no-reservation, hourly shuttle flights from New
York to Boston and Washington since 1961. The operation is later sold
to US Air, now US Airways.
After two years in bankruptcy, Eastern Airlines shuts down at midnight
on Jan. 18, culminating 62 years in operation.
The U.S. negotiates a revised air services agreement with the U.K.
that paves the way for Pan Am and TWA to sell their lucrative Heathrow
rights to other U.S. airlines. Reeling from continuing losses, TWA and
Pan Am were desperate to sell the routes to American and United,
respectively. The deals signaled the end of an era for the two
Industry pioneer Pan American World Airways, and, it was said, owner
of one of the world’s most recognized brand names, stops flying on Dec.
4 after Delta withdrew from a proposed restructuring deal. The name
and logo were later acquired by investors seeking to operate a smaller,
specialized air carrier based in New Hampshire.
Northwest and KLM agree to a “virtual merger” under which they
would combine their transatlantic networks and operate as a single car-
rier. The trend-setting deal lays the groundwork for what was to become
the Sky Team Alliance, the first of today’s global airline groupings.