Western Airlines

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Western Airlines
The Western Airlines "W" trademark in red on a white background
IATA ICAO Callsign
Founded July 1925 (1925-07)
Commenced operations April 17, 1926 (1926-04-17) [1]
Ceased operations April 1, 1987 (1987-04-01) (merged
with Delta Air Lines)
Fleet size 78
Destinations 56
Company slogan The Only Way to Fly
Parent company -
Headquarters Los Angeles, California, United States
Key people Harris Hanshue (Founder)
File:Douglas M2.jpg
Douglas M-2 Operated by Western Air Express

Western Airlines (IATA: WAICAO: WALCall sign: Western) was an airline based in California, with operations in the western United States including Alaska and Hawaii, and western Canada, as well as to New York City, Boston, Washington D.C. and Miami and also to Mexico. The airline also served international cities such as London, England and Nassau, Bahamas during its existence. Western had hubs at Los Angeles International Airport, Salt Lake City International Airport, and the former Stapleton International Airport in Denver. Before it merged with Delta Air Lines it was headquartered at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).[2] The company's slogan for many years was "Western Airlines....The Only Way To Fly!"


Western Air Express

In 1925 the United States Postal Service began to give airlines contracts to carry air mail throughout the country. Western Airlines first incorporated in 1925 as Western Air Express by Harris Hanshue. It applied for and was awarded the 650-mile long Contract Air Mail Route #4 (CAM-4) from Salt Lake City, Utah to Los Angeles. On 17 April 1926, Western's first flight took place with a Douglas M-2 airplane.[3] It began offering passenger services a month later, when the first commercial passenger flight took place at Woodward Field. Ben F. Redman (then president of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce) and J.A. Tomlinson perched atop U.S. mail sacks and flew with pilot C.N. "Jimmy" James on his regular eight-hour mail delivery flight to Los Angeles.

Transcontinental & Western Airlines

The company reincorporated in 1928 as Western Air Express Corp. Then, in 1930, purchased Standard Air Lines, subsidiary of Aero Corp. of Ca. founded in 1926 by Paul E. Richter, Jack Frye and Walter Hamilton. WAE with Fokker aircraft merged with Transcontinental Air Transport to form Trans World Airlines (TWA).

General Air Lines

In 1934 Western Air Express was severed from TWA and briefly changed its name to General Air Lines, returning to the name Western Air Express after several months. In a 1934 press release by the company, it called itself the Western Air Division of General Air Lines.[4]

Western Airlines

In 1941 Western Air Express changed its name to Western Air Lines (WAL) and later to Western Airlines. The carrier also billed itself as Western Airlines International at one point. During the 1940s Western acquired a controlling interest in Inland Air Lines which operated as a subsidiary with its schedules appearing in Western system timetables before Inland was merged into Western during the early 1950s.[5] After World War II Western was awarded a route from Los Angeles to Denver via Las Vegas, but financial problems forced Western to sell the route as well as Douglas DC-6 delivery positions to United Air Lines in 1947. Western was later awarded a route between Minneapolis and Salt Lake City via Casper, Wyoming, thus allowing the airline to develop from a large regional airline into a major air carrier. This growth enabled the airline to introduce Douglas DC-6 (DC-6B models), Lockheed L-188 Electras and eventually Boeing 707s. The airline's president was Terrell "Terry" Drinkwater. Drinkwater got into a dispute with the administration in Washington D.C. which severely hampered WAL's growth. Pressured in a famous phone call by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to "buy American made aircraft", Drinkwater reportedly responded: "Mr. President, you run your country and let me run my airline!" For years after this exchange, the federal Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) would not award Western new routes while their major competitors including United and American grew enormous even though all of Western's airliners were of U.S. manufacture while their competitor's fleets included aircraft that had been built in Europe by British or French companies.

Restored Convair 240 in Western paint

In August 1953 Western scheduled flights to 38 airports, and in June 1968 to 42 airports.

Western's first jets were two Boeing 707-139s that in June 1960 began three daily roundtrips between Los Angeles and Seattle — one via SFO, one via PDX and one nonstop. In 1967 WAL acquired Pacific Northern Airlines which served Alaska from Anchorage and Seattle. In the late 1960s Western aimed for an all-jet fleet, adding Boeing 707-320Cs, 727-200s and 737-200s to their fleet of 720Bs. The two leased B707-139s had been removed from the fleet in favor of the turbofan powered Boeing 720B. Lockheed L-188 Electras were replaced with Boeing 737-200s. In 1973 Western added nine wide-body McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10s, calling them "DC-10 Spaceships".

File:Western Airlines B-720 N93147.jpg
Boeing 720B in old livery at Seattle 1972

Western was headquartered in Los Angeles, California. After the Airline Deregulation Act in 1978, the airline's hubs were eventually reduced to two: Los Angeles International Airport and Salt Lake City International Airport. Prior to airline deregulation Western had smaller hubs in Anchorage, Alaska, Denver, Las Vegas, Minneapolis/St. Paul and San Francisco.[6] In spring 1987 shortly before Western was acquired by Delta Air Lines, the airline had two hubs, in Salt Lake City and a secondary hub in Los Angeles.

In the 1970s and 1980s Western flew across the western United States and to Mexico (Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo and Mazatlán), Alaska (Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau, Ketchikan, Kodiak and other Alaskan cities), Hawaii (Honolulu, Kahului, Kona, and Hilo), and Canada (Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton). New York City, Washington, D.C., Boston and Miami were added on the east coast as well as Chicago and St. Louis in the midwest, and Texas cities Austin, Dallas/Ft. Worth, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio. Western had many flights within California, competing with Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA), Air California (AirCal), Air West/Hughes Airwest and United Airlines. Western operated "Islander" service with Boeing 707-320C, Boeing 720B and McDonnell Douglas DC-10s to Hawaii from a number of cities that had not had direct flights to the 50th state. In 1973 Western was flying nonstop between Honolulu and Anchorage, Los Angeles, Oakland, CA, San Diego, San Francisco and San Jose, CA with one-stop direct flights between Honolulu and Las Vegas, Minneapolis/St. Paul, Phoenix, Sacramento and Salt Lake City.[7] In 1981 the airline flew nonstop DC-10s between Vancouver, British Columbia and Honolulu as well.[8]

One of the smallest jet destinations was West Yellowstone Airport, near Yellowstone National Park. The summer-only Western Boeing 737-200s replaced Lockheed L-188 Electras to the small airfield. During the 1970s and 1980s Western served a number of small cities with 737-200s including Butte, MT, Casper, WY, Cheyenne, WY, Helena, MT, Idaho Falls, ID, Pierre, SD, Pocatello, ID, Rapid City, SD and Sheridan, WY. The 737 replaced Electras to all of these cities. In 1968 Western flew nonstop Boeing 720Bs between Annette Island Airport (near Ketchikan, Alaska) and Seattle, and in 1973 flew 720Bs nonstop between Kodiak, Alaska and Seattle.[9][10]

In 1971 Western and American Airlines stockholders approved a merger, but the government didn't approve. In 1978-79 Western and Continental Airlines agreed to merge, but the CAB ruled against it.

In 1981 Western Airlines began flights from Anchorage and Denver to London Gatwick Airport with a single McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30.[11] At one point the DC-10-30 flew direct between Honolulu and London via Anchorage. The London to Denver flight continued to Las Vegas and Los Angeles, with the same routing being flown in reverse. Another route was one-stop direct between Los Angeles and Nassau, Bahamas which was flown with a DC-10 via Miami. As Western extended its network to east coast cities such as New York City, Washington, D.C. and Boston, as well as to Chicago and St. Louis in the midwest, Albuquerque and El Paso in the west, and Houston, New Orleans, Miami and Fort Lauderdale in the south, the airline became a prominent sponsor of the Bob Barker television show The Price Is Right to make customers in the eastern U.S. more aware of them.

Western Express

During the late 1980s, Western entered into a code sharing agreement with SkyWest Airlines, an independent commuter air carrier. SkyWest operated Embraer EMB-120 Brasilias and Fairchild Swearingen Metroliners as Western Express providing feed to and from Western flights at Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Phoenix, San Diego and other Western cities[12] In the spring of 1987 SkyWest operating as Western Express was serving 36 destinations in Arizona, California, Colorado, Montana, Nevada, Utah and Wyoming. Western also entered a code sharing agreement with Alaska-based South Central Air, a small commuter airline which operated as Western Express as well, connecting to Western flights at Anchorage. Several destinations in southern Alaska including Homer, Kenai, Soldotna were served by South Central Air operating as Western Express.[13] Following the acquisition of Western by Delta Air Lines, SkyWest became a Delta Connection code sharing air carrier.[14]

Delta Air Lines merger

In the early 1980s Air Florida tried to buy Western Airlines, but they were able to purchase only 16 percent of the airline's stock. Finally, on September 9, 1986 Western Airlines and Delta Air Lines entered into an agreement and plan of merger. The merger agreement was approved by the United States Department of Transportation on December 11, 1986. On December 16, 1986, shareholder approval of the merger was conferred and Western Airlines became a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta. The Western brand was discontinued and the employee workforces were fully merged on April 1, 1987. All of Western's aircraft were repainted in Delta's livery including ten McDonnell Douglas DC-10 wide body trijets, which Delta then eventually decided to eliminate from the combined fleet as they already operated a considerable number of Lockheed L-1011 TriStar wide body jetliners at the time which were a similar type when compared with the DC-10. Western's former Salt Lake City hub has become a major Delta hub, and Delta currently uses Los Angeles International Airport as a major gateway and hub as well.

Destinations in 1987

File:Western Airlines DC-10 1 Tilt Corrected.jpg
One of the DC-10s in the Western fleet. Much like American Airlines "DC-10 LuxuryLiners" , Western Airlines marketed their DC-10s "Spaceships" for their widebody comfort, while others of this era such as Eastern Airlines promoted their widebody's low noise L-1011 Tristar's as "Whisperliners"

The following mainline destination information is taken from the Western Airlines March 1, 1987 timetable shortly before the merger with Delta Air Lines was finalized.[12] According to the route map contained in this timetable, the airline's primary connecting hub was the Salt Lake City International Airport with a smaller hub at the Los Angeles International Airport.

Destinations in 1970

The following is taken from the January 6, 1970 Western Airlines route map.[15] In this timetable the airline called itself "Western Airlines International".

  • Acapulco, Mexico
  • Anchorage, Alaska - Hub
  • Billings, Montana
  • Butte, Montana
  • Calgary, Alberta, Canada
  • Casper, Wyoming
  • Cheyenne, Wyoming
  • Denver, Colorado - Hub
  • Great Falls, Montana
  • Helena, Montana
  • Hilo, Hawaii, Hawaii
  • Homer, Alaska
  • Honolulu, Hawaii
  • Idaho Falls, Idaho
  • Juneau, Alaska
  • Kenai, Alaska
  • Ketchikan, Alaska
  • King Salmon, Alaska
  • Kodiak, Alaska
  • Las Vegas, Nevada - Hub
  • Long Beach, California (LGB)
  • Los Angeles, California (LAX): Los Angeles International Airport - Hub
  • Mexico City, Mexico
  • Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota - Hub
  • Oakland, California
  • Ontario, California
  • Palm Springs, California
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Pierre, South Dakota
  • Pocatello, Idaho
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Rapid City, South Dakota
  • Reno, Nevada
  • Sacramento, California
  • Salt Lake City, Utah - Hub
  • San Diego, California
  • San Francisco, California (SFO): San Francisco International Airport - Hub
  • Seattle/Tacoma, Washington (SEA)
  • Sheridan, Wyoming
  • Sioux Falls, South Dakota
  • Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
  • West Yellowstone, Montana (served on a seasonal basis primarily during the summer months)

Other historical destinations

In Western Airlines timetables from the 1940s to the 1980s, it also served the following destinations at different times in addition to the above: [16][17]

  • Alliance, Nebraska
  • Baltimore, Maryland (BWI)
  • Brookings, South Dakota
  • Cedar City, Utah
  • Cordova, Alaska
  • Cut Bank, Montana
  • El Centro, California
  • Fort Lauderdale, Florida (FLL)
  • Grand Junction, Colorado
  • Hot Springs, South Dakota
  • Huron, South Dakota
  • Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada (first international destination served by the airline)
  • Lewiston, Montana
  • Logan, Utah
  • London, England (LGW): London Gatwick Airport (nonstop DC-10 service to Anchorage and Denver with one stop, no change of plane service to Honolulu via Anchorage and direct, no change of plane service to Las Vegas and Los Angeles via Denver)
  • Mankato, Minnesota
  • Miami, Florida (MIA)
  • Nassau, Bahamas (one stop, no change of plane DC-10 service to Los Angeles via Miami)
  • New Orleans, Louisiana
  • Ogden, Utah
  • Rochester, Minnesota
  • Scottsbluff, Nebraska
  • Spearfish, South Dakota
  • Twin Falls, Idaho
  • Yakutat, Alaska
  • Yuma, Arizona

Revenue Passenger Miles

Revenue Passenger Miles in Millions (Scheduled Passenger Service Only)
Western Pacific Northern Airlines Inland Air Lines
1951 216 138 41
1955 514 123 (merged into Western in 1952)
1960 1027 116
1965 2040 198
1970 5072 (merged into Western in 1967)
1975 6998


Western contributed to popular culture with their 1960s advertising slogan, "It's the oooooonly way to fly!" Spoken by Wally Bird, an animated bird hitching a ride aboard the fuselage of a Western airliner, and voiced by veteran actor Shepard Menken, the phrase soon found its way into animated cartoons by Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera. Another famous advertising campaign by the airline centered on Star Trek icons William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Some of their last television ads, shortly before the merger with Delta, featured actor/comedian Rodney Dangerfield.

During the 1970s they promoted themselves as "the champagne airline" because champagne was offered free of charge to every passenger over age 21.[18] (As an aside, actor Jim Backus uttered the "It's the only way to fly!" phrase while piloting an airplane, somewhat inebriated, in the film It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.)

Western Airlines was famous for its "Flying W" corporate identity and aircraft livery. Introduced in the mid-1970s, the unique color scheme featured a large red stylized "W" which fused into a red cheatline running along an all-white fuselage. This new identity was the subject of litigation by Winnebago Industries, which contended the new "Flying W" was too similar to its own stylized "W" logo. In their final years, Western Airlines slightly modified its corporate identity by stripping the white fuselage to bare metal, while retaining the red "Flying W" (albeit with a dark blue shadow). This color scheme was also affectionately known as "Bud Lite" due to its resemblance to a popular beer's can design.

Western Airlines was a favorite first class carrier for Hollywood movie stars and frequently featured them in their on board magazine, "Western's World". Marilyn Monroe and many other silver screen actors were frequent flyers and the airline capitalized on it. Western had a famous flyer out of Seattle: Captain "Red" Dodge. Red worked previously as a helicopter test pilot, and got involved with flying for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in his later years when he wasn't flying as Captain on the DC-10. The movie "Breakout" starring Charles Bronson was based on his daring airlift of a CIA operative out of the courtyard of a Mexican prison. The Mexican government tried to extradite Dodge back to face charges. Red became wealthy leasing government storage units with unlimited government business but never again flew to Mexico.

The airline was also promoted in the Carpenters promotional video for the track "I Need to Be in Love", released in 1976. The video shows exterior footage of a DC-10 in takeoff and landing shots, as well as seating promotions for Western's FiftyFair seating product, with shots of a cabin setting depicting what looks like business class of the DC-10.


File:Western Airlines Boeing 737-200 N4520W Marmet.jpg
Western Airlines Boeing 737-200 landing in Salt Lake City

Fleet in 1986

In 1986 Western Airlines' fleet consisted of 78 jets:[19]

Western Airlines Fleet in 1986
Aircraft In Service Orders
Boeing 727-200 46
Boeing 737-200 19 40
Boeing 737-300 3 14
McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10 10
Total 78 54

The airline also previously operated a McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 in 1981 in order to serve London, England. The DC-10-30 was the largest aircraft type ever flown by Western.

Fleet in 1970

In 1970, Western Airlines operated a total of 75 aircraft. Their fleet consisted of the following jet and turboprop types:[20]

Earlier historical piston fleet

Western also operated a variety of piston-powered, propeller driven airliners over the years including Boeing 247D, Convair 240, Douglas DC-3, DC-4 and DC-6B, Lockheed Lodestar and L-749 Constellation aircraft, and North American AT-6 aircraft with the latter only being used to transport cargo. The Lockheed Constellation airliners were formerly operated by Pacific Northern Airlines and primarily served smaller Western Airlines destinations in Alaska such as Cordova, Homer, Kenai, King Salmon, Kodiak and Yakutat from Anchorage and/or Seattle during the late 1960s according to the airline's timetables at that time.

Accidents and incidents

  • December 15, 1936: Seven died when a Western Air Express Boeing 247[21] crashed just below Hardy Ridge on Lone Peak near Salt Lake City, Utah.[22] The major parts of the aircraft were hurled over the ridge and fell over a thousand feet into a basin below.[21]
  • January 12, 1937: Western Air Express Flight 7, a Boeing 247 flying from Salt Lake City to Burbank, crashed near Newhall, California, killing five of the 10 persons on board, including adventurer and documentary filmmaker Martin Johnson of Martin and Osa Johnson fame.
  • December 15, 1942: A Western Airlines transport crashed near Fairfield, Utah, approximately 50 miles south of Salt Lake City, Utah, on the way to Los Angeles, California. The plane took off at 1:05 a.m. and was reported missing approximately 15 minutes later. Of the 19 passengers and crew aboard, 17 died.[23]
  • December 24, 1946: Western Air Lines Flight 44 crashed into the Laguna Mountains while descending towards San Diego. The CAB investigation determined that the pilot misjudged his position relative to the mountains, and flew too low to clear terrain.[24][25][26]
  • April 20, 1953: Western Air Lines Flight 636, flying in the night, on the last leg of a Los Angeles-San Francisco-Oakland itinerary, descended below the prescribed minimum altitude of 500 ft and crashed into the waters of San Francisco Bay, killing eight of the ten people aboard the Douglas DC-6.
  • February 25, 1971 – Western Air Lines Flight 329, a Boeing 737, was hijacked by a passenger, demanding to be taken to Cuba but instead landed in Canada.[27]
  • May 5, 1972 – Western Airlines Flight 407, a Boeing 737, was hijacked by a man demanding to be taken to North Vietnam. After refueling in Tampa, Florida, the plane went to Cuba.[28]
  • June 2, 1972: Western Airlines Flight 701 from Los Angeles to Seattle was hijacked by Willie Roger Holder, a Vietnam War veteran, and his stripper girlfriend Catherine Marie Kerkow. The hijackers claimed they had a bomb in an attaché case and demanded $500,000. After allowing half the passengers to get off in San Francisco and the other half to get off in New York on a re-fueling stop, they flew on to Algeria, where they were granted political asylum, joining the International Section of the Black Panther Party. It was and remains the longest-distance hijacking in American history.[29] Later, $488,000 of the ransom money was returned to American officials.
  • July 31, 1979: Western Airlines Flight 44 departed Los Angeles International Airport en route to Denver, Colorado, and Billings, Montana, via several other intermediate stops and then mistakenly landed at Buffalo, Wyoming, instead of Sheridan, Wyoming, which was the intended destination. No injuries occurred and the only damage was to the tarmac at the airport, which was not designed to support the weight of the Boeing 737-200 jetliner. The incident prompted a legal battle and subsequent landmark aviation ruling of Ferguson v. NTSB.[30]
  • October 31, 1979: Western Airlines Flight 2605 crashed while landing at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City, killing 72.[31] The crew landed the DC-10 on a closed runway and it impacted construction vehicles during the attempted go-around.


  1. Hengi, B I (2000). Airlines Remembered. England: Midland Publishing. p. 214. ISBN 978-1-857-80091-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. "World Airline Directory." Flight International. March 30, 1985. 131." Retrieved on June 17, 2009. "Head Office: PO Box 92005, World Way Postal Center, Los Angeles International Airport, Los Angeles, California 90009, USA."
  3. Ed Betts (Summer 1997). "Maddux Air Lines 1927-1929". AAHS Journal.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Western Air press release photo, May 13, 1934
  5. http://www.timetableimages.com, Nov. 3, 1944 & July 1, 1945 Western Airlines timetables including Inland Air Lines schedules
  6. Wadley, Carma. "Utahns were quick to embrace aviation and help achieve mastery of the skies." Desert Morning News Thursday, December 4, 2003.
  7. http://www.departedflights.com, Sept. 6, 1973 Western Airlines timetable
  8. http://www.departedflights.com, Mar. 1, 1981 Western Airline timetable
  9. http://www.timetableimages.com, Aug. 1, 1968 Western Airlines timetable
  10. http://www.departedflights.com, Sept. 8. 1973 Western Airlines timetable
  11. http://www.departedflights.com, Mar. 1, 1981 Western Airlines timetable
  12. 12.0 12.1 http://www.departedflights.com, March 1, 1987 Western Airlines timetable
  13. http://www.departedflights.com, Mar. 1, 1987 Western Airlines/Western Express route map
  14. http://www.departedflights.com, April 3, 1988 SkyWest Airlines/Delta Connection route map
  15. http://www.departedflights.com, Jan. 6, 1970 Western Airlines timetable
  16. http://www.timetableimages.com, Western Airlines timetables: Aug. 1, 1946; April 1, 1947, May 1, 1948; Nov. 1, 1952; Sept. 6, 1968
  17. http://www.departedflights.com, Mar. 1, 1981 Western Airlines timetable & July 1, 1983 Western Airlines route map
  18. Aopa Pilot. July 2011. Missing or empty |title= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "World Airline Directory 1986". Flight International. March 29, 1986. Retrieved 11 December 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  20. World Airline Directory Flight International. 26 March 1970
  21. 21.0 21.1 "Aircraft Accident Report." Department of Commerce.
  22. "Confetti on Lone Peak." Time, June 21, 1937.
  23. Beitler, Stu. "Fairfield, UT Transport Plane Crashes Short Of Runway, Dec 1942." GenDisaster, March 10, 2008. Retrieved: May 9, 2012.
  24. "Hold Little Hope for Twelve in Plane Crash." UP via The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Indiana, December 26, 1946. Retrieved: May 9, 2012.
  25. "Hold Little Hope for Twelve in Plane Crash: Transcript." UP via The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Indiana, December 26, 1946. Retrieved: May 9, 2012.
  26. Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on May 9, 2012.
  27. Hijacking description at the Aviation Safety Network
  28. Hijacking description at the Aviation Safety Network
  29. Brendan I. Koerner (July 13, 2013). "Brendan I. Koerner: The golden age of skyjacking". National Post. Retrieved July 17, 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  30. "678 F2d 821 Ferguson v. National Transportation Safety Board." Openjurist, 2012. Retrieved: May 9, 2012.
  31. Kebabjian, Richard. "Accident Report: Western Airlines Flight 2605." planecrashinfo.com, 2012. Retrieved: June 29, 2012.
  • Pearcy, Arthur. Douglas Propliners: DC-1 – DC-7. London: Airlife, 1995, p. 14. ISBN 1-85310-261-X.

External links