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Since the first airship was invented in the mid-1800s humans have been obsessed with air travel. Today, there are hundreds of airlines that offer air travel services, from large commercial transportation airlines to small cargo airlines. Over the years many airlines have been founded and many have ceased to operate. Some airlines were bought out by other competing airlines. Some airlines never achieved financial success. However there were many airlines which did succeed and some of the oldest airlines are still in business to this day. Below is a guide to the airline industry including the history of airlines and how they evolved into today's airline industry, top international commercial and carrier airlines, top budget airlines, and the busiest airline routes in the world.
The History of Airlines
When the first airplane was invented by the Wright brothers in the late-1800s the air travel industry finally had its launching pad to grow into what it is today. However, even before the airplane came into existence airlines had already been created to service passengers who wanted to travel by air using airships. The world's first airline, Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengessellschaft (DELAG), was based in Germany and began offering airship sightseeing tours to its passengers before offering intercontinental flights between Germany and Berlin in 1909. Around this same time other airlines were founded, many of which are no longer operating. These airlines included U.S. based St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, Hungary based Aero Rt., United Kingdom based Aircraft Transport and Travel, Denmark based Det Danske Luftfartselskab, and French based Societe des lignes Latecoere. However, all of these airlines have since ceased operations. There are a few airlines that were started around the same time that are still in operation including Netherlands based KLM, Australia's QANTAS, Russia (formerly Soviet Union) based Aeroflot, Czechoslovakia based Czech Airlines, and Finland based Finnair. These airlines, along with others, were all founded in the early 1900s.
In June of 1939 Pan American airlines began offering a transatlantic passenger service from New York to France. This was 12 years after Charles Lindbergh completed the first solo transatlantic flight on a fixed-wing aircraft from New York to France. In between those two important landmark flights other notable air travel related happenings occurred including the first airship transatlantic flight, the first flight across the Atlantic ocean by a woman, the first flight around the world, and the first mass transatlantic flight, with 24 total planes flying from Italy to Illinois together.
The biggest obstacle to early commercial transatlantic passenger flights was the inability for aircrafts to carry enough fuel to transport passengers across the Atlantic. Many airlines were unable to get licensed to carry passengers because of the dangers associated with transatlantic flights. Navigation could be unpredictable at best and dangerous at worst. Airlines were unwilling to place passengers into the dangerous position of flying on a course whose safety could not be guaranteed. This is the reason why transatlantic flights were commonly accomplished by airship in the beginning. However, once the first transatlantic passenger flight via winged airlines was completed the door opened for other airlines to begin offering their own scheduled flights.
The Evolution of Airlines
Since the inception of DELAG the airline industry has evolved into a multimillion dollar industry. The biggest change to the U.S. airline industry occurred in 1978 when the United States government passed the airline deregulation act. This allowed the airline industry to open itself to small privately owned airlines that could then compete with the larger already established airlines. Internationally, worldwide safety standards were put into place and regulated by the International Civil Aviation Organization. Additionally, each country began regulating the operation of transatlantic flight routes into and out of their airports. Agreements were set between countries which allowed passenger airlines to fly to and from the country that it held an agreement with. These airline regulations and agreements are still in place today.
In terms of the actual travel time a lot has changed from those first early flights. For instance, today most airlines do not allow smoking on board. The trend towards non-smoking airlines began in the 1980s when planes first began offering non-smoking sections. Now most international flights do not allow smoking at all. Another notable change that may have occurred as a direct result of airline deregulation in many countries is that tickets are now more cost friendly then they were in the past. Airline prices go up and down depending on the cost of fuel, status of the airline industry, and even time of year. However, for the most part tickets today are a lot cheaper than they were before deregulation in the industry took place. Even seemingly innocuous changes such as drastic changes to the dress code have taken place. When air travel first became popular passengers wore very elegant clothing when travelling by airplane. Since tickets were more expensive mostly upper class citizens travelled by air and they took it as an opportunity to see and be seen, often wearing their fanciest clothing. Today, cultural norms have changed and even first class passengers are more likely to be seen wearing sweatpants and comfortable shoes, especially when riding on long international flights.
These changes, and many others, show the evolution of the airline industry through the years and the drastic changes that have taken place. No longer is air travel associated with luxe travel by the upper class. Today's airline passengers are more interested in saving money while reaching their travel destination than with the romance of travel in and of itself.
Top 10 International Passenger Airlines
Every year the World Airline Awards rank passenger airlines for excellence in the industry. The ranking is decided by surveying passengers on how airlines score in terms of customer satisfaction. Below are the top 10 International Passenger Airlines as ranked by the Skytrax World Airline Awards.
1. Qatar Airways
Qatar Airways is based in Doha and services flights to and from Africa, Europe, Asia, Middle East, Oceania, and North and South America. The airline was first established in 1993 and was privately-owned by Qatar's royal family. However, now it is a 50 percent state-funded airline and 50 percent privately owned. It is one of the few airlines to have flights to all six continents. Qatar Airways also was the first airline to pass the International Air Transit Association's Operational Safety Audit in 2003.
2. Asiana Airlines
Asiana Airlines is based in South Korea and was originally called Seoul Air International. It was established in 1988 and offers flights to 21 countries in Asia, North America, Europe, and Oceania. It was named an environmentally friendly service company by the Ministry of Environment Republic of Korea. It is also a member of Star Alliance, a global airline alliance.
3. Singapore Airlines
Singapore Airlines is based in Singapore. The airline company was founded in 1937 by the Ocean Steamship Company of Liverpool and was known as Malayan Airlines. Since then it has undergone many name changes including Malysian Airlines and Malaysia-Singapore Airlines. The company became Singapore Airlines after it split from Malaysia-Singapore Airlines to become two separate entities. In the 1990s Singapore Airlines became one of the first companies to add a global air telephone service.
4. Cathay Pacific Airways
Cathay Pacific Airways was founded in 1946 and was first based in Shanghai. Shortly afterwards the airlines moved to Hong Kong where it is still based today. When Cathay Pacific Airways first moved to Hong Kong its rival was Hong Kong Airways. However, in 1959 Cathay Pacific Airways acquired Hong Kong Airways. The airline, along with other international airlines, founded Oneworld Alliance in 1999. The airline was the first international airline to provide service to Osaka, Nagoya, and Fukuoka, Japan.
5. ANA All Nippon Airways
Nippon Helicopter and Aeroplane Airline was founded in 1952. It eventually became All Nippon Airways (ANA) after merging with Far East Airlines in 1958. The airline is based in Tokyo, Japan. Its first international flight took place in 1971 from Tokyo to Hong Kong. Later, more international destinations were added including Guam, New York, Paris, Sydney, and London.
6. Etihad Airways
Etihad Airways is based in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, and it is the national airline by royal decree. Etihad Airways has flights to over 52 countries. It was founded in 2003 and has received over 30 awards since its inception. In 2009 it became the first Middle Eastern airline to receive an award for World's Leading Airline by the World Travel Awards.
7. Turkish Airlines
The foundation for Turkish Airlines was laid down in 1933 in Turkey's capital, Ankara. However, at the time it was known as the State Airlines Administration and was under the department of Ministry of Defense. In 1935 it became operated by the Ministry of Public Works and became known as the General Directorate of State Airlines. In 1938 operation fell to the Ministry of Transportation. It underwent a few more name and department changes until 1993 when Turkish Air Transportation and Turkish Airlines merged.
Emirates was founded in 1985 and is based in Dubai. The first two aircrafts were provided by the royal family. One of its first International flights in 1987 travelled to London and by 2005 New York flights were added to the airlines schedule. In 2000 Emirates became the first airline to order an Airbus 380, the world's largest passenger aircraft.
9. Thai Airways International
In 1960 Thai Airways International was founded as Thailand's first international airline. The airline was formed as a joint venture between Thailand's domestic airline, Thai Airways Company, and Scandinavian Airline Systems. The airline began offering flights to nine Asian destinations. It was not until 1971 that Thai Airways International offered intercontinental flights. The first intercontinental flights travelled to Australia. Next came Europe and finally it travelled to North America.
10. Malaysia Airlines
Malaysia Airlines was founded in 1937 as Malyan Airways Limited (MAL) as a domestic carrier. In 1947 it became a national airline and completed its first international flight. By 1963 its name had changed to Malaysian Airlines Limited and later became Malaysia-Singapore Airlines. Then in 1973 Malaysia-Singapore Airlines split into two separate companies one of which was Malaysia Airline Limited. From there the name changed once again becoming Malaysian Airline System or Malaysian Airline. The airline has received over 100 awards and there are daily flights to over 100 international destinations.
Top International Cargo Airlines
Air Cargo World ranks cargo airlines every year in terms of excellence in the industry and compiles a list of the top international cargo airlines. The airlines are divided into categories based on how many tons of cargo is carried per flight. Platinum and diamond awards are given in each category. Each airline is rated by subscribers who rank the airlines for customer service, performance, value, and information technology. For example, customer service scores are given out based on whether the airline solved customer problems in a quick and professional manner. Below are the top international cargo airlines based on the 2012 Air Cargo World awards.
- Air Carriers that lift 800,000 plus tonnes
- The platinum winner in this category was Emirates Sky Cargo based in Dubai. The diamond winner was Lufthansa based in Germany.
- Air Carriers that lift 300,000 to 799,999 tonnes
- The platinum winner for air carriers lifting from 300,000 to 799,999 tonnes was Qatar Airways based in Doha. The diamond winner was Cargolux based in Luxembourg.
- Air Carriers that lift up to 299,999 tonnes
- In the category of air carriers that lift up to 299,999 tonnes the platinum winner was Southwest Airlines based in the United States. The diamond winner was Swiss WorldCargo based in Switzerland.
Top 10 Budget Airlines
Today's airline passengers are often looking for the best deal that they can find when purchasing their airline tickets. Because of this many budget airlines have cropped up offering passengers a chance to buy low-cost airfare to reach their intended destination. Most budget airlines only offer domestic flights, and those that offer international flights often do so to countries near the departing destination.
Along with ranking the Top 10 International Passenger Airlines the World Airline Awards also ranks the Top 10 Low-Cost or budget airlines. These airlines are ranked with regards to cost of airfare and accessibility. Since most airfares are now purchased online many of them were based on web-site quality and accessibility as well. Below are the top 10 budget airlines according to the 2012 Skytrax World Airline Awards.
AirAsia was established in 1993 and is based in Malaysia. The airline has daily flights to over 78 destinations, most of which are based in Asia. The airline offers no-frill and low-cost travel and its subsidiaries include Thai AirAsia, Indonesia AirAsia, AirAsia Philippines, and AirAsia Japan.
2. Virgin America
Virgin America was formerly known as Virgin USA and is based in the United States. It was founded in 2004 by the Virgin Group as an answer to people who are seeking low-cost airfare when travelling throughout the United States.
3. Jetstar Airways
Jetstar Airways is based in Australia and was founded in 2003. It is a low-cost subsidiary of Qantas airline. The airline offers flights throughout Australia and international flights to New Zealand as well.
AirAsia X is a low-cost and long-haul airline founded in 2007. It is based in Malysia and is a subsidiary of AirAsia. The airline has flights to and from Asia and Oceania.
The United Kindom based airline easyJet was founded in 1992 as a low-cost airline. The airline did not begin offering online booking until 1998. The airline was also voted Best Low Cost Airline in a reader survey from Business Traveller Magazine. It also offered internet check-in before any other European low-cost airline.
WestJet airline was founded in 2009 as a low-cost carrier based in the United States. West Jet offers flights throughout the United States, Canada, Mexico, Central America, and the Caribbean. There are plans to possibly expand flight to Europe as well.
7. Jetstar Asia
Jetstar Asia is a sister airline to Jetstar Airways based out of Singapore. It is a low-cost airline with flights to and from Southeast Asia, China, Japan, Australia, and Singapore. It was founded in 2004 as a way to connect Singapore and Hong Kong via low-cost travel.
8. Southwest Airlines
Southwest Airline is one of the original low-cost airlines still serving the public today. The United States based airline was founded in 1967 as Air Southwest. Originally the airline only serviced Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio in Texas. By 1974 Southwest had served one million passengers. In 1979 Southwest began offering flights outside of Texas.
9. Azul Airlines
Azul airline is a low-cost airline based in Brazil. It was founded in 2008 as Brazil's version of JetBlue. In fact, former JetBlue founder and CEO David Neeleman brought the low-cost Azul to Brazil where he was born. The name Azul was chosen in a naming contest in 2008. By its first year as an airline Azul had reached the two million customer mark.
10. Indigo Airlines
Indigo airline is a private airline based in India and founded in 2005. The airline currently has more aircrafts on order and is still building its company fleet. Currently the airline offers flights throughout India.
Regional and Domestic Airlines
Customers who are booking a flight within their country may wonder what the difference is between regional and domestic flights and airlines. Regional flights and domestic airlines both fly within the same country. An example of this is a United States based domestic or regional flight. Both types of flights would only fly throughout the United States. The difference is that regional flights are based throughout a particular region. So an airline that only has flights throughout the southern states of the United States would be a regional airline. However, some people classify regional flights as those which are only a 12 to 15 hour drive away from the originating city.
With that being said there are no rules or regulations that define the meaning of regional airlines or flights. Most small jets, or those that carry 50 people or less, are called regional jets.
According to the Economist, who published a chart based on travel information from 2011, the busiest commercial airline route is from South Korea's JEJU to Seoul. In 2011 9.9 million passengers travelled between JEJU and Seoul. The chart shows numbers provided by Amadeus, a technology company that works directly with the travel industry. The numbers are also based on where each passenger begins their travel and where their final destination ends.
The rest of the busiest commercial airline routes noted on the Economist's chart, from busiest to least busiest, are Rio de Janeiro to San Paolo, Brazil; Osaka to Tokyo, Japan; Sapporo to Tokyo, Japan; Melbourne to Sydney, Australia; Fukuoka to Tokyo, Japan; Beijing to Shanghai, China; Hong Kong to Taipei, China; Cape Town to Johannesburg, South Africa; Mumbai to Delhi, India; Naha to Tokyo, Japan; Brisbane to Sydney, Australia; Shanghai to Shenzhen, China; Beijing to Chengdu, China; and Beijing to Guangzhou, China.
The airline industry has evolved from the first flights which were offered to passengers on airships that utilized hot air-filled balloons to travel. Today airbuses are offered by many airlines to accommodate a large number of passengers during trans-continental flights. These flights offer bedding, meals, and almost any type of amenities that a passenger could want. The airline industry has also evolved in terms of safety. Today's airlines are more aware of passenger safety than ever before. Smoking is no longer allowed on most international or domestic flights and airline security is higher than ever.
Practices that are common in airlines today may no longer be popular fifty years from now. Aircrafts may be bigger and airfares may be cheaper. The airline industry will continue to change, but one thing that is certain is that people will continue to be fascinated with air travel and airlines just as the public was when transcontinental air travel finally became a possibility.