Skift Take

It would be nice to have a successful relaunch of a classic, for a change. Best of luck to the new Eastern Air Lines with that.

Last week brought news that Eastern Airlines would be resurrected — in a way — with a brand reboot that would operate out of Miami, FL.

Considering the track record of relaunches, we don’t expect much.

Even if you aren’t a true blue, jet-fuel in the veins, twin-engine powered aviation geek (#AvGeek), you may have longed for the return of a long-defunct airline. Icons of a bye-gone era, they owe their enduring appeal to fortunes spent defining and refining their brands. Their competition funded the development of new aircraft, aviation technology, and a great many cabin innovations, but came with high fares which made flying a luxury most could not afford. In the 1980s, deregulation brought the party to an end. Airlines which couldn’t cope with new economic realities folded, but the brands they built endure.

Here are nine U.S. and European carriers we still miss:

United States

Pan Am (1927-1991) was the jet age. Its soul was the future and modernity its DNA, but attempts to relaunch Pan Am have been short-lived. The most recent relaunch project was abandoned this year, not long after it was announced.

Braniff (1928-1982) brought color to the skies. So. Much. Color. But being colorful didn’t help the airline survive economic challenges, and attempts to revive Braniff were infamously unsuccessful. The last version of Braniff was a chronic disaster, which shut-down without warning in 1992, ending with jail sentences for key executives accused of bankruptcy fraud.

TWA (1925-2001) never really died. “The airline run by flyers,” managed by ‘The Aviator’ Howard Hughes from the 1940s to the ’60s, was absorbed by American Airlines in 2001. This history-maker survived deregulation and tragedy, but financial turbulence ultimately proved too much for the airline to endure.

‘Ace of Aces’ Eddie Rickenbacker made Eastern Air Lines (1927-1991) the pearl of Miami’s aviation industry, but pearls dissolve in vinegar. Acrid labor disputes and aggressive management tactics in the late 80s, brought the airline to the breaking point. The relaunch of Eastern Air Lines in Miami this month gives us hope that at least one of these aviation legends can be revived and sustained.


The national airline of Belgium, SABENA Airlines (1923-2001) was brought down through a combination of bad management and dodgy deals. Swissair was supposed to fund the airline through its last bad patch, but backed out at the last minute. Leaving the capital of Europe with a defunct airline at the heart of it was far from ideal. From its ashes, Brussels airlines rose to grace the skies.

Swissair (1931-2002) the national carrier of Switzerland, really couldn’t do much to save SABENA. It had its own serious financial woes which caused the airline to cease operations in 2002. It transferred services to Crossair which later became Swiss International Air Lines (SWISS).

The merger of Imperial Airways and British Airways in 1939 gave the world BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation). Renowned for its high service standards this airline is iconic of the Golden Age of aviation. BOAC was merged with British European Airways (founded 1946) in 1974 to form today’s British Airways. A merger of British Airways and Iberia in 2011 formed today’s IAG group which also owns Spanish LCC Vueling.

Danish carrier Cimber Air (1950-2012) was a successful carrier until it absorbed troubled rival Sterling Airlines (1962-2008), to form Cimber Sterling. Sterling’s troubles proved contagious and the new airline folded in 2012, though it was raised again as a charter, flying on contract for SAS which purchased the charter outright this month for $5.8 million.

Gandalf Airlines, 1998-2004 a regional carrier out of Milan, was thus named and branded because CEO, Luciano Di Fazio, was a Tolkien fan. The hobbit theme played out in the cabin too, with the Eye of Sauron in blue-on-blue design of their dress covers.


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Tags: in-flight, livery, twa

Photo credit: Braniff turned livery to art, commissioning limited edition designs by renowned american modern artist Alexander Calder. Wikimedia Commons

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