The Heyday of Propeller Airliners(1941-1958)

Traveling by Coach
American Airlines Air Coach Service Brochure

A "coach" was originally a horse-drawn vehicle designed for carrying more than one passenger. The word comes from the Hungarian town of Kocs (pronounced "kotch"), known as a place where well-designed coaches were built. When railroads adapted coaches for use on tracks, the term stayed in use. The airlines borrowed the term to use for coach class, the least expensive seats.

The First "Fare Wars"

New airlines operating on a nonscheduled basis began offering the first discount fares, undermining the government's regulated airfare system.

The Civil Aeronautics Board's efforts to limit competition on transcontinental routes were seriously challenged by scores of new airlines that emerged after World War II. These nonscheduled airlines, or "non-skeds," carried cargo and passengers on irregular or charter services. By combining their resources, some non-skeds were able to offer transcontinental service at discount fares, which other airlines were forced to match.

This brief episode fore–shadowed the turbulent competition to come in the late 1970s, when the government deregulated the airline industry.

North American Airlines DC-6B
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Several "non-skeds" pooled their resources to create North American Airlines in 1950. N.A.A. began offering daily Los Angeles-New York service at a one-way fare of only $99. Other airlines responded, and they too discovered that low-cost service could be profitable. Even so, under pressure from the major airlines, the C.A.B. closed down N.A.A. in 1955.

Capital Airlines Lockheed L1049
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Reacting to competition from nonscheduled airlines, Capital Airlines in 1948 introduced the first coach fares. Although approved reluctantly by the C.A.B., these lower fares immediately became popular and introduced air travel to a much broader passenger market.

Flying Tiger Line
National Air and Space Museum Archives

With the widespread availability of surplus Douglas C-47 transports (military versions of the DC-3) after World War II, many freight service airlines arose and prospered. Returning veterans eager to continue flying formed such airlines as Flying Tigers, Slick, Airlift, and Seaboard World.

TransOcean Airlines
National Air and Space Museum Archives

After the C.A.B. closed down North American Airlines, it changed the "non-sked," designation to "supplemental." Under this designation, the charter business flourished. World, Trans International, Overseas National, Transocean, Standard, Saturn, Capitol, and other carriers provided cargo and passenger service for tour operators and the military.