Airline Expansion and Innovation (1927 - 1941)

"The fact that I had gone around the world in less than three weeks proved that the man with a month's vacation might spend a good part of it in almost any place in the world he chose."

-H. R. Ekins


Around The World


Image of a travel agent
Travel Agent

Who Flew?

United Airlines DC-3
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Flying was very expensive. Only business travelers and the wealthy could afford to fly.

America's airline industry expanded rapidly, from carrying only 6,000 passengers in 1930 to more than 450,000 by 1934, to 1.2 million by 1938. Still, only a tiny fraction of the traveling public flew.

Most people still rode trains or buses for intercity travel because flying was so expensive. A coast-to-coast round trip cost around $260, about half of the price of a new automobile. Only business executives and the wealthy could afford to fly.

Flying Politicians
National Air and Space Museum Archives

Flying Politicians

As air travel became more common in the 1930s, more politicians took to the air. In 1932, New York Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt flew an American Airways Ford Tri-Motor from Albany to Chicago, where he accepted the Democratic Party's nomination for president and delivered his "New Deal" speech. During World War II, President Roosevelt flew overseas to meet Allied leaders at Casablanca and Yalta. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt often flew around the country on the president's behalf.
Commercial air travel still had risks. On May 6, 1935, New Mexico Senator Bronson M. Cutting died in a crash of a T.W.A. Douglas DC-2. Nevertheless, flying grew increasingly popular with politicians, as the advantages of fast travel outweighed the real and perceived hazards.

Lucille Ball
Museum of Flight

Flying Stars

Air travel was popular with Hollywood celebrities, but their employers did not consider it safe. The film studios often put clauses in actors' contracts prohibiting them from flying, especially while filming a movie. But by the mid-1930s, the studios realized this rule was impossible to enforce, and they began to recognize the economic value of flying stars around the country to promote their movies.
Airlines benefited as well when celebrities flew. It was no coincidence that an airline's name was featured in the photo when a celebrity's arrival was captured on film.

"Studios Stop Trying to Save Stars' Necks"
Copyright 1934, Los Angeles Times. Reprinted with permission.

In the News

Look at what the newspapers said about flying stars. Besides flying, what other restrictions did studios place on their stars.

Cartoon of PassengersCartoon of Passengers, full size

Who's Flying?

See if you can identify these celebrities. The cartoon appeared in a 1938 Airlanes magazine.

Around the World in 18 Days

Around the World in 18 Days

On September 30, 1936, Herbert R. Ekins, a reporter for the New York World-Telegram, set out to travel around the world by air using only regularly scheduled airlines. He wanted to set a new speed record and to demonstrate the progress of commercial air travel.
His adventure became a race when two rival newspapers sent reporters to challenge him.

Follow Ekins' journey!