DALLAS — Today, in 1954, Japan Air Lines (JL) began its first international scheduled air service. A Douglas DC-6B “City of Tokyo” operated the inaugural flight from Tokyo to San Francisco and carried 18 passengers.
Japan Air Lines commenced operations on October 25, 1951, starting Japan’s first civil aviation service since World War II. Domestic flights began between Tokyo, Fukuoka, and Osaka.
The airline applied to the country’s Ministry of Transport to operate international flights on April 18, 1952. After the war, the Japanese government saw the need to build a dependable aviation system to assist the country’s growth, and approval was granted.
Its first overseas flight took place on December 21, 1952. A special charter was flown from Tokyo to Manila to return the body of the Philippine Ambassador to Japan following his death.
However, JAL would face fierce competition for its transpacific services from the well-established Pan Am (PA) and Northwest Orient (NW). In preparation for the new service, JAL rebranded its corporate image, focusing on its flight attendants or stewardesses as they were referred to. Each would be dressed in traditional Japanese kimonos and trained by a United Airlines (UA) “stewardess instructor.”
The twice-weekly roundtrip, which operated via Wake Island and Honolulu, was initially flown by American flight crews. The flight took around 31 hours to complete.
The new service marked the start of ambitious growth plans by JL. It ordered three further DC-6Bs and would go on to operate ten of the type, forming the backbone of the international fleet. JL later added DC-7Cs, which allowed the airline to inaugurate non-stop flights between Tokyo, Seattle, and Los Angeles.
Japan Air Lines also introduced charter services to Sao Paulo, New Orleans, Caracas, and Rio de Janeiro.
Featured Image: Japan Airlines’ DC-6s were maintained by United Airlines’s maintenance team at SFO. Photo: Japan Airlines