MIAMI — On December 1, 2001, the TWA brand disappeared after its merger with American Airlines. Founded in 1925, TWA at one time was one of the icons of the U.S. airline industry.
Join us for a quick history of TWA’s latter years and memories of a trip from Washington National AIrport (DCA) to Las Vegas (LAS) in March 1999 via its Saint Louis (STL) and New York (JFK) hubs.
The post-Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 era claimed several U.S. airlines. TWA was one of the carriers that found itself struggling, especially during the 1990s. The airline established a domestic hub at STL after acquiring Ozark Airlines in 1986. It also established an international gateway at JFK and operated out of the famous Trans World Flight Center, Terminal 5. Part of the TWA Flight Center was preserved and is today surrounded by Terminal 5, occupied by JetBlue. During this period of route consolidation, TWA hit its peak serving over 30 European cities and carrying more than 50 percent of trans-Atlantic customers.
The proverbial turbulence began when Carl Icahn bought TWA in 1985. He sold the company’s London Heathrow slots to American because of an urgent need to raise capital. Another giant, Pan Am, was also starting to fail and sold its Heathrow operations to United. TWA’s first bankruptcy occurred in 1992 as Icahn continued to sell some of the airlines most profitable assets. Icahn, whom many blame for the implosion, left virtually unscathed in 1993. Another bankruptcy followed in 1995. The explosion and loss of Flight 800 in July 1996 hurt the carrier’s reputation, and contributed to a fleet renewal decision that included the purchase of Boeing 757s and McDonnell Douglas MD-83s and MD-95s (eventually Boeing 717s). The new fleet replaced Boeing 727s and 747s, Lockheed L-1011s, and former Ozark Airlines Douglas DC-9s.
Unfortunately for TWA, it failed to escape from financial problems. In April 2001, AMR Corporation, parent of American Airlines, purchased TWA’s assets, and the airline suffered a third bankruptcy the day after. The last TWA flight took place on December 1, 2001 before full integration into American Airlines.
I had a few opportunities during the 1990s to fly TWA, and found some pictures of a round trip from DCA to LAS in 1999. My outbound flight was on a new MD-83 from DCA to STL, where I connected to another MD-83 that took me to LAS.
On the return leg, I took a red eye from LAS to JFK on a new 757. The sunrise arrival at JFK was on a beautiful clear morning, that offered great view of Manhattan and JFK during approach.
I then connected to DCA by flying aboard a British Aerospace Jetstream 41 operated TWA’s regional subsidiary Trans World Express.
Four years later in 2003, I flew an American Airlines 757 from San Francisco to Fort Lauderdale, with a stop in STL. The aircraft still had the TWA interior, and it was discernible on the outside, not just by the registration, from the other American 757s but because it had Pratt & Whitney (PW) engines. American’s original fleet of 757s had Rolls Royce power plants that continue to operate to this day. American eventually sold the former TWA PW variants to Delta.
The TWA brand is not entirely gone. The east side of the old Flight Center has a lighted TWA sign. Furthermore, the new American Airlines Group plans to honor TWA by unveiling a retro scheme on an Airbus A319 in the near future. This is sure to bring back memories for many travelers.