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The Good New Days

Author A. Averyl Re


This month, we celebrate National Aviation History Month. As one of the oldest domestic airlines still in operation, United has seen a lot of changes in the aviation industry since Walter Varney founded the carrier in 1926.

The airline started as a contract mail carrier, flying between Boise, Idaho, and Pasco, Wash. But bigger planes led to passenger travel a few short years later, and with passenger travel came passenger service: The airline hired the first flight attendant in aviation history, registered nurse Ellen Church, in 1930.

In 1931, the “largest air transport corporation in the world” advertised its services as “Speed … Comfort … Interest … These features one can anticipate when flying with United Air Lines.” At that time, a trip of nearly 2,500 miles from New York to Los Angeles took 30.5 hours on eight different flights. Not exactly the 2013 idea of speed.

But perhaps that advertisement was simply ahead of its time—way ahead.

In 1931, a roundtrip ticket from New York to Los Angeles cost $430, the equivalent of $6,500 in 2013. That’s a tall price to pay to spend two days in an airplane, especially  when a nonstop flight between those cities takes just six hours today.

As for comfort and interest, in 1931, the company had the “Latest Type Equipment,” including radio-telephones—but only for the use of the flight crew. Customers had little more than the clouds and the cabin surroundings to occupy their time while they sat in fixed wicker seats.

To learn more about the history of aviation in the United States and how the industry has contributed to the global economy, visit nationalairlinepolicy.com.

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