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TRANSCONTINENTAL Air Transport, TAT, for short, initiated the first scheduled coast-to-coast travel on July 7, 1929. Only a portion of the 48-hour trip was by air, but it still beat the train by a day.
And, indeed, TAT travel began with a train trip. The westbound TAT’s Airway Limited pulled out of New York City’s Penn Station at 6:05 p.m Eastern Time for an overnight trip to Columbus, Ohio. Passengers enjoyed dinner and breakfast in the dining car. At 7:55 a.m. the next morning, the Airway Limited pulled into a combination railway station/air terminal at Port Columbus (the site of this city’s international airport today).
There, the 10 to 12 passengers sat themselves in wicker seats of a TAT Ford 4-AT Tri-Motor taking off at 8:15 a.m. (No wasted time there!) It flew to Indianapolis (layover: 9:13 a.m.-9:28 a.m. Central Time) followed by St. Louis (12:03 p.m.-12:18 p.m.). Then came in-flight lunch with Fred Harvey Service on the way to Kansas City (2:47 p.m.-3:02 p.m.) and Wichita, Kansas (4:56 p.m.-5:11 p.m.). The day’s travel ended at 6:24 p.m., more than 1000 miles from Columbus, at a landing field outside Waynoka, Oklahoma. Passengers were taken by Aero Car to Waynoka’s Harvey House where dinner was served.
Sleeping cars on the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe were available for boarding from 8:00 p.m. that evening. The train pulled out at 11:00 p.m. and traveled overnight to Clovis, New Mexico, where it arrived the next morning at 7:20 a.m. Mountain Time.
Another Aero Car transfer, this time to that town’s Portair, with another TAT Tri-Motor poised to depart at 8:10 a.m. It visited Albuquerque (10:17 a.m.-10:32 a.m.) and Winslow, Arizona (1:12 p.m.-1:27 p.m.).
Then came another in-flight Fred Harvey Service on the way to Kingman, Arizona (2:31 p.m.-2:46 p.m. Pacific Time) followed by a 5:52 p.m. arrival at the Grand Central Air Terminal in Glendale, California. Aero Cars were available for destinations throughout “the central section of Los Angeles.”
TAT’s slogan was “Harnessing the Plane and the Iron Horse.” Detractors said TAT stood for “Take a Train.” Indeed, a coast-to-coast TAT ticket was $338, the equivalent of $4554 today. To put TAT’s fare in perspective, a New York City/Chicago train ticket would have cost $52 in 1929, still a hefty $700 in today’s cash. (Amtrak New York City/Chicago is $190.)
Brochures advertised “By Night…Luxurious Trains. By Day…Safe Swift Planes.” Swift, yes, but air travel of the era was hardly safe. Between September 1929 and March 1930, TAT had three serious accidents, the first, a crash in New Mexico with loss of all aboard.
In 1929, TAT merged with Maddux Air Lines; the latter, founded by a Los Angeles Ford and Lincoln dealer. In 1930, it merged with Western Air to form Transcontinental & Western Air, which evolved into TWA. Trans World Airlines merged with American Airlines in 2001.
By then, flying across the country—indeed, around the world—had become no big deal. This is the second item on cross-country flying (see http://wp.me/p2ETap-iE for the first). ds
© Dennis Simanaitis, SimanaitisSays.com, 2012
A wonderful report on TWA’s early times, with great detail.