History of American Airlines


On the morning of April 15, 1926, a young aviator named Charles A. Lindbergh stowed a bag of mail in his little DH-4 biplane and took off from Chicago for St. Louis. Later that day, he and two other pilots flew three plane loads of mail from St. Louis to Chicago.

At the time, Lindbergh was chief pilot of Robertson Aircraft Corporation of Missouri, which was the second aviation company to hold a U.S. airmail contract. It was one of scores of companies that eventually consolidated to form the modern-day American Airlines.

The consolidation began in 1929, when The Aviation Corporation was formed to acquire young aviation companies, including Robertson. In 1930, The Aviation Corporation’s airline subsidiaries were incorporated into American Airways, Inc. In 1934, American Airways became American Airlines, Inc.


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On May 13, 1934, Cyrus Rowlett Smith became president of American. Except for a period during World War II, “Mr. C.R.” continued as chief executive officer until 1968, when he was named U.S. Secretary of Commerce.

On June 25, 1936, American was the first airline to fly the Douglas DC-3 in commercial service. By the end of the decade, American was the nation’s No. 1 domestic air carrier in terms of revenue passenger miles. On Feb. 16, 1937, American carried its 1 millionth customer.

1940s and 1950s

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American Airlines began trading on the New York Stock Exchange on June 10, 1939. In 1942, American entered the airline catering business with a subsidiary called Sky Chefs.

In 1944, American introduced the first domestic scheduled U.S. freight service with the DC-3. As the business grew in the 1940s and ’50s, Douglas DC-4, DC-6A and DC-7 freighters were put into service.

During World War II, half of American’s fleet, along with their crews, was turned over to the military airline, Air Transport Command. The remaining fleet and personnel handled a vast increase in demand for air travel within the United States.

From 1945 to 1950, American operated American Overseas Airlines (AOA), a trans-Atlantic division, which served a number of European countries. This was American’s first European service. AOA merged with Pan American World Airways in 1950.

In 1946, American established its Tulsa Maintenance & Engineering Base. The end of World War II brought a series of new aircraft to fill the expanded need for air transportation. In 1947, American’s first Douglas DC-6 entered service followed by the Convair 240 in 1948. By 1949 American had become the only airline in the United States with a complete fleet of pressurized passenger airplanes.

In 1948, American introduced the Family Fare Plan to enable families to travel together at reduced rates. It also introduced scheduled coach service, an economical and comfortable alternative to first class travel.

In 1952, American introduced the Magnetronic Reservisor to keep track of available seats on flights. In 1953, American pioneered nonstop transcontinental service in both directions across the United States with the Douglas DC-7.

In 1957, the world’s first special facility for flight attendant training, the American Airlines Stewardess College, was built in Dallas/Fort Worth.

On Jan. 25, 1959, American became the first airline to offer coast-to-coast jet service with the Boeing 707. Also in Jan. 1959, American introduced the Lockheed Electra, the first U.S.-designed turboprop airplane. American continued into the jet age with the introduction of the turbofan engine in 1961, another industry first for American, and with the Convair 990 in 1962.

1960s and 1970s

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At the end of 1959, American teamed up with IBM to introduce SABRE (Semi-Automated Business Research Environment), the largest electronic data processing system for business use. By 1964, the SABRE network extended from coast to coast and from Canada to Mexico. It became the one of the world’s largest real-time data processing systems, second only to the U.S. government’s SAGE system.

American added new jets throughout the 1960s and ’70s, including the Boeing 727 (1964) and the Boeing 747 (1970). American’s last piston airplane flight was operated with a DC-6 in December 1966. In 1968, American was the first to order the McDonnell Douglas DC-10, which made its first scheduled flight in August 1971.

American gained its first Caribbean routes through a merger with Trans Caribbean Airways in 1970. It expanded those routes throughout the early ’70s and acquired other Caribbean routes in 1975 from Pan American World Airways Inc.

American’s first Boeing 747 freighter, capable of carrying 221,000 pounds of cargo, went into service in November. In 1975, American began marketing SABRE to travel agencies in the U.S.

On April 24, 1977, American introduced the most popular fare in its history, the Super Saver. Initially offering discount fares from New York and California, Super Saver was expanded to all of American’s routes in March 1978 and later to Mexico and Canada.

Airline deregulation took place in 1978 and in January 1979. American launched a major route expansion, inaugurating service to new routes and new destinations across the U.S. and the Caribbean.

American moved its headquarters from New York City to Dallas/Fort Worth in 1979. The new headquarters complex also included The Learning Center, a training facility; the Flight Academy, the pilot training facility; and the Southern Reservations Office.


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In 1980, Robert L. Crandall was elected president and chief operating officer. The next year, American introduced the AAdvantage travel awards program, a revolutionary marketing program to reward frequent fliers. Also in 1981, American unveiled the AAirpass, a concept that guaranteed fixed personal and business air travel costs with a five-year to lifetime range of options.

On June 11, 1981, American established its hub at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport (DFW).

In early 1982, American welcomed its first 767, its 500 millionth passenger and its hub at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport (ORD).

American returned to Europe with service between London’s Gatwick Airport (LGW) and DFW in May 1982.

On May 19, 1982, stockholders approved a plan of reorganization that formed AMR Corporation, a new holding company, which became the parent company of American Airlines, Inc.

In 1983, American added the McDonnell Douglas MD-80 (Super 80) aircraft to the fleet.

In 1984, American introduced the American Eagle system, a network of regional carriers offering service from small communities to large cities through connections to American Airlines.

In the fall of 1984, American retired its 747 cargo freighter fleet and focused on smaller shipments carried in the bellies of its passenger aircraft.

In 1985, Al Casey retired and Robert L. Crandall became chairman and chief executive officer of AMR Corp. and American Airlines.

Ultimate Super Saver fares were introduced in 1985, offering American passengers up to 70 percent discounts and competition for the low-service, cut-rate carriers, which had sprung up in the wake of deregulation. American also unveiled its Senior SAAVers Club, which offered discounts to senior citizens. By 1985, more than 10,000 travel agency offices were using SABRE for travel reservations.

American opened its Nashville hub in April 1986 and its San Juan hub in November 1986. In that same year, American employees topped 50,000 for the first time. American sold its Sky Chefs subsidiary and completed the acquisition of Air California (Air Cal).

By 1987, American had completed an underground facility — secured against fire, earthquakes and any other disasters — in Tulsa, Okla. This site housed the SABRE computer equipment and software that formed the world’s largest private real-time computer network and travel information database.

In 1988, American acquired the Airbus Airbus 300-600ER to serve its Caribbean markets from locations on the mainland. American also opened its reservations office in Raleigh/Durham, N.C.

In 1989, American put its first Boeing 757 into service, and, on Sept. 13, 1989, American opened its seventh hub at Miami International Airport (MIA). American also began construction on its second major maintenance base at Alliance Airport in Fort Worth, Texas. Ground was also broken in Fort Worth for a 750,000-square-foot expansion of AMR’s corporate headquarters complex.


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In 1990, American introduced its premiere international service, International Flagship Serviced. American expanded its Latin American service with routes acquired from Eastern Airlines, with Miami as the focal point of the expansion.

American’s long-time president, C.R. Smith, died at the age of 90 in 1990.

In 1991, American flew its billionth passenger, expanded its European routes, opened its western reservations office in Tucson and took delivery of its first McDonnell Douglas MD-11 and Fokker 100 aircraft.

In 1992, American introduced American Flagship Service, a premium three-class transcontinental service for domestic travelers, and continued its expansion into the European market with flights to Berlin and Paris.

In 1993, AMR Corp. formed the SABRE Technology Group. On July 3, 1993, the American Airlines C.R. Smith Museum opened its headquarters complex in Fort Worth.

In May 1994, American added additional routes to London to become the airline with more service to Britain than any other U.S. airline. Also in 1994, American launched its first nonsmoking transatlantic flight.

In 1996, AMR announced the SABRE Group’s filing for Initial Public Offering (IPO), the first step in making SABRE its own company.

In 1997, all American Airlines flights became nonsmoking.

On May 20, 1998, Donald J. Carty became chairman, president and chief executive officer of AMR Corp. and American Airlines, Inc. upon the retirement of Robert Crandall.

In 1998, American announced its acquisition of Reno Air that became fully integrated on August 31, 1999.

On Sept. 21, 1998, American and four other airlines announced a new customer-driven global alliance — the oneworld® alliance. The agreement launched a multimillion dollar program designed to raise the standard of global air travel. The new alliance took off on Feb. 1, 1999.

Also 1999, American dedicated the new Terminal B facilities at DFW and announced plans to build a new terminal at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK), breaking ground in New York in November.

In 1999, American introduced the Boeing 777 and the 737-800 and became the first airline to offer DVD inflight video players on scheduled flights.


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In February 2000, American announced More Room Throughout Coach, removing an average of two rows on every aircraft to add legroom throughout the entire coach cabin. American later decided to expand legroom in business class.

Also in 2000, AMR Corp. completed the spin-off of SABRE into its own company.

In 2000, American announced plans to renovate Terminal B at Boston’s Logan Airport and also announced the addition of fully flat Flagship Suite seating for its Boeing 777. Also, American named Alliance as the maintenance home for its 777 fleet.

In January 2001, American announced that it had agreed to purchase the assets of Trans World Airlines, Inc., completing the acquisition in April.

In 2001, American Eagle accepted delivery of 15 44-seat regional jets (ERJ-140) manufactured by Embraer of Brazil. American also announced plans to accelerate retirement of 36 aircraft: 19 DC-9s, 12 Boeing 727s, 4 MD-11s and one Fokker 100.

Also in 2001, American was recognized by the State of California EPA’s 2001 Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Awards Program. The award complemented the previous Breath of Life Award, the Clean Cities Award at El Paso and the National Clean Cities Award that American received earlier in the year.

In October 2001, American announced accelerated construction of its new $1.3 billion terminal at New York’s JFK Airport, advancing the completion date nine months to September 2006.

On April 2, 2002, Gerard J. Arpey was elected president and chief operating officer of American Airlines.

In April 2002, American began daily nonstop Boeing 777 service between New York’s JFK and Tokyo, giving American four U.S. gateways to Japan.

On April 30, 2002, American operated its final Boeing 727 passenger flight, marking the retirement of an airline industry workhorse by its largest operator. American began flying the 727 in 1964 and was among the first to operate the airplane. At its peak, the airline operated 182 Boeing 727s.

In May 2002, American was named to DiversityInc.com’s annual list of Top 50 Companies for Diversity, coming in at 15th. American was the only airline to make the list.

On Aug. 1, 2002, American officially dedicated its $300 million improvement project at Los Angeles International Airport’s Terminal 4, culminating four years of work on what was the largest project of its type ever undertaken by a single carrier at LAX.

On April 24, 2003, Gerard J. Arpey became Chief Executive Officer and President of AMR.

In October 2005, American began operating from the new 2.1-million-square-foot International Terminal D at DFW.

On Nov. 14, 2005, American launched daily nonstop service between Chicago and Delhi, India, flying the 7,500 miles — American’s longest nonstop route — with a Boeing 777 aircraft.

On April 2, 2006, American launched its first service to China by inaugurating a daily nonstop Boeing 777 flight between ORD and Shanghai, China (PVG).

In October 2006, C.R. Smith, aviation pioneer and long-time head of American Airlines, was inducted into the Texas Transportation Hall of Honor.

On Jan. 17, 2007, American relocated to Terminal 2 at Tokyo's Narita International Airport. It was a move that significantly improved convenience for travelers to and from Japan by housing American and four of its fellow oneworld alliance partner in the same Narita facility.

In May, 2007, American moved its international service at New York's JFK into Concourse B of its new $1.3 billion JFK terminal. The new terminal is near a U.S. Customs and Immigration facility. The move set the stage for improving the overall travel experience for passengers arriving into and departing from the JFK gateway.

American announced plans to begin daily nonstop service between ORD and Buenos Aires, Argentina (EZE), effective Dec. 13, 2007. In September 2007, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded American the tentative right to begin service between ORD and Beijing, China (PEK), effective March 25, 2009.

In August 2008, retired American Capt. Dave Harris was honored by the Organization of Black Airline Pilots for being the first African-American to fly for a commercial airline. Capt. Harris retired from American in 1994 after more than 30 years of service.

On Oct. 15, 2008, American announced a purchase agreement with Boeing to acquire 42 fuel-efficient Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, with rights to acquire up to 58 additional 787 aircraft scheduled for delivery between 2015 and 2020.

On Nov. 13, 2008, American introduced mobile boarding passes at selected airports for use with mobile phones or PDAs. The service gives customers at select airports the choice to receive their boarding passes electronically on their mobile phones or PDAs.

On March 31, 2009, American announced the expansion of Gogo® Inflight Internet on more than 300 domestic aircraft. American began to install the Aircell® system on its domestic MD-80 and Boeing 737-800 aircraft fleets, beginning with 150 MD-80 aircraft in 2009. The expansion was in addition to the 15 of American’s Boeing 767-200 aircraft, which already had the service.

In April 2009, American teamed up with Operation Iraqi Children (OIC), in cooperation with the U.S. Department of Defense, to fly more than 20 tons of basic school supplies, new Crocs™ shoes and other items to children in Iraq. This was the largest one-time shipment of supplies in OIC's history, with 10,000 school kits delivered.

On April 27, 2009, American rolled out a Boeing 777 aircraft sporting a special oneworld Alliance exterior paint design – the first of four aircraft to receive such treatment – as a way to increase awareness of the 10-member alliance. The new livery was also part of the celebration of oneworld’s 10th anniversary in 2009.

On May 1, 2009, American launched daily nonstop service from DFW to Madrid, Spain (MAD). Madrid was the 34th international destination served by American and American Eagle from its DFW.

On May 7, 2009, American announced it was in the process of reconfiguring 18 of its 124 Boeing 757s for use on international routes. American also announced enhancements to American’s fleet of 106 Boeing 757 domestic aircraft would begin later that same year.

In June 2009, American embarked upon a journey that aimed to prove that trans-Atlantic flights can be operated a bit greener and leaner. Through the Atlantic Interoperability Initiative to Reduce Emissions (AIRE), American was the first U.S. airline to test next-generation technology and procedures that significantly reduce carbon emissions and save fuel on trans-Atlantic routes.

On June 29, 2009, American announced the completion of extensive renovations to its Admirals Club at Sao Paulo Guarulhos International Airport (GRU) in Brazil.

On July 8, 2009, American, which offers more flights to Brazil than any other U.S. airline, entered into a frequent flyer agreement with GOL Airlines to provide benefits to members of both American's AAdvantage and GOL’s Smiles programs.

On July 9, 2009, American and Etihad Airways, the national airline of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), announced a new codeshare agreement, which paved the way for closer commercial cooperation between the two airlines (subject to government approval).

On Aug. 26, 2009, American Eagle extended its companywide commitment to environmental sustainability by switching to innovative clean technology when repainting its aircraft. Eagle adopted Pantheon Enterprises' nontoxic surface pretreatment, PreKote, to prep all of its planes for painting.

On Sept. 17, 2009, AMR Corp. announced it had obtained a total of $2.9 billion in additional liquidity and new aircraft financing, announced plans to strengthen its network by reallocating capacity to hubs in Dallas/Fort Worth, Chicago, Miami and New York, and enhancing its fleet to better serve customers.

Also in September 2009, AMR Corporation announced it had raised a total of $4.2 billion in additional liquidity and new aircraft financing during the month. All of this financing was in addition to the more than $1.2 billion the airline raised earlier that year through both private and public financings of owned aircraft and the financing of new 737s.

In October 2009, American Airlines announced its participation in the Paramount Pictures film Up in the Air by Oscar®-nominated director Jason Reitman and starring Oscar winner George Clooney. The film told the story of a business traveler whose cherished life on the road is threatened just as he was on the cusp of reaching 10 million frequent flyer miles and after he met the frequent-traveler woman of his dreams.

On Oct. 15, 2009, American Airlines Cargo Division (AA Cargo) celebrated 65 years of air cargo service to global customers spanning six continents. The anniversary marked the date of the air cargo industry's first scheduled airfreight service on Oct. 15, 1944.

On Nov. 9, 2009, Mexicana became part of oneworld — adding Mexico and Central America's leading airline to the world's leading quality airline alliance. Its subsidiaries MexicanaClick and MexicanaLink joined oneworld at the same time, as affiliate members.

On Nov. 19, 2009, American launched its new Wi-Fi widget that enabled customers to identify Wi-Fi-equipped flights 24 hours prior to departure.

On Dec. 9, 2009, American and Brazil's GOL Airlines enhanced their alliance by finalizing a codeshare agreement to place American’s AA code on GOL’s growing network of flights within Brazil.

Also in Dec. 2009, American praised U.S. and Japanese government negotiators for reaching an agreement on Open Skies that established and fostered a healthy global aviation framework in the Pacific Rim and replace the bilateral agreement that had governed aviation between the U.S. and Japan since 1952.

On Dec. 22, 2009, at approximately 9:22 p.m. CST, American Airlines Flight 331, a Boeing 737-800 aircraft, sustained damage when it overran the runway on landing at Kingston, Jamaica’s Norman Manley International Airport. The flight originated out of Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, operated into Miami International Airport, and then operated into Kingston's Norman Manley International Airport. All onboard survived the incident.


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In January 2010, AMR Corp. partnered with the American Red Cross to provide aid to people affected by a massive earthquake in Haiti. AAdvantage members were asked to help by donating to the Red Cross, and donations helped the not-for-profit organization provide shelter, food and other assistance to earthquake victims.

On Feb. 12, 2010, American and Japan Airlines (JAL) filed an application with the DOT for antitrust immunity to forge a closer relationship and implement a Joint Business Agreement (JBA) governing the operation of their flights between North America and Asia.

On Feb. 13, 2010, American received tentative approval from the DOT for its trans-Atlantic antitrust immunity (ATI) request submitted in conjunction with fellow oneworld alliance members British Airways, Iberia Airlines, Finnair and Royal Jordanian. American also received approval of a joint business agreement proposed by American, British Airways and Iberia.

On March 31, 2010, American announced plans to bolster service for customers in New York City by adding seven new destinations served by 23 additional flights to and from the city’s two airports. This would enhance the travel experience with upgraded aircraft and provide customers with improved terminal facilities. American also designated a new officer position for airport operations and broad oversight of all the company’s activities in the New York market. In addition, American announced an agreement with JetBlue Airways that offered JetBlue customers simple connections to American’s international flights and American customers convenient domestic flight options in and out of New York and Boston on JetBlue .

On May 7, 2010, American received authority from the DOT to operate daily, year-round scheduled service from New York’s JFK to Tokyo International Airport at Haneda (HND), starting Oct. 1, 2010.

On May 25, 2010, American launched service between ORD and Beijing Capital International Airport, one of the world’s busiest airports.

On June 24, 2010, the DOT awarded American rights to fly 11 new flights per week between the United States and Brazil beginning Nov. 18.

On July 6, 2010, American was awarded final approval from DOT to operate daily, year-round, nonstop service between New York’s JFK and Tokyo International Airport at Haneda (HND), two of the world’s principal financial centers.

On July 20, 2010, American, British Airways and Iberia received final approval from the DOT to create a joint business governing flights between North America and Europe.

On July 21, 2010, American announced an order for 35 additional Next-Generation Boeing 737-800s, to be delivered in 2011 and 2012.The 35 737s were in addition to the 84 new 737s that began entering American’s fleet in April 2009 when the Company launched its replacement plan for the MD80 narrowbody fleet.

On Oct. 6, 2010, American, British Airways, and Iberia announced the official start of their new joint business and service as a part of their trilateral relationship.

On Oct. 7, 2010, American received DOT approval to fly between LAX and Shanghai, China, with new flights beginning on April 5, 2011.


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In January 2011, American and JAL announced the commencement of their joint business.

Updated June 2015