||This article needs additional citations for verification. (March 2009)|
|Commenced operations||April 1926|
|Ceased operations||April 1, 1987
with Delta Air Lines)
|Company slogan||The Only Way to Fly|
|Headquarters||Los Angeles, California, United States|
|Key people||Harris Hanshue (Founder)|
Western Airlines (IATA: WA, ICAO: WAL, Call sign: Western) was a large airline based in California, with operations throughout the western United States and western Canada, as well as into Mexico. The airline also served such international destinations as London, England and Nassau, Bahamas during its existence. Western had hubs at Los Angeles International Airport, Salt Lake City International Airport, and the former Stapleton International Airport in Denver. Before it merged with Delta Air Lines it was headquartered at Los Angeles International Airport.
Western Air Express 
In 1925, the United States Postal Service began to give airlines contracts to carry air mail throughout the country. Western Airlines first incorporated in 1925 as Western Air Express by Harris Hanshue. It applied for, and was awarded, the 650-mile long Contract Air Mail Route #4 (CAM-4) from Salt Lake City, Utah to Los Angeles. On 17 April 1926, Western's first flight took place with a Douglas M-2 airplane. It began offering passenger services a month later, when the first commercial passenger flight took place at Woodward Field. Ben F. Redman (then president of the Salt Lake City Chamber of Commerce) and J.A. Tomlinson perched atop U.S. mail sacks and flew with pilot C.N. "Jimmy" James on his regular eight-hour mail delivery flight to Los Angeles.
Transcontinental & Western Airlines 
The company reincorporated in 1928 as Western Air Express Corp. Then, in 1930, purchased Standard Air Lines, subsidiary of Aero Corp. of Ca. founded in 1926 by Paul E. Richter, Jack Frye and Walter Hamilton. WAE with Fokker aircraft merged with Transcontinental Air Transport to form TWA.
General Air Lines 
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In 1934, Western Air Express was severed from TWA and briefly changed its name to General Air Lines, returning to the name Western Air Express after several months.
Western Airlines 
In 1941 Western Air Express changed its name to Western Air Lines (WAL) and later to Western Airlines. The carrier also billed itself as Western Airlines International at one point. After World War II, Western was awarded a route from Los Angeles to Denver via Las Vegas, but financial problems forced Western to sell the route as well as Douglas DC-6 new aircraft delivery positions to United Air Lines in 1947. Western was later awarded a route between Minneapolis and Salt Lake City via Casper, Wyoming, thus allowing the airline to develop from a large regional airline into a major mainline air carrier. This growth also enabled the airline to introduce Douglas DC-6B, Lockheed Electra and eventually Boeing 707 service. The airline's president was Terrell "Terry" Drinkwater. Drinkwater got into a dispute with the administration in Washington D.C. which severely hampered WAL's growth. Pressured in a famous phone call by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to "buy American made aircraft", Drinkwater reportedly responded: "Mr. President, you run your country and let me run my airline!" For years after this exchange, the federal Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) would not award Western new routes while their major competitors including United and American grew enormous. It should also be noted that Western never did buy aircraft that were not manufactured in the U.S.
Western entered the jet-age in 1960 when it introduced Boeing 707 service between Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, OR and Seattle. In 1967 WAL acquired Pacific Northern Airlines which served the state of Alaska from Anchorage and Seattle. The acquisition of Pacific Northern allowed Western to expand into a number of new destinations in Alaska. Also during the late 1960's, Western pushed for an all-jet fleet, adding Boeing 707-320, 727-200 and 737-200 aircraft to their fleet of Boeing 720 jetliners. Both the Boeing 720 and the Boeing 720B were operated as an earlier version of the Boeing 707 (being the B707-139 model) that was used to pioneer jet service at Western had been phased out of the fleet. Lockheed L-188 Electra II four engine turboprop aircraft were also operated. The Electras were then replaced with new Boeing 737-200 jetliners which allowed the airline to introduce jet service into a number of smaller cities in the western U.S. that previously were not served with jet aircraft by any airline. In 1973 Western added nine McDonnell Douglas DC-10s, marketing their wide-body cabins as "DC-10 Spaceships".
Western was headquartered in Los Angeles, California. Their hubs were located in Los Angeles at LAX, Salt Lake City and Minneapolis/St Paul. Prior to airline deregulation, they had smaller hubs in Las Vegas, Nevada and Denver.
At their peak in the 1970's and 1980's, Western flew to many cities across the western United States, and to Mexico (Mexico City, Puerto Vallarta, Acapulco, Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo and Mazatlán), Alaska (Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Kodiak), Hawaii (Honolulu, Kahului, Kona, and Hilo), and Canada (Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton). New destinations on the east coast, such as New York City, Washington, D.C. and Boston, were added as was new service to Chicago and St. Louis in the midwest. New flights were added as well to several cities in Texas including Austin, Dallas/Ft. Worth, El Paso, Houston and San Antonio. Western also had many flights within their home state of California, competing with Pacific Southwest Airlines and Air California. Another competitor in the western U.S. was Hughes Airwest. In addition, Western operated nonstop "Islander" jet service to Hawaii from a number of mainland U.S. cities in its route system that previously did not have direct flights to the 50th state. The airline also flew nonstop jet service between Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada and Honolulu as well.
One of the smallest destinations, population-wise, to be served by the airline was West Yellowstone, Montana, which is located adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. Western served West Yellowstone on seasonal basis during the summer months with Boeing 737-200 jet service which replaced Lockheed L-188 Electra turboprop flights previously operated by the airline into this small airport. During the 1970's and 1980's, Western also flew to a number of small cities in the western U.S. which were all served with Boeing 737-200 jetliners including Butte, MT, Casper, WY, Cheyenne, WY, Helena, MT, Idaho Falls, ID, Pierre, SD, Pocatello, ID, Rapid City, SD and Sheridan, WY. These flights were the only mainline jet service several of these smaller cities ever had.
In the late 1970's Western Airlines (WAL) and Continental Airlines (CAL) agreed to merge. A dispute broke out over what to call the combined airline: Western-Continental or Continental-Western. An infamous coin toss occurred. Bob Six, the colorful founder of CAL, demanded that Continental be "tails" in deference to their marketing slogan "We Really Move Our Tail for You! Continental Airlines: the Proud Bird with the Golden Tail". The coin flip turned up "heads". Six was so disappointed he called the merger off.
In 1981 Western Airlines began international flights from Anchorage and Denver to London Gatwick Airport with a single DC-10-30. At one point as an extension of the service to the U.K., Western operated one stop, no change of plane DC-10-30 flights between Honolulu and London via a stop in Anchorage. Another international route at this time was one stop, no change of plane service between Los Angeles and Nassau, Bahamas which was flown with a DC-10 via a stop in Miami. As they extended their network to destinations on the east coast such as New York City, Washington, D.C. and Boston, as well as to Chicago and St. Louis in the midwest and New Orleans in the south, Western Airlines became a prominent sponsor of the Bob Barker television show The Price is Right, to make customers in the East more aware of their new presence.
Destinations as of March 1, 1987 
The following destination information is taken from the Western Airlines March 1, 1987 system timetable shortly before the merger with Delta Air Lines was finalized. According to the route map contained in this timetable, the airline's primary connecting hub at this time was located at the Salt Lake City International Airport (SLC) with a secondary connecting hub located at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
- Acapulco, Mexico
- Albuquerque, New Mexico
- Anchorage, Alaska
- Austin, Texas
- Billings, Montana
- Bismarck, North Dakota
- Boise, Idaho
- Boston, Massachusetts
- Bozeman, Montana
- Burbank, California - BUR: Hollywood/Burbank Airport, then Burbank/Glendale/Pasadena Airport, currently Bob Hope Airport
- Butte, Montana
- Calgary, Alberta, Canada
- Casper, Wyoming
- Chicago, Illinois - ORD: O'Hare International Airport
- Colorado Springs, Colorado
- Dallas/Ft. Worth, Texas
- Denver, Colorado - Hub
- Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
- El Paso, Texas - El Paso International Airport
- Fairbanks, Alaska
- Fresno, California
- Great Falls, Montana
- Guadalajara, Mexico
- Helena, Montana
- Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii
- Houston, Texas - IAH: George Bush Intercontinental Airport
- Idaho Falls, Idaho
- Ixtapa/Zihuatanejo, Mexico
- Jackson, Wyoming
- Juneau, Alaska
- Kansas City, Missouri
- Kahului, Maui, Hawaii
- Kalispell, Montana
- Las Vegas, Nevada
- Los Angeles, California - LAX: Los Angeles International Airport - Secondary hub
- Mazatlan, Mexico
- Mexico City, Mexico
- Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minnesota
- Missoula, Montana
- New York City, New York - JFK: John F. Kennedy International Airport
- New York City, New York - LGA: LaGuardia Airport
- Oakland, California - OAK: Oakland International Airport
- Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
- Omaha, Nebraska
- Ontario, California - ONT: Ontario International Airport
- Orange County, California - SNA: John Wayne Airport
- Palm Springs, California
- Pasco, Washington state (Tri-Cities area)
- Phoenix, Arizona
- Portland, Oregon
- Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
- Rapid City, South Dakota
- Reno, Nevada
- Sacramento, California
- Salt Lake City, Utah - SLC: Salt Lake City International Airport - Primary hub
- St. Louis, Missouri
- San Antonio, Texas
- San Diego, California
- San Francisco, California - SFO: San Francisco International Airport
- San Jose, California
- Seattle/Tacoma, Washington state
- Sioux Falls, South Dakota
- Spokane, Washington state
- Tucson, Arizona
- Tulsa, Oklahoma
- Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
- Washington, D.C. - IAD: Dulles International Airport
- Washington, D.C. - DCA: Ronald Reagan Airport
Delta Air Lines 
In the early 1980s, Air Florida tried to buy Western Airlines, but they were able to purchase only 16 percent of the airline's stock. Finally, on September 9, 1986 Western Airlines and Delta Air Lines, entered into an agreement and plan of merger. The merger agreement was approved by the United States Department of Transportation on December 11, 1986. On December 16, 1986, shareholder approval of the merger was conferred and Western Airlines became a wholly owned subsidiary of Delta. The Western brand was discontinued and the employee workforces were fully merged on April 1, 1987. All of Western's aircraft were repainted in Delta's livery except for ten McDonnell Douglas DC-10 wide body trijets, which Delta decided to eliminate from the combined fleet as they already operated a considerable number of Lockheed L-1011 TriStar wide body jetliners at the time which were a similar type when compared with the DC-10. Western's former Salt Lake City hub has become a major Delta hub, and Delta currently uses Los Angeles International Airport as a major gateway.
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Western contributed to popular culture with their 1960s advertising slogan, "It's the oooooonly way to fly!" Spoken by the Wally Bird, an animated bird hitching a ride aboard the fuselage of a Western airliner, and voiced by veteran actor Shepard Menken, the phrase soon found its way into animated cartoons by Warner Bros. and Hanna-Barbera. Another famous advertising campaign by the airline centered on Star Trek icons William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy. Some of their last television ads, shortly before the merger with Delta, featured actor/comedian Rodney Dangerfield.
During the 1970s, they promoted themselves as "the champagne airline" because champagne was offered free of charge to every passenger over age 21. (As an aside, actor Jim Backus uttered the "It's the only way to fly!" phrase while piloting an airplane, somewhat inebriated, in the film It's A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.)
Western Airlines was also famous for its "Flying W" corporate identity and aircraft livery. Introduced in the mid-1970s, the unique color scheme featured a large red stylized "W" which fused into a red cheatline running the length of an all-white fuselage. This new corporate identity was the subject of litigation by Winnebago Industries, which contended the new "Flying W" was too similar to its own stylized "W" logo. In their final years, Western Airlines slightly modified its corporate identity by stripping the white fuselage to bare metal, while retaining the red "Flying W" (albeit with a dark blue shadow). This color scheme was also affectionately known as "Bud Lite" due to its resemblance to a popular beer's can design.
Western Airlines was a favorite first class carrier for Hollywood movie stars and frequently featured them in their on board magazine, "Western's World". Marilyn Monroe and many other silver screen actors were frequent flyers and the airline capitalized on it. Western had a famous flyer out of Seattle: Captain "Red" Dodge. Red worked previously as a helicopter test pilot, and got involved with CIA flying in his later years when he wasn't flying as Captain on the DC-10. The movie "Breakout" starring Charles Bronson was based on his daring airlift of a CIA operative out of the courtyard of a Mexican prison. The Mexican government tried to extradite Dodge back to face charges. Red became wealthy leasing government storage units with unlimited government business but never again flew to Mexico.
The airline was also promoted in the Carpenters promotional video for the track "I Need to Be in Love", released in 1976. The video shows exterior footage of a DC-10 in takeoff and landing shots, as well as seating promotions for Western's FiftyFair seating product, with shots of a cabin setting depicting what looks like business class of the DC-10.
In 1986, Western Airlines' fleet consisted of the following types:
Fleet in 1970 
In 1970, Western Airlines operated a total of 75 aircraft. Their fleet consisted of the following:
- 29 Boeing 720 (B720 turbojet engine and B720B turbofan engine models. The B720 aircraft were formerly operated by Pacific Northern Airlines which was acquired by Western)
Western also operated a variety of piston-powered, propeller driven airliners over the years including Boeing 247D, Convair 240, Douglas DC-3, DC-4 and DC-6B, and Lockheed Lodestar and L-749 Constellation aircraft. The Lockheed Constellation airliners were formerly operated by Pacific Northern Airlines and primarily served smaller Western Airlines destinations in Alaska such as Cordova, Homer, Kenai, King Salmon, Kodiak and Yakutat from either Anchorage or Seattle during the late 1960's according to the airline's timetables at that time.
Accidents and incidents 
- December 15, 1936: Seven died when a Western Air Express Boeing 247 crashed just below Hardy Ridge on Lone Peak near Salt Lake City, Utah. The major parts of the aircraft were hurled over the ridge and fell over a thousand feet into a basin below.
- January 12, 1937: Western Air Express Flight 7, a Boeing 247 flying from Salt Lake City to Burbank, crashed near Newhall, California, killing five of the 10 persons on board, including adventurer and documentary filmmaker Martin Johnson of Martin and Osa Johnson fame.
- December 15, 1942: A Western Airlines transport crashed near Fairfield, Utah, approximately 50 miles south of Salt Lake City, Utah, on the way to Los Angeles, California. The plane took off at 1:05 a.m. and was reported missing approximately 15 minutes later. Of the 19 passengers and crew aboard, 17 died.
- December 24, 1946: Western Air Lines Flight 44 crashed into the Laguna Mountains while descending towards San Diego. The CAB investigation determined that the pilot misjudged his position relative to the mountains, and flew too low to clear terrain.
- April 20, 1953: Western Air Lines Flight 636, flying in the night, on the last leg of a Los Angeles-San Francisco-Oakland itinerary, descended below the prescribed minimum altitude of 500 ft and crashed into the waters of San Francisco Bay, killing eight of the ten people aboard the Douglas DC-6.
- June 3, 1972: Western Airlines Flight 701 from Los Angeles to Seattle was hijacked by Black Panthers Willie Roger Holder, a black Vietnam veteran, and Catherine Marie Kerkow. The hijackers claimed they had a bomb in an attache case and demanded $500,000. After allowing all 97 passengers to get off in San Francisco, they flew to Algeria where they were granted political asylum. Later, $488,000 of the ransom money was returned to US officials.
- October 31, 1979: Western Airlines Flight 2605 crashed while landing at Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City, killing 72. The crew landed the DC-10 on a closed runway and it impacted construction vehicles during the attempted go-around. The closed runway 23L was operationally lighted so that construction workers could see what they were doing; however, this was denied by Mexican officials. This is not done in the U.S. due to safety concerns as it might appear to the flight crew that the runway is open. Another factor was that the captain and co-pilot were known to have been in a contentious dispute throughout their month of flying together. This accident is taught as a CRM (Crew Resource Management) exercise in many airline training programs today.
- July 31, 1979: Western Airlines Flight 44 departed LAX en route to Denver and Billings via several other intermediate stops and then mistakenly landed at Buffalo, Wyoming instead of Sheridan, Wyoming which was the intended destination. No injuries occurred and the only damage was to the tarmac at the airport which was not designed to support the weight of the Boeing 737-200 jetliner. The incident prompted a legal battle and subsequent landmark aviation ruling of Ferguson v. NTSB
- Ed Betts (Summer 1997). "Maddux Air Lines 1927-1929". AAHS Journal.
- Wadley, Carma. "Utahns were quick to embrace aviation and help achieve mastery of the skies." Desert Morning News Thursday, December 4, 2003.
- Aopa Pilot. July 2011.
- "World Airline Directory 1986". Flight International. March 29, 1986. Retrieved 11 December 2011.
- World Airline Directory Flight International. 26 March 1970
- "Aircraft Accident Report." Department of Commerce.
- "Confetti on Lone Peak." Time, June 21, 1937.
- Beitler, Stu. "Fairfield, UT Transport Plane Crashes Short Of Runway, Dec 1942." GenDisaster, March 10, 2008. Retrieved: May 9, 2012.
- "Hold Little Hope for Twelve in Plane Crash." UP via The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Indiana, December 26, 1946. Retrieved: May 9, 2012.
- "Hold Little Hope for Twelve in Plane Crash: Transcript." UP via The Vidette-Messenger, Valparaiso, Indiana, December 26, 1946. Retrieved: May 9, 2012.
- Accident description at the Aviation Safety Network. Retrieved on May 9, 2012.
- Kebabjian, Richard. "Accident Report: Western Airlines Flight 2605." planecrashinfo.com, 2012. Retrieved: June 29, 2012.
- Valenciana, Eduardo. "The Anatomy of a Crash: Surviving Flight Attendant's statement." Landings: Reviews: The Black Box, 2012. Retrieved: May 9, 2012.
- "678 F2d 821 Ferguson v. National Transportation Safety Board." Openjurist, 2012. Retrieved: May 9, 2012.
- Pearcy, Arthur. Douglas Propliners: DC-1 – DC-7. London: Airlife, 1995, p. 14. ISBN 1-85310-261-X.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to: Western Airlines|
- Historical timetables and route maps
- Historical timetable covers
- Salt Lake City International Airport[dead link]
- Early Aviators
- "Right in the Middle of it All" History of the region
- History of Western Airlines and the planes it operated - archive.org copy of now-defunct page