Remembering Western Airlines

Western Airlines Boeing 720

Western Airlines was a US west coast carrier which operated from 1925 until its merger with Delta in 1987.

In this article we’ll look back at the history of this US airline, its fleet and the routes it operated. If you have any memories of Western, please leave a comment below!

 

Beginnings

Western Air Express was founded in 1925 to operate mail routes on behalf of the United States Postal Service, like many airlines of the era. Its first routes was from Salt Lake City to Los Angeles, which it started on 17 April 1926 using a Douglas M-2 mailplane. It also offered passenger service on its flights.

Western Air Express merged with Transcontinental Air Transport to form Trans World Airlines (TWA) in 1930. However, it de-merged from the airline in 1934, briefly becoming General Air Lines before reverting to its original name. It would change it again, this time to Western Air Lines in 1941 (this was later shortened to Western Airlines).

Prior to World War II Western had acquired a number of new aircraft types to operate its expanding services, including the Boeing 247 and Douglas DC-3. Following the war years Western expanded further, reaching as far as Minneapolis.

 

western airlines 737-200

By Eduard Marmet [CC BY-SA 3.0, CC BY-SA 3.0 or GFDL 1.2], via Wikimedia Commons

Jet Age

In the 1950s Western took delivery of a number of Douglas DC-6 and Lockheed L-188 Electra aircraft. Its first jet aircraft arrived in 1960 in the form of two Boeing 707-100s. A year later the first of 29 Boeing 720s to be operated by the airline arrived, flying on key routes between hubs up and down the west coast. In a push to operate an all-jet fleet, it ordered the Boeing 707-300, 727-200 and 737-200 for delivery from 1968 with the last turboprops being retired in 1972. The 727s and 737s allowed expansion into a number of smaller cities in Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, and Wyoming. Meanwhile, expansion into popular destinations in Alaska, Canada, Hawaii and Mexico followed.

 

Transatlantic Ambitions

In 1973 the first McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10 widebody airliner arrived. Initially used on high density and longer distance routes in its network, such as Honolulu, Miami and Nassau, the type was later used to introduce the first transatlantic links to London Gatwick from both Anchorage and Denver Stapleton with the addition of the longer range DC-10-30 model. Various east coast destinations were also added to the network such as Boston, New York and Washington DC. From 1985 the Boeing 737 fleet was supplemented by the new -300 model.

 

Merger With Delta

The next year Delta Air Lines made a swoop for the carrier as it sought to increase its share in the west coast market. The agreement to merge was made on 9 September, 1986, with approval from the Department of Transportation coming on 11 December and the shareholders five days later. The merger meant the Western brand was lost as aircraft were painted in Delta colours. The merger, which was finalised on 1 April 1987, saw the Boeing 727 and 737 aircraft retained, with the DC-10s being disposed of quickly afterwards.

Western Airlines Boeing 727

Western Airlines Boeing 727 (c) George Hamlin

 

Western Airlines Hubs

Western’s HQ was at Los Angeles LAX Airport in California. It operated hubs at the following airports:

  • Denver Stapleton, CO
  • Minneapolis St Paul, MN
  • Salt Lake City, UT

 

Aircraft Types Operated by Western Airlines

  • Boeing 247                                        1934-1942
  • Boeing 40                                          1930-1932
  • Boeing 707-100                               1960-1962
  • Boeing 707-300                               1968-1980
  • Boeing 720                                        1961-1980
  • Boeing 727-200                               1969-1987
  • Boeing 737-200                               1968-1987
  • Boeing 737-300                               1985-1987
  • Boeing 95                                          1929-1934
  • Clark GA-43                                       1934-1934
  • Convair 240                                      1948-1961
  • De Havilland DH-4                           1926-1927
  • Douglas DC-3                                   1937-1959
  • Douglas DC-4/C-54                         1946-1957
  • Douglas DC-6                                   1952-1969
  • Douglas M-1/2/4                             1926-1931
  • Fokker F-VII/F-10                             1928-1935
  • Fokker F-14                                       1929-1931
  • Fokker F-32                                       1930-1931
  • Fokker Super Universal                   1932-1934
  • Lockheed Air Express                      1928-1929
  • Lockheed L-18                                  1943-1943
  • Lockheed L-188 Electra                  1959-1972
  • Lockheed L-749 Constellation      1967-1968
  • McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10      1973-1987
  • McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30      1981-1983
  • North American AT-6 Texan          1946-1947

 

Western Airlines Today

Despite its merger with Delta almost 30 years ago, some of Western Airlines’ fleet is still in existence today.

  • Douglas M-2 NC150 Preserved at National Air & Space Museum, Washington, DC [picture].
Boeing 720 N720JR

Boeing 720 N720JR

  • 720-047B N93145 (now N720JR) is derelict at Malta Luqa.
  • 720-047B N93151 (now AP-AXM) preserved at Karachi Planetarium, Pakistan [picture].
  • 720-047B N93152 (now AP-AXL) preserved at Lahore Planetarium [picture].
  • 727-247 N2822W (now N233FE) is preserved as a trainer at Alameda College of Aviation, CA.
  • 727-247 N2823W (now N234FE) is preserved as a trainer at Atlantic City, NJ.
  • 727-247 N2824W (now N235FE) is preserved as a trainer at Fort Lauderdale, FL.
  • 727-247 N2825W (now N236FE) is preserved as a trainer at USAero Tech Institute, Greenville, SC.
  • 737-247 N4530W (later PP-BMS) is preserved as a restaurant in Hung Shulin, Taiwan [picture].
  • 737-2S3s EP-BPY and EI-BPW (now YV1381 and YV169T respectively) are active with RUTACA Airlines in Venezuela.
  • 737-2J8 N235WA (now RA-73003) is stored at Yuzhno in Russia.
  • 737-247 N238WA (now XA-URU) is active with Danaus Lineas Aeras in Mexico [picture].
  • 737-247 N240WA (now OB-1954-P) is active with Peruvian Airlines, based at Lima [picture].
  • 737-247 N246WA (now A2-FMX) is active with Blue Sky Airways in Botswana.
  • 737-347 N307WA and N308WA are stored at Roswell, but have been used for charters in recent years [picture].
  • 737-347 N311WA (now PK-YSY) is owned by Trigana Air Service in Jakarta, but may be stored.
PK-MYY My Indo Airways

PK-MYY My Indo Airways

  • 737-347 N312WA (now PK-MYY) is active with My Indo Airways at Jakarta Halim.
  • DC-3 NC33644 still active with private owner, Oakville, WA [picture].
  • DC-6B N93122 (now N751CE) stored at Fairbanks, AK.
N551CE, ex N93124 with Western.

N551CE, ex N93124 with Western.

  • DC-6B N93124 (now N551CE) stored with Everts at Fairbanks, AK.
  • DC-10-10 N904WA (now N559FE) is active with FedEx Express [picture].
  • DC-10-10 N905WA (now N560FE) is active with FedEx Express.
  • DC-10-10 N906WA (now N357FE) is active with FedEx Express.
  • DC-10-10 N913WA (now S9-GAP) was last noted stored at Johannesburg, South Africa.

Convair 240 N240HH at the Planes of Fame Museum.

  • Convair 240 N8408H (now N240HH) preserved at Planes of Fame Museum, Chino, CA.
  • L-188 Electra N9744C (now C-FIJV) stored with Buffalo Airways, Yellowknife, Canada.
  • L-188 Electra N9745C (now C-FYYJ) active as fire bomber at Abbotsford, Canada [picture].
Western Electra N9746C now flies with Buffalo Airways.

Western Electra N9746C now flies with Buffalo Airways.

  • L-188 Electra N9746C (now C-GLBA) active with Buffalo Airways, Yellowknife, Canada.

 

Airlines of the USA Book

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18 Responses

  1. charlieb.good says:

    Western Airlines, “The only way to fly”. What a loss for the airline passenger. One of the best airlines ever. I remember on a Western Flight from Salt Lake to Great Falls on a 737-200, the flight made an unscheduled stop at a very small airfield somewhere in Idaho. It seems there was a Federal program way back then that Western was paid a lot of money to make unscheduled stops when a passenger wanted to go somewhere. We landed, and taxied up to what looked like a gas station. The crew extended the 737s self deploying steps, and a little old lady was helped up the ladder steps by the flight attendant , while the F-O did his walk around of the aircraft. I still think about how I was able to experience a little bit of what aviation was like in the early days.

  2. Matt Falcus says:

    Great Story! Thanks for sharing!

  3. Tim says:

    I was lucky enough to fly on Western back in 1975 during their 50th Anniversary, which they dubbed “Western’s 50 Fair”. I flew on a DC-10 from MEX to LAX, then transferred to a 707 for the LAX to HNL flight. I well remember entering the cabin of the 707 which had been decorated with balloons all the way along. I still have a red swizzle stick with the anniversary logo on it!

  4. Matt Falcus says:

    Thanks for the comment and memories Tim!
    Matt

  5. Tom Everman says:

    I’m a Western Airlines brat. By that I mean that my father worked for WAL from the time he came home from WWII till his retirement 40+ years later. My first flight (I’m told) was on a DC-3 and I know I flew everything in the fleet except for one of those PNA Connies, my favorite was the Lockheed Electra. The entire industry was like family back in those days, most of our family friends were from WAL or other carriers. Sad to see those days disappear.

  6. Matt Falcus says:

    Great memories Tom! Thanks for sharing!

  7. Brian K says:

    I’m a “newcomer” to Western Airlines”–1968 (-: Retired from Delta in ’94. Remember the Western Days with very fond memories.

  8. Matt Falcus says:

    Thanks Brian, that’s great! Bet you have some happy memories of the good old days?

  9. Brad Anbro says:

    My father was an aircraft electrician with Western Airlines, from the mid-1950s until the early 1960s. He worked out of LAX, usually on the “graveyard” shift.
    On a Saturday or a Sunday, he would take me to one of Western’s hangars at LAX, where some of its planes were being serviced. I was able to meet some of his co-workers, who treated me like royalty. My father mush have been very well liked and very good at his job because all of my experiences with his co-workers and other Western employees were simply great!

  10. Matt Falcus says:

    Great memories Brad! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Ric Scott says:

    I started flying on Western airlines at age 12. I would board at SFO to LAX where I was picked up by family. this went on every easter and summer. Some summers I would have my surfboard put in the rear pit. years later I started working for Western in RNO. after 10mo I put an advance bid into SFO and was granted that move about 5 months later. than everyone at Weastern were tossed around I put another advanced bid into LAX. just as I was to be called back to work President Reagan fired all the ATC folks and I was out a very long time. than I was placed at LAX for a little over a year,than I worse happened to all of us Western Airline employees…..we were told of the pending merger with Delta. The worse merger any Airline had to endure!! I was told the men working on the ramp had to cut their hair for starters. Than they were told no mustache,no sideburns. the merger was so bad it made the LA times as to the way Delta were treating our flt attendants. The union was a joke and Delta knew this going in. Theres a lot of ex Western airline employees who received the shaft. Western airlines was an extremely popular carrier on the west coast. Everyone including the film business flew Western. Its really too bad Western could not have been the surviving carrier. Again this merger was the worst in aviation history.

  12. Matt Falcus says:

    Thanks for sharing your memories Ric!

  13. FRED JEPSON says:

    Is there a way of contacting former employees I am looking for a Bonnie linky he used to work at Minneapolis-Saint Paul.?

  14. FRED JEPSON says:

    Still looking for Bonnie Linke. She worked for Western Airlines at Minneapolis st. Paul Minnesota.

  15. Char Meese says:

    My Mom was a Stewardress for Western in the late 40’s. I have some of her training material. They were required to pass not even first aid but there were extream physical demands even down to what under garments they were allowed to use. But she loved it.

  16. Matt Falcus says:

    Thanks for the memories Char!

  17. Frederick C Christensen says:

    My Dad, Ted J. Christensen, was employed as a pilot for Western Air Lines in 1952. As I recall, he initially flew DC-3’s from Salt Lake City to Edmonton. He was transferred from SLC to Denver in 1953 and then returned to SLC in 1955. He was one of the pilots on the last trip flown on the DC-3. In 1960 he was transferred to Los Angeles at which time he was promoted to captain. During his career, I believe he flew every aircraft that became part of Western’s fleet. The final five years of his career he was a captain on the DC-10, based in Honolulu.

  18. Matt Falcus says:

    Great memories Frederick! Thanks for sharing about your Dad’s time with Western!

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