exhibits

History

Delta's First Passenger Flight

June 17, 1929

Equipment

Travel Air S-6000-B, a single-engine plane with enclosed cabin. Capacity for one pilot and up to five passengers. A restored Travel Air on display at the Delta Flight Museum represents the Travel Air registered as C8878, manufacturer's serial number 988, which flew Delta's inaugural flight. 

Route

Departed Dallas, Texas, at 8 a.m. on Monday, June 17, 1929. Made scheduled stops at Shreveport and Monroe, Louisiana, before landing at Jackson, Mississippi. The 427-mile flight took 5 hours and included a half-hour stop for lunch in Monroe. 

Delta pioneered this route. It was the first airline to offer air service between Dallas and Jackson. 

Pilot

J. D. "Johnny" Howe, a tall, lanky Arkansas airman with six years of flying experience. He previously worked as an agent for the Travel Air Company. Considered an excellent stunt flier, Howe was one of the first pilots in the nation to receive a commercial pilot's license.

Passenger

John S. Fox, Delta Air Service operations manager.

No other passengers, as Delta did not publicly announce the new service until Sunday, June 16, when all facilities were equipped and ready. Rival interests were reported to be looking at flying from Atlanta and Birmingham over the same route to Dallas, and Delta moved quickly to launch service first and keep a competitive advantage. They also could not sell round-trip tickets, because they were picking up a group of Jackson city officials on the last stop for the inaugural return flight to Dallas the next day.

Jackson Mayor Walter A. Scott and several other city officials welcomed Fox and Howe at the airfield when the inaugural flight arrived. Community leaders hosted them at a banquet later that evening.

Fare

Fares from Dallas to Jackson were $47.25 one-way, $90.00 round trip.

Initial Schedule

Tri-weekly service. Three eastbound flights on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Three westbound flights on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. 

Westbound flights departed later in the morning (10:20 a.m.) than eastbound flights, to allow a proposed extension of air service from Birmingham and Atlanta. 

Delta's First Westbound Flight

June 18, 1929

Equipment

Travel Air S-6000-B, aircraft registration number C8878, serial number 988.

Route

Departed Jackson, Mississippi at 10:20 am on Tuesday, June 18, 1929. The plane made scheduled stops at Monroe and Shreveport, Louisiana, on its way to Dallas. 

Pilot

J. D. "Johnny" Howe

Passengers

Inaugural guests, a group of Jackson officials:

  • Paul Chambers, president of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce
  • A.F. "Gus" Hawkins, Jackson city commissioner of aeronautics
  • L.E. Foster, executive vice president of the Jackson Chamber of Commerce
  • John S. Fox, Delta Air Service operations manager

At Selman Field in Monroe, the group was welcomed by city, parish and chamber of commerce officials with lunch at improvised tables in the hangar. The Monroe News-Star reported that the Jackson party had traveled "as much as 125 miles an hour and that there was little vibration or unpleasant experiences. The view obtained, especially of the swollen waters of the Mississippi near Vicksburg, was commented on."

From Dallas, the Jackson officials sent this telegram: "First westward trip Delta Airways big success. Arrived at three-forty, twenty minutes ahead of schedule after four hours flying time. Had wonderful receptions at Monroe, Shreveport and Dallas. Believe the establishment of this line will mean much to Jackson in a commercial way. Had delightful trip, this being the only real way to travel."

Delta's First Paying Passenger

June 19, 1929

 
W.C. Walsh, a factory representative for Dodge Brothers motor cars, was Delta's first paying passenger. He traveled from Monroe to Jackson with the returning Jackson inaugural group. 
 
The Jackson party had flown from Dallas to Monroe in the same Travel Air they arrived in the previous day (registration C8878) with pilot Johnny Howe. The Jackson Clarion-Ledger reported that the return trip was made mostly at an altitude of around 5,000 feet, "sailing above the clouds much of the time. For an interval Pilot Howe flew through clouds to see how his passengers liked it. An air pocket caused a sudden drop of about 400 feet in one instance but the flight was uneventful, with fine weather."
 
John S. Fox, Delta Air Service operations manager, also returned from Dallas with the Jackson officials, but he left the flight in Monroe, where W.C. Walsh was waiting to fly to Jackson. 
 
For the Monroe to Jackson leg of the flight, the group changed to a brand-new Travel Air S-6000-B aircraft, recently delivered from the Travel Air factory. Delta's Chief Pilot Pat L. Higgins flew the group to Jackson.
 
Higgins was originally hired to head Delta's Flying School in March 1929. He moved to Monroe from New Orleans where he had also managed an aviation school. Previously, he worked for the Curtiss aircraft manufacturer, barnstormed through the Southern states and flew in the military during World War I.
 

On to Atlanta

After less than three months, Delta extended its original route east from Jackson to Meridian, Mississippi, and Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Alabama, on August 26, 1929.

By early 1930, Delta Air Service was offering daily service with a fleet of three Travel Airs. Two daily flights, one heading east and the other traveling west, over its Dallas-Birmingham route.

Delta also made air travel more affordable and convenient for its customers. Fares were reduced by almost fifty percent, and Delta adjusted its schedule so arrivals and departures allowed passengers to make convenient connections with north-south rail service and overnight Pullman service.

New service to Tyler and Ft. Worth, Texas, started on May 1, 1930.

Delta entered Atlanta on June 12, 1930. After a few days of trial runs, regular service began on June 18. For details and fares, see this Atlanta Journal newspaper item.

Early Marketing

Most of Delta's early customers were businessmen traveling for work. Pleasure and vacation air travel was not common. General Manager C.E. Woolman estimated, "Eighty percent of our patrons are men with briefcases, going about the country and speeding up their business."

Delta published a brochure full of encouragement for the nervous first-time business flier with details about services and a flight schedule. See the Fly for Business brochure (PDF).

Delta also placed advertisements in local newspapers and participated in air shows and other events promoting aviation. C.E. Woolman was "a terrific salesman," and developed good relationships in the communities Delta served and with local and federal government officials.

“Delta had no marketing department," retiree Wallace Harmon recalled. "In large cities we had a city traffic manager [in the mid-late 1930s]. . . who would go to the hotels and check the brochure racks to be sure that our timetables were here, and that was pretty well the extent of the marketing effort. Except that they would also make calls on the hotel porter because the porter was the guy that the hotel guests would call to get reservations on airlines. Now this is a holdover from the railroads. A few of the things that we did to begin with were holdovers from the railroad.”

Service Stops & Resumes

After one year of passenger service, Delta had flown approximately 251,000 miles by June 1930, and operated its entire first year without an accident in an era when tragedy was not uncommon. Delta's General Manager C.E. Woolman said, "This record is accounted for by the factors of perfect servicing of ships, good pilots and every possible safeguard."
 
Although Delta's crop-dusting operations were profitable, the expenses of expanding passenger services—and the growing economic Great Depression—made it critical that Delta secure an air mail contract from the federal government. Delta had high hopes of winning a mail contract over the route it had pioneered, until the U.S. Post Office awarded a southern transcontinental air mail contract to American Airlines predecessor company, Aviation Corporation (AVCO). Part of this route was from Dallas to Atlanta, along Delta's only route.
 
Delta suspended airline operations in October 1930, and sold its Travel Airs. Reorganizing as Delta Air Corporation in December 1930, Delta was once again a crop-dusting company.
 
Looking back at Delta Air Service's 1929-1930 service, the Monroe News-Star noted "high compliments" from government officials and the aviation community for "the efficiency, economy, and safety features which marked the operation of the Delta line throughout its history as a passenger carrying agency."
 
In 1934, the U.S Post Office cancelled airmail contracts and submitted all routes for rebid. With a winning bid of 24.8 cents per pound of mail, Delta Air Corporation was awarded Air Mail Route 24, stretching from Ft. Worth, Texas, to Charleston, South Carolina.
 
On July 4, 1934, Delta started its first mail service with tri-motor Stinson Model T planes. Passenger service resumed on August 5. For the first time the name "Delta Air Lines" was painted on the sides of planes, and Delta begins doing business as Delta Air Lines. 
Travel_Air_s-6000-b_drawing
City of Jackson welcomes first Delta flight
Johnny Howe with Travel Air
Delta headquarters in Monroe, LA, 1929
Delta Air Service first passenger newspaper clipping
Chief Pilot Pat Higgins with new Travel Air
1929 Ticket Stub
Delta schedule June 17, 1930
travel_air_cabin
Delta passengers and pilot at Monroe stop, 1930
delta_air_mail_label_ca1934-1940s
Airmail first flight cover, Monroe, 1934
1934 Stinson T