The Oldest Airlines in the World That Are Still Flying Today
Not so long after the Wright brothers’ first flight on the beaches of Kitty Hawk in 1903, commercial airlines began forming around the world. The very first would be over 100 years old now — if they were still around. However, there are some airlines still flying today that are well into their 90s and going strong.
Pinpointing which airlines are among the world’s oldest is a little trickier than it sounds. For instance, a German airline called Lufthansa was founded in 1926, but was dissolved by the Allies in 1951. A completely new airline founded in 1953 resurrected the name, livery and logo. Despite that, Lufthansa unfortunately does not make this list since the new airline and the old were separate entities.
By contrast, the airline we now know as Delta was called Huff Daland Dusters when it was founded in 1924 and renamed in 1928. Because it was the same airline, it does make the list. We are only counting airlines whose original or main component is the airline that you can still fly today. We’re also only including (mostly) major international airlines. Sorry, Grand Canyon Airlines, founded 1927.
With all that in mind, here are the grande dames of the sky. How many have you flown?
Founding date: October 8, 1929
Call sign: CU
Cuba’s national carrier began as a charter service and flying school, but launched scheduled flights around the island in 1930. It was not until 1945 that it began flying to Miami. Its inaugural transatlantic route, to Madrid, launched in 1948 and stopped in Bermuda, the Azores and Lisbon. The company was taken over by the Cuban government and reorganized following the 1959 revolution.
Founding date: March 5, 1929
Call sign: LA
LATAM is actually the result of the 2012 merger between LAN and TAM, but we’re including it here because the LAN portion of the company dates to 1929, when it was founded by Chile’s Comodoro Arturo Merino Benítez as Línea Aérea Nacional. Today, the massive South American airline is a member of the Oneworld alliance and has a fleet of over 120 planes flying to nearly 70 destinations.
12. Hawaiian Airlines
Founding date: January 30, 1929
Call sign: HA
Hawaiian Airlines started off as Inter-Island Airways in October of 1929, with sightseeing tours over Oahu followed by scheduled service the next month from Honolulu to Hilo via Molokai and Maui. The airline had already carried more than 10,000 passengers by the end of 1930, and changed its name to Hawaiian Airlines in 1941. It began commercial jet service from Hawaii to Los Angeles in 1960 and was the first U.S. airline to operate a flight with an all-female crew in 1979. Today, the airline flies to nearly 30 destinations with a fleet of more than 50 planes.
11. LOT Polish Airlines
Founding date: January 1, 1929
Call sign: LO
LOT was the product of a merger between two existing airlines, Aerolot and Aero. The new airline’s first two routes were from Warsaw to Katowice and Bydgoszcz, with its first international route, to Vienna, launching in 1929. It adopted the logo of a stork back in 1931. LOT ceased operations during WWII but restarted service in 1946. The airline became a member of the Star Alliance in 2003.
Founding date: June 28, 1927
Call sign: IB
Though Iberia has been part of a company called I.A.G. since 2011, along with other major carriers like British Airways and Aer Lingus, Iberia itself is over 90 years old now. Its maiden flight, from Madrid to Barcelona on December 14, 1927, was inaugurated by King Alfonso XIII of Spain. Now, the airline has a fleet of around 80 planes and flies to nearly 100 destinations and is a member of the Oneworld alliance.
9. Air Serbia
Founding date: June 17, 1927
Call sign: JU
Air Serbia has undergone several reinventions since its founding many decades ago. First called Aeroput, it was reestablished as JAT, short for Jugoslovenski Aerotransport, in 1947, and then Jat Airways in 2003. Along with an investment from Etihad, the airline became Air Serbia in 2013. It currently has a fleet of 21 aircraft and flies to over 40 destinations.
8. Tajik Air
Founding date: September 3, 1924
Call sign: 7J
Originally established as a division of Aeroflot, the airline became independent in 1991. You won’t find it on many Western routes, but it does operate flights to 19 destinations, including cities in China, India, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Turkey. The airline currently has a fleet of 14 planes.
7. Delta Air Lines
Founding date: May 30, 1924
Call sign: DL
Delta Air Lines was called Huff Daland Dusters when it was founded in Macon, Georgia, as a crop-dusting airline in an effort to combat a boll weevil infestation that was decimating U.S. cotton crops. By 1925, the airline had a fleet of 18 planes, making it the largest private airline in the world at the time. The name was changed to Delta Air Service in 1928 and passenger service began in 1929. Delta continued to operate a crop-dusting division until 1966, though. Over the course of decades, the airline merged with Chicago and Southern Air Lines, Northeast Airlines, Western Airlines and finally Northwest in 2008. Delta was also founding member of the SkyTeam alliance in 2000. Delta is currently the world’s second-largest airline, with a fleet of more than 800 aircraft flying to more than 300 destinations across the globe.
Founding date: November 1, 1923
Call sign: AY
Called Aero when it was founded back in 1923, Finnair’s first aircraft was a German Junkers F13 seaplane. Its skis allowed it to float on water or land or ice since, at the time the airline began flying in 1924, there were no commercial airfields in Finland. The airline’s final seaplane flight took place in December 1936, from which point all flights took off and landed on solid ground, which seems a pity. Finnair was the first western airline to operate regular flights to the U.S.S.R. after World War II, and the first to offer flights from Western Europe to Mainland China starting in 1988. The airline officially changed its name to Finnair in 1968 and joined the Oneworld alliance in 1997. Today, Finnair flies to over 130 destinations and has over 60 aircraft.
5. Czech Airlines
Founding date: October 6, 1923
Country: Czech Republic
Call sign: OK
The name Czech Airlines only dates to May 1995, but the company was originally called Czechoslovak State Airlines, or CSA, when it was founded back in the 1920s. The carrier’s first flight took place from Prague to Bratislava on October 29, 1923, and the airline grew from there until March 1939, when it ceased operations until September 1945 due to World War II. Czech Airlines became a member of SkyTeam in 2001.
Founding date: March 17, 1923
Call sign: SU
Originally founded as Dobrolyot, the airline changed its name to Aeroflot in 1932. Aeroflot became one of the world’s largest airlines during the Soviet era, when it was the flag carrier of the U.S.S.R. Though it is now semi-privatized, a majority of the company is still owned by the Russian government, making it the de facto state airline of Russia. It became a member of the SkyTeam alliance in 2006 and currently has a fleet of over 200 planes flying to more than 120 destinations.
Founding date: November 16, 1920
Call sign: QF
Ever wonder where the word Qantas came from? It’s an acronym for the airline’s original name: Queensland and Northern Territory Aerial Services Ltd. The airline adopted its famous kangaroo logo, of which there have been many iterations since, in 1944. Qantas introduced the world’s first business class aboard the Boeing 747 in 1979. A recent milestone for the airline: Nonstop flights from Perth to London launching in March aboard the airline’s new Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners, which will mark the first regularly scheduled nonstop commercial service between Australia and Europe.
Founding date: December 5, 1919
Call sign: AV
It might surprise some to learn that the world’s second-oldest airline is actually Colombia’s Avianca. It was founded as SCADTA, or Sociedad Colombo Alemana de Transporte Aéreo and its first flight was from Barranquilla to Puerto Berrio in September 1920. The airline changed its name to Avianca – an acronym of Aerovías Nacionales de Colombia – in 1940 when it merged with another acronymized airline named SACO (Servicio Aéreo Colombiano) and its German backers were forced to divest due to World War II. Avianca now includes subsidiaries in several Latin American countries and merged with the Salvadoran carrier TACA, which itself was founded in 1931, in 2009. The combined airline became a member of the Star Alliance in 2012.
Founding date: October 7, 1919
Call sign: KL
With a tongue-twister like Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij for a name, no wonder everyone shortens this airline’s name to KLM. The translation from Dutch is the Royal Aviation Company, and it is the oldest existing airline in the world. Its first flight ever was aboard a De Havilland DH-16 piloted by Captain Jerry Shaw between Amsterdam Schipol and London in 1920, and its first transatlantic flight took place in 1934 from Amsterdam to Curaçao. Today, the airline has a fleet of 200 planes and carries over 30 million passengers per year.