World Airways

It appears that World Airways is slipping into oblivion, as the charter airline recently disclosed that it is shutting down and laying off its employees.

It is no great loss to the global travel industry of 2014, as World had evolved into a niche operator whose biggest client was the U.S. military. But this 66-year-old company deserves a tip of the hat. In its heyday, World was an agent of disruptive competition, and we mean that in a good way.

In the years before airline deregulation, the public demand for low-cost air transportation was often met by charter airlines, World Airways prominent among them.

On the eve of deregulation, World took the bold step of applying to transform itself from a charter-only airline to a scheduled carrier, promising New York-Los Angeles service at $99 one-way. The scheduled carriers sat up and took notice, and the era of the fare war was born. (The carrier also alienated travel agents by selling tickets through Ticketron, a ticketing service for concerts later acquired by Ticketmaster.)

World eventually withdrew back to the charter niche, but only after expanding its cross-country routes to Hawaii to the west and Europe to the east.

It was a maverick airline in more ways than one. During the Vietnam War, it operated the last flight out of Da Nang in 1975. The video captured by a CBS news crew (search on YouTube for "The Last Flight From Da Nang, Vietnam 1975" or view the video below) shows the airline's pistol-packing CEO, Ed Daly, wrestling with passengers on the 727's rear boarding stairs as the crew attempts to get the plane airborne in the chaos.

Since Daly's death in 1984, the company has undergone several changes of ownership, management and strategy. It's not in any real sense the same company, but its demise merits a nod of respect.


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