The airline geek in me.
I’m an aviation geek and have an extensive collection of airline timetables, which are explained below. I’ll post weekly on a timetable topic.
Also known as a flight schedule, timetables are a collection of the schedules and other pertinent information for a particular transportation company (busses, trains, boats and planes all used to have timetables) over a specific segment of time (think spring, summer, fall).
What was the use of early day timetables?
Before computer systems, this was the only way for a direct consumer to really know what was available to get from point A to point B. In 1948 if you wanted to take a ship from New York Harbor to London, you referred to the sailing timetable or schedule of Cunard or whatever line to determine the ship, class of service and even cost of such a journey. This concept transferred to airlines as they became more accepted by the public in the 1950’s and onward.
Why did airlines so readily distribute timetables?
Advertising, but also…. during the computer age, the more modern companies had systems to display their schedules with travel agencies and call centers but the average public still didn’t have all the information available. Regular travelers in particular would grab a flight schedule at the airport on their way. These timetables were displayed mostly at the ticket counters and were free to the public to take. Some airlines, like Alaska, had timetables actually on the airplane as well.
Timetables were a useful tool up into the 1990’s, mostly for frequent travelers who wanted a quick reference book to consult when interested in changing flights or making a last minute trip. Was it possible to get from St. Louis to Dallas that afternoon? What type of plane would fly the route? Did it stop in Kansas City and Tulsa along the way? Questions that might take too long to answer calling the airline or travel agent.
Why aren’t timetables available today?
Airline scheduling started to get more complicated in the late 90’s and it was increasingly difficult for airlines to hold firm to what was printed in the book every few months. This paired up with the expense to print and distribute the flight schedules instigated the decline of this beautiful tool representing the essence of each airline.
Around the year 2000 airlines realized direct business was way less expensive to support, so the final blow would be the internet age, which provided all kinds of airline information at the fingertips.
End of an era and beginning of another
The last Alaska Airlines printed timetable was effective Sept 9, 2001 and features the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC on the cover, commemorating the beginning of Seattle – DCA service, September 4, 2001. A few days later of course the airline world would change forever.
The timetable example below offers a glimpse into history through the route map displayed on the last page. At this time in 2001 Alaska Airlines only flew three eastern bound markets: Anchorage – Chicago, Los Angeles – Cancun and Seattle – Washignton DC National Airport (which was brand new.) Times have changed!
What’s the value of timetables today?
A bit of romanticism died with the end of timetables, but you can still collect them and reminisce of the days gone by. In addition to my collection from live airport shakedowns, I got addicted to Ebay in the 00’s and ended up with thousands of them.
After an Ebay intervention life got busy and I put them away. They are time capsules of sort, offering a glimpse into an earlier world of commerce, world events and glamour associated with travel. It feels like each decade has particular messages interwoven into the tagline on the front covers and ads within the newspaper print pages:
- 40’s – you won’t die if you fly
- 50’s – save time
- 60’s – flying is sexy and glamorous
- 70’s – go see the world
- 80’s – we’re not that awful after all
- 90’s – we’re awful, but we can take you everywhere
- 00’s – stop reading this and get your ass to the internet!
While providing endless real time information, the airline websites don’t do a super job giving you the beautiful overview of the airline map and what is available in the simple, artistic way of the timetable. The bygone timetable will always shine through with wanderlust evoking charm.