United Airlines celebrates its 90th birthday today and has been my airline of choice for more than a decade. I’ve flown over a million miles in “the Friendly Skies” and have no plans to shift that loyalty.
While contemporary United is mocked derisively for mimicking Delta rather than innovating, United was the trendsetter for many things we take for granted today. Here are a look at 15 cool things you may not have known about United:
1. Leon Cuddeback piloted United’s first flight from Pasco, Washington, to Boise, Idaho, in a Swallow the morning of April 6, 1926.
2. Walter T. Varney founded Varney Air Lines in 1926 and Varney Speed Lines in 1934, airlines that would eventually become United Airlines and Continental Airlines.
3. United Boeing 247s flew the same route on the Main Line that settlers followed to the West. The 247 could cross North America in a single night and was the first modern airliner.
4. At Ellen Church’s suggestion, United pioneered the hiring of female flight attendants in 1930, creating a new profession for women. All of the first were registered nurses. Early duties included knocking down fences so planes forced down by foul weather could take off again.
5. United created commercial aviation’s first flight kitchen in 1936. First meals served? A choice of fried chicken or scrambled eggs.
6. In 1937 United developed the first true flying laboratory, which developed wing and propeller de-icers and the “flight analyzer,” a precursor to the flight data recorder. Research also led to the industry’s first instrument landing system and weather radar. United was the first airline to use electronic flight simulators and computers to plan a flight path.
7. Continental introduced live television to the airline industry. In the 707’s inflight lounge, passengers could sit together to enjoy champagne while briefly watching live TV while flying over major metropolitan areas.
8. Male flight attendants began working for United in 1950 on flights between the U.S. mainland and Hawaii.
9. With a $175 million order for 30 DC-8s, United became the first U.S. airline to order jetliners. United acquired Capital Airlines, the first airline to fly jets, in 1961.
10. United Employee Thorp Hiscock used a transmitter in a hangar and a receiver in an automobile to conduct experiments that led to two-way radio between air and ground. He also created the first successful autopilot system. United was the first airline to equip its entire fleet with airborne radar.
11. Mainliner was the world’s first inflight magazine published for a single airline.
12. Continental was granted a five-year contract in the late 1960s to serve the trust territory of the Pacific Island, also known as Micronesia, becoming a major player in the realm of air service to and from the Pacific.
13. Even after the introduction of Air Force One, decades of office seekers took to the campaign trail on scheduled flights or leased planes. “Peanut One” was one of them.
14. In 1995, United was the first airline to introduce the 777, Boeing’s first “fly by wire” aircraft. United and Boeing collaborated to an unprecedented degree to develop the airplane. Check out this great trip report by Frequently Flying.
15. United, Lufthansa, Air Canada, SAS and Thai International founded the Star Alliance, the first global airline alliance, in 1997.