World War II had a very positive effect on the airline industry. The war had American air carries making money of the likes that had not been seen since 1934. The main effort the airlines played during the war was as contract carriers for the military.
The armed forces took control of most of the airlines aircraft, leaving the airlines with only 165 to fly their routes. Even with the armed forces taking the majority of available aircraft, they imposed a “priority system” so they could make do with the relatively little space they had available. Priority one was for persons traveling under the authority of the President. Priority two got military pilots a seat. Priority three was other military personnel or civilians on essential wartime business. Priority four was military cargo. The remaining seats, which were very few, went to everyone else.During the war the government gave the airlines routes of responsibility that made perfect sense.
Northeast Airlines was given the North Atlantic route, which extended as far as Greenland, and Reykjavik, Iceland. Northwest flew the route to Alaska. Eastern Airlines flew to the Caribbean and Brazil. American flew to South America. TWA had five Boeing 307’s, the only four-engine transoceanic aircraft available at the time, and was given the route to Egypt. TWA became the preferred carrier for VIP’s, and carried President Roosevelt to all three wartime conferences with Churchill in Casablanca, Tehran, and Yalta.Pan American was the only overseas carrier there was before the war, and was relied upon heavily by the military during the war. Pan American’s five divisions in fact flew half of all contract miles flown by all airlines for the U.
S. military. During this time Pan American began flying land based aircraft instead of seaplanes, like the Clipper, that had made them famous. Pan American was now flying aircraft with increased range and speed, and reduced maintenance costs, like the DC-4.Once again war proved to be a highly motivating force that caused a great technological leap forward in aircraft, engines, and systems. Immense distances had been covered, and new heights reached. Feats only imagined a mere four years before were now commonplace.
There was a new confidence born in the airlines, one of victory and remarkable accomplishment.