Air Florida Couldn’t Overcome Crash, Hijackings and Deregulation

Air Florida Boeing 737-200. Image: Wikipedia, Peter Duijnmayer.

Ancient Airlines: A look at unique and quirky airlines throughout aviation history

Air Florida was a short-lived, Miami-based budget carrier that had big ambitions but fell short due to a number of incidents including a crash and notorious hijackings. Despite this, Air Florida carried passengers all across the world, including the southern United States, Caribbean, and even Europe. 

Air Florida Ambition: Go Big or Go Home

Air Florida was founded in 1971 and began operations in 1972 with just two Boeing 707 aircraft. At the beginning, Air Florida only offered service within the state of Florida, with routes between Miami, Orlando and St. Petersburg. One-way fares started at just $12.

Shortly, however, Air Florida began increasing its routes offered, taking travelers to desirable domestic and international destinations with its fleet of Lockheed L-188 Electra, Boeing 727-200, Boeing 737-100, Boeing 737-200, Douglas DC-8-62, Douglas DC-9-10 and McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 aircraft. Popular routes included those taking travelers from the northeast to Florida or the Caribbean and Central America, as well as Air Florida’s trans-Atlantic routes to Ireland, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Air Florida even had such a presence abroad that it, for a short time, sponsored an English football club. 

Despite its budget prices, Air Florida became known for its great service, particularly attractive flight attendants, and great in-flight dining during international flights. 

Photo: RuthAS

Hijackings, Terrible Crash Hastened The End of Air Florida

In the early 1980s, Air Florida seemed to be the airline of choice for hijackers looking to go to Cuba. 

The first hijacking took place in August 1980, when a hijacker took over a Boeing 737 flying from Miami to Key West and demanded to be taken to Cuba, where he surrendered in Havana. Literally just three days after that, another hijacker asked to be taken to Cuba on a flight going from Key West to Miami, but the hijacker also surrendered.

In 1982, a hijacker overtook yet another Miami to Key West flight and asked to be taken to Cuba, but again, surrendered.

And finally in 1983, a flight from Fort Lauderdale to Tampa was hijacked by a man who gave a flight attendant a note saying he had a bomb in an athletic bag, which he would set off if they didn’t take him to Havana. The crew did as told, and the hijacker was arrested once in Cuba. 

However, beyond the hijacking, there was also a fatal crash that occurred in 1982, less than a month before the 1982 hijacking. Air Florida Flight 90 crashed into the Potomac, killing 74 of the 79 souls on board, along with four more people stuck in traffic on the 14th Street Bridge, which the jetliner contacted on its way down. The aircraft had just taken off from Washington, D.C., and crashed due to icing and pilot error. Heroically, one of the passengers who survived, Arland Williams Jr., died from drowning in the river after making other passengers go ahead of him when the helicopters came to their rescue.

A coast guard vessel at the site of the crash

For many, Air Florida Flight 90 sticks out in their minds as one of the first gruesomely documented air crashes in the modern age, which took place in an urban area, where plenty of onlookers and the media could see. 

Into the History Books

Photo: Eduard Marmet

All of these incidences didn’t spell good things for Air Florida. The challenge of recovering from a crash and deregulation proved too much. Air Florida declared bankruptcy in 1984. Midway Airlines would go on to acquire Air Florida’s assets. Now defunct, Midway Airlines operated out of Chicago until the early 1990s.