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#FlashbackFriday: TWA’s Glory Days at St. Louis Lambert Airport

Roland Arhelger

The Early Days of TWA At Lambert

This #FlashbackFriday take a glimpse at some better times for Trans World Airlines (TWA) back when the airline dominated Lambert St. Louis International Airport. Enjoy footage of tri-jets galore along with various TWA liveries and a few special liveries mixed in.

As far back as 1957, TWA lead STL operations (44 weekday departures compared to 24 for the runner up AAL).  In 1979, deregulation forced TWA to transition to the hub and spoke business model that would further concentrate and expand TWA operations at STL. In particular, the realignment prompted TWA to reconsider its other hubs in Kansas City and Chicago. Kansas City proved far too small to serve as a hub, even though it was TWA’s headquarters at the time, and TWA’s Chicago operation hemorrhaged money to the tune of $25 million a year thanks to stiff competition from American Airlines (AAL) and United Airlines (UAL). Thus, STL seemingly offered the best place for TWA to consolidate its operations and create a primary hub.

The Glory Days

TWA grew quickly at STL during the 1980s. Indeed, by winter 1982, 20% of TWA’s domestic operations involved STL. 1985 saw further growth with the launch of international non-stop services to London, Frankfurt, and Paris. Consolidation at STL kicked into overdrive when, in 1986, TWA acquired Ozark Airlines. Pre-merger TWA accounted for 57% of traffic at STL and Ozark some 27%. Post-merger, TWA captured an astounding 80% of operations at STL. While TWA itself struggled during the 1990s with multiple bankruptcies, a softening economy, and the tragedy of TWA Flight 800, its STL operation rolled on. At their peak in 2000, total operations at STL numbered some 456,827 flights (all airlines combined with TWA and its regional affiliate operating the vast majority) resulting in 30.5 million passengers deplaned and enplaned. The video featured below documents this time.

Eduard Marmet


By late 2000, it became clear TWA could not stand on its own. In 2001 AAL purchased TWA relegating it to the history books. The purchase caused great controversy for the employees of the once great airline, and 9/11 that year further complicated matters to say the least. As air travel slowed, realignments were all but inevitable. With hubs in Dallas (KDFW) and Chicago (KORD), there was no room for an AAL STL hub. Mainline AAL traffic suddenly became regional jet traffic and international flights ceased. Service by AAL dwindled, and in so doing, STL (as of last year, 2015) only served 12.8 million passengers, a far cry from the record 30.5 million TWA once helped the airport set.

Regardless of the controversy and tough times many at TWA endured, it’s worth taking time to look back on what was. Thanks for reading, and enjoy with fondness looking back on some really good times at STL with some really great airplanes.

For more info on KSTL and TWA stats check out the Lambert St. Louis International Airport Website:

Alexander Sakovich

Written by Alexander Sakovich

Alexander Sakovich is a dedicated Avgeek who grew up spending every possible moment he could at DFW Airport in TX. From working as an airport volunteer to gate and ticket agent and now an Air Force pilot, he's seen all sides of the industry.

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