West Coast Flying: Delta’s 87-Year Heritage in Los Angeles (Guest Post)

Now that my daughter has arrived, I’m taking this week off. I’m happy to start the guest post parade with a visit from one of my favorite guest-posters, Delta’s Archives Manager Marie Force. Marie wrote about Delta’s history in Monroe back in 2009. Delta also sent over a great post about starting service in Africa from a Pan Am veteran in 2010. This time around, Marie is back and she dug out some great stuff on Delta’s history in Los Angeles.

Delta is proud to trace our service in Los Angeles from 1926 when Western provided the city’s first scheduled airline service.

Delta jets first landed in California in 1961, but through our merger with Western Airlines, Delta’s ties to Los Angeles go back 35 years earlier. A small Douglas M-2 biplane took off from Vail Field (in East Los Angeles, near where the 5 and 710 freeways meet) on April 17, 1926, carrying the first air mail from Los Angeles to Salt Lake City. With a stop in Las Vegas, it was a 6 1/2 hour flight. Below is Western founder Harris Hanshue handing the mail over.

WAL Hanshue and Kelly mail 1926

In May, passengers started paying $90 each to fly squeezed in beside the mail sacks. By 1927, Western Air Express had carried 209 brave customers and the city of Los Angeles accounted for 40% of the nation’s air mail.

1961 Delta Los Angeles Poster

Delta launched California’s first nonstop service to the Southeast on June 11, 1961, over the “Southern Transcontinental Route.” In Los Angeles, Douglas DC-8 and Convair 880 jets made three daily departures to Atlanta, Dallas and New Orleans. The above poster was from 1961. Below is a billboard welcoming Southerners to Los Angeles that same year.

Delta 1961 Inaugural Sign LAX

C.E. Woolman, Delta’s founder and first CEO, said to Los Angeles: “We are privileged to be here. We are going to do a good job for you. Delta doesn’t necessarily want to be the biggest airline in the country, but we want to be the best.” He’s cutting the ribbon on the new service in the photo below.

1961 Woolman Cuts Ribbon

Delta’s 1987 merger with Western Airlines, which was headquartered in Los Angeles, added routes from the city throughout the western U.S., Hawaii, Alaska, Canada and Mexico. The poster below was from 1986, just before the merger.

1986 Delta Los Angeles Poster

Transcontinental service began between LAX and New York City in 1990 and service to Asia began with flights to Tokyo and Nagoya, Japan, in 1991. Today Delta’s long relationship with the city continues with 116 peak-day departures to 40 destinations.

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