Airline Timetables Disappear, Airline Dorks Die a Little Inside


Southwest has announced that it will finally be ending production of one of the greatest airline dork tools ever invented, the timetable. After the current issue, Southwest timetables will no longer be printed, and that means that there won’t be any printed timetables left anywhere in the US. What a sad day, particularly for a dork like me.

The non-dorks probably can’t understand the impact that airline timetables had on my life. They were instrumental in cementing my love for the industry. In fact, when my parents arranged for professional family photos in 1989, I insisted on having this shot taken with my beloved timetables. (Please ignore the chubby cheeks and buffalo hair.)

I Heart Airline Timetables

I grew up collecting these things while other kids collected baseball cards, and I still have a couple of boxes full of some of the more exciting ones. Eastern TimetableI have a prized TWA timetable from a family member who picked it up in the 1950s. I have a few Eastern timetables from late 1980s which allow you to watch its descent into the grave via a shrinking route map. Yes, you’ll find some Pan Am schedules showing the same trajectory as well.

I have timetables from exotic foreign carriers that I picked up while abroad – Air Botswana and Aeroflot, for example. And yes, there are plenty of little guys that you probably wouldn’t even recognize today. (Sunworld Airlines, anyone? How about the original Jet America?)

Whenever someone in my family had to go to the airport, my parents would let me come along and I would run out at each terminal at LAX. You could find me darting from ticket counter to ticket counter, collecting everything I could grab.

What Jet America Timetabledid I do with these timetables? I would scrutinize them for days, looking at all the cool places I could go. I remember studying them looking for changes in aircraft types, flight times, etc. I even forced my brother to plan imaginary trips with me, so I could look through the timetables with a purpose.

Of course, there’s no reason for an airline to have printed timetables today. You can download a PDF with the schedules from nearly any carrier or you can look them up online. If you have the web on your phone, most airlines will allow you to search schedules there as well. The information is all standardized and easy to find. While that’s helpful, it’s also boring.

I used to relish the opportunity to examine differences between the way different airlines showed their schedules. I cursed Northwest for only showing nonstop and direct flights in their measly little booklet while I became angry with others for showing route maps without the lines displayed.

Now that era is over, and cost cuts combined with environmental consciousness mean that the printing timetables was guaranteed to end. It actually took longer than I expected, but it’s a sad day nonetheless.

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57 comments on “Airline Timetables Disappear, Airline Dorks Die a Little Inside

  1. I agree with you 100%. It was inevitable, but it’s still a sad day. Collecting timetables shaped who I became and ultimately turned into a career. It’s amazing to think a little booklet could not only be enjoyable, but shape a life full of excitement.

  2. I still have thousands boxed up and literally did the dash from terminal to terminal as well at LAX in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I have many early PSA schedules as my father was a pilot for them, but my first non-PSA was a Hughes Air West schedule showing their flights to all these tiny cities across the west in 1978. Have to love the 9-stop service from Phoenix to Spokane all over the west. Braniff, Pan Am, Eastern, Empire, Piedmont, all were past airlines that I still have saved. The odd thing now in this electronic age, is I tend to collect the PDF versions. Not as fun to look through as the old paper variety, but it is a nod to progress.

  3. I collected them while living in Europe and used to be amazed at how thick some of them were, like the old SAS double-folded book or how Lufthansa always outlined the flight, equipment, order of service and elapsed time in the back of theirs.
    Managed to snag the last one printed for Braniff, Pan Am and Eastern back in the day, still have them.
    Used to go to bed reading the darned things, too.
    Fear not…I wonder if hope remains in the OAG. I used to read that as THE bible of all timetable bibles. Do they still print theirs?

  4. “Whenever someone in my family had to go to the airport, my parents would let me come along and I would run out at each terminal at LAX. You could find me darting from ticket counter to ticket counter, collecting everything I could grab.”

    Me being 12, I still do that every one and a while. Except, I get bag tags. Sometimes, if there is no line, I will ask the gate agent for anything they have. QF, by far, gives the most. Alas, no more timetables! If you are looking to unload any of them, look my way…:) It is sad that WN stops, but it’s incredible that they still had them, in 2009.

  5. Yes I have a bunch also that I’ve collected over the years. A few years ago I decided to sell a bunch of the non-USA ones I had and made a nice bundle of money on ebay.

    I mean isn’t that what one does on vacation in another country, go around looking for airline ticket offices that you wouldn’t see in the U.S. so you could collect timetables. London was the best city I think for having the most airline ticket offices and counters at Heathrow to stock up on.

    Remember when Hotels had those brochure racks and they would always be filled with airline timetables. When I was old enough to drive, I would drive to local hotels just to check out their racks.

    The ones from the 70’s and early 80’s were the best I think. Each cover would be different and most would show what aircraft type each flight was. Later years some airlines tended to keep the same cover on each timetable and they got dull looking after awhile. I do have some 50’s-60’s era timetables that had flights listed like train schedules were, I never liked that layout, but I guess that was a time when one went to a travel office to have their trip set up and not have to try and ‘build’ a trip using that type schedule.

    The sad part was I was stupid years ago and when I got a newer timetable for an airline I would (don’t be shocked)….. throw the old one out. Ok calm down….take a deep breath….and forgive me for doing that, but I was young. lol

  6. My father took me to Hawaii when I was 14 – my first big trip. My fondest memory is of when I noticed that our check-in counter at the airport was just down the hall from China Airlines. I ran down there and grabbed a timetable, filled with cities I had never heard of. Yes, I went to Hawaii and my biggest memory is of the China Airlines timetable I grabbed in the HNL terminal.

    I think as a kid, the timetables made me realize how big the world was, and the exotic locations filled in them showed how much I had yet to see (especially since I hadn’t gone anywhere yet). Pan Am, especially, had dots on its routemap (Zagreb, Libreville) that seemed like they were on another planet. Wanting to see what Dubrovnik could possibly be like (sitting on the other side of the Iron Curtain in that Pan Am timetable) spurred so much of the travel I’ve done as an adult.

    I understand the economics of not printing the books but, like baseball cards, that are an entryway into a hobby that becomes a passion as we all grow older. It’s pretty sad to have watched that disappear.

  7. CF,

    Glad to know there’s so many of us out there!

    My favorite were the old Delta timetables, which had an index in the back by flight number, showing origin and destination city, type of equipment, and even whether there would be a movie and a meal.

    I grew up near SFO, and whenever I heard a Delta flight on my handheld scanner (which I carried around as a kid instead of a Walkman), I would look up the flight to know where it was headed. I eventually memorized all the Delta flight numbers and amazed my friends and relatives by knowing, for instance, that Delta 219 Heavy was an L-1011 heading for Honolulu.

    Good memories.


  8. My wife is still amazed by my ability to “read” a timetable the way other people read a book.

    In high school I somehow got a free OAG subscription, and I learned more than I ever imagined thumbing through those thick books. I never dreamed that the Internet would someday let me track flights in real time or build complex itineraries using those same flights (or even fly on them!)

    Thank goodness there are still some airlines that print timetables — I picked up a Lufthansa worldwide timetable on my last PDX-FRA flight — but I can’t imagine in 2 years that we’ll see many or any more of those.

  9. Noah,
    I don’t know your age, but before 1970, the OAG offered a timetable edition which printed each airline’s timetables separatetly. Most of them still used the vertical lines for a flight against a list of all the cities served. My dad used to bring the old copies home from work, and they are prized editions in my library.

  10. Isn’t it a little ironic that the marketing departments for travel companies are all struggling with the task of inspiring travel? I too recall during every trip to the airport heading down the row of ticket counters to collect the timetables from each carrier. It was amazing to think I could get to Boise five times a day, or Bora Bora twice a week…

    I would do the same with the hotel chain directories that used to found at every front desk… Imagining myself poolside if I could decipher the symbol or make one out in the tiny photo that accompanied many listings….

    Now 40 years later and a couple million flight miles behind me, it seems that while picking up all those schedules may not have resulted in immediate ticket purchases and profit to the airlines, but it did engage my imagination and serve as a foundation for a life that thrived on discovering new destinations.

    I later graduated to the Official Airline Guide and the Hotel & Travel Index – massive encyclopedias of do-it-yourself travel opportunities, but they lacked the personality of the corporately branded timetables and directories.

    I hope some innovative entrepreneur will trade in the origin / destination / dates / party size booking widget to leverage the Internet to help people browse through destinations and inspire the exploration of far away lands as effectively as those incredibly geeky timetables.

    Another era of travel ends – Airline timetables RIP.

  11. Ahh, yes agree. Spent many a wet and miserable Sunday afternoon as a kid (plenty of those in the UK) picking up timetables at LGW and scanning through all those exotic sounding destinations. Sad but inevitable.

  12. Besides the cost factor, I think the main reason (at least U.S.) carriers stopped printing timetables (what took you so long, Herb?) is that they are dated the day they came back from the printer.

    Another piece of timetable geekdom–I would get at least two copies of target carriers and sort them into “mint” and “spare” where the mint copy was immediately boxed away basically untouched while I would then regularly peruse the spare copy.

    Now why didn’t I save all those TV Guide Fall Preview issues from way back when? And yes, when traveling around the U.S., I would strive to pick up a copy of the local market’s TV Guide. This TVG geekdom ended 7-8 years ago when the publication became garbage.

  13. It’s odd how much symbolism there is in a bunch of paper. The only thing I can add is I have lugged through the places I lived probably 200-300 lbs of timetables all neatly categorized and filed. Furniture and fashion come and go….but the timetables stay.

  14. Optimist – Yeah, you can still get the OAG, but it’s just not the same. I love the spin each airline put on their own presentation. I have a couple of great old Western timetables as well. They had the one color for their routes from the Salt Lake hub and the other color for the LAX hub. Fortunately, we still see some of that in Delta today.

    David – Yes, any time I was in a foreign country as a kid, I would drag my parents to the area with all the airline offices and I’d go in and marvel at the big models they had in the window. Then I’d grab a timetable and study it for hours. I agree about the 1950’s timetables as well. The train-style was difficult to follow, but that was a different way of running things back then.

    kcs4 – Yes! I remember that, but I got so angry after Delta started using all those fake through 6000 series flight numbers. It was just a mess back there. Was it Eastern that bolded wide-bodied flights? I need to go dig those out and look.

    Noah – Considering that Lufthansa just said it needs to save a billion dollars, I have to think those will go away.

    Thomas – Yeah, that’s a good site, but it doesn’t really do much for me. I only really like the ones I’ve collected myself because there’s a story behind them. I can remember when and where I picked up each one, and all the time I spent flipping through the pages. That’s the best part.

  15. This is sad to me, too. As a kid, I was a complete schedule geek – I used to read the backs of them, figuring out what machine was likely being used when etc. etc. There’s no doubt that they influenced my moves to get into the travel business, start etc. etc.

  16. HAHAHAH I did this TOO!!! I loved it. I think I knew all the airport codes when I was 9. I used to plan trips and connections. I even subscribed to the OAG.

  17. CF – Delta used to bold the wide-body flight numbers in their books. Before they really started to grow they even kept each aircraft type to a specific number series. Tristar flights were 1000s and 1100s, DC9s were 200s and 400s and so on.

    I liked your favorite love-to-hate airline, Alitalia, for theirs because each edition would be a recreation of a painting by an Italian master or the face of some notable person, like Da Vinci.

    I used to like BA’s cuz they went absolutely everywhere but I hated trying to study the thing because the paper was always so thin.

    THE most exotic I ever had was IranAir from the 70s, seeing all the domestic cities and trying to pronounce their names!

  18. I was an OAG geek — in the 1960’s and 70’s (the days of regulated fares) I would spend hours mapping out alternative routes that wouldn’t cost my employer any more than the direct route — remember you were paying for a certain number of miles, and there were tricks like “hidden cities” (which other OAG geeks will know about) that would expand the possibilities. I saw a lot of the world that way, and look fondly on the old days. I still have an International OAG I thumb through for the nostalgia.

  19. Count me among those who did the tour of the LAX terminals, as well as any others I managed to visit, but I also remember doing the same thing in central London. Along Regent Street from Oxford Street to Piccadilly Circus and then along Piccadilly itself for another few blocks, practically every other shopfront was an airline city ticket office and I remember loading two Airliners International bags literally to overflowing. I was particularly surprised at the Aeroflot office, which was not only open and accessable–this was still the 80s–but which had stacks of timetables and other brochures at each of the seats around the room. It was tiring, and my arms felt like they had been stretched an extra inch or two, but it was actually easier than getting them at the ticket counters at LHR and LGW.
    It occurs to me that much of my knowledge of world geography can be traced to my studying of timetables.

  20. There was nothing like the Champs Elysees and some of the surrounding streets in Paris for timetable collecting and seeing a magnificent city. The old TWA office was HUGE, as well as the big signs for both Aeroflot and Varig.

  21. I also miss those colorful baggage tags, a whole paint store of colors for the different cities the airline flew. Seeing all those little cubby holes filled with them behind the counter was always exciting. Each with their three letter city code on the end, and trying to figure out what city they might be for.

    The current code-a-bar black and white strips just don’t stir the brain cells like those colorful tags did.

  22. I like the printed timetables for being able to quick plan reroutes during irrops. Eg during descent of a delayed flight I can start working out options for my misconnected onward flight.

    That said, with many airlines having pdf timetables you can print your own without having to run around all the airport terminals collecting them.

  23. Wow. You sound a lot like me. I was the same way when I was a kid, right down to hating NW’s schedules. I had so many of them from all over the USA and many international. I wish I could find them. It was a fun thing.

  24. I managed to pick up an excellent timetable for the entire city of Paris last month in the airport (to the right of the info desk in CDG 2E)…a great way to pass a long night in CDG!

  25. Yes, add me to the list of those who would sweep through the terminals at LAX looking for timetables. I just hope that printed books never die like airline timetables.

  26. Interesting comments. Over the years I collected schedules and was given some from the 1930s.
    I also enjoyed the comments about being able to read schedules. Some carriers and the OAG would publish FROM someplace TO someplace and others would publish the TO CITY and then put in how you get there. And then the domestic OAG would have some international cities on nonstops included which would be helpful.
    Then in the older days, I’m sure those old enough would remember where the arrows went and then some went up and some went down. You could see what stopped where and the longer arrows were the big nonstops when airplanes wouldn’t go as far.
    All in all, the end of an era.
    Was Southwest’s reason cost? It was great advertizing. If you knew a certain carrier flew there and you liked that carrier, then you would naturally stick with that carrier. With shifting patterns and cancellations of flights, the public certain would like to know who flies where.

  27. I never did the timetable thing, but I *did* work for the airlines. It is kind of weird walking down a terminal, knowing you could get on any flight you wanted just because… for no particular reason. Call it the grown-ups version of collecting timetables. My only regret was not doing more “because” trips for fun. It may have had something to do with having no money once we got there.

    P.S. Cranky, I sent you email. Let me know if you want to talk about that further.

  28. And this just in (well, several hours ago) to our newsroom…

    JetAmerica is Jet-no-more-ica. Skybust. Dead in the water. The airline version of the Chevy Nova (no va = no go).

    Sorry, Toledo. Well, you still have Klinger.

    Closed circuit for Weikle: Las Cruces, NM really wants air service and they think they are soooo entitled to it, at least from their sob story in Ben’s McPaper column the other day. Make ’em your next pigeon!

  29. I collected timetables as well. I grew up in NYC and would periodically collect these from the airline city ticket offices. I’d also pick up timetables when we visited family in Dallas and Houston (Braniff’s timetables were particularly great beucause of the different colors).

    When I worked in an airline’s marketing department, I wanted to add some zing to our timetables, but was told (even 20 years ago) that we didn’t have budget. All we could afford to do was alternate the color of the covers. No pictures, no inspiration. Blah.

    Yes, the Internet is great, but when future historians or academics want to research the airline industry, what will they do? How will they understand who served what city, with what service patterns and using what equipment?

    Airlines used to inspire us to want to travel. It’s a shame they no longer realize that still have that responsibility, especially in this recession.

  30. If, like me and quite a few of CF’s respondents, you collect – or for that matter want to sell – timetables, there is (of course) eBay. My current search has found 656 lots…………..including this beauty from Pacific Airlines,|66:2|39:1|293:1|294:50
    (I don’t know if that URL will work.)
    The other great marketplaces are not virtual — next weekend in Orlando is the biggest – and there are other shows where airline memorabilia are traded.

  31. I too started collecting airline (and some railroad) timetables in the early 1960s. As a kid it was also a way to learn about the companies, routes, aircraft and of course geography. It also permitted me to figure how the company was run. I also acquired a large OAG collection from a library that was phasing out their collection. Today these reference materials help me with compiling airline history through old photos for magazine articles and my project which will eventually have every airline represented with the history, aircraft operated and the best photography I can collect. We will also have sections for military, corporate aircraft, trains and ships. All contributions are welcome.

  32. The airline timetable. Now that was life! Of course, the only REAL timetable was the columnar version. You had to read from top to bottom, down the column, carefully watching for arrows that threw you into another column, or even another page. And some columns had times in bold fonts, signifying those marvelous new planes, like the Convair 340, or a Martin 404. Oh, we could dream. We knew those planes would never be routed into our small local airport, but OK…!

    Then, someone, who must be living in a very bad place, if living at all, invented the the QUICK REFERENCE edition, and timetables were never the same.s and the world was simply less interesting.

  33. I still pick up a Lufthansa timetable every time I board. I have two right now, Oct. 08-Mar 09 and Mar 09-June 09. Lufthansa no longer tells the specifics of its meals service that it and others used to provide; for example a continental breakfast or a hot breakfast. But it still has the seat charts.

    Lufthansa must see some benefit in continuing to publish timetables. It looks great with its orange/blue colors and is great subliminal advertising.

  34. My family couldn’t understand how I could spend hours reading a timetable?, I could by connecting flights and type to understand the routes and type availability, fun, yes huge fun, and yes I had boxes of them, A sad day.

  35. Hi

    I started collecting timetables when I was a kid and lived in Belfast. When I was about 13 or 14 I would write to airlines UK ticket offices and ask for them to post timetables to me. Most would, I guess it was easy to tell that it was a kid that wanted them. In Belfast there was really just BA and EI that had offices so most of mine came by mail. When I got a bit older a friend in a local travel agents would keep them for me as they really had no need of them.

    When I moved to London I made the biggest mistake ever in that I left my timetables that I had kept for years at my mums. After a couple of year she chucked them out.

    I have re started my collection after I left home and sill have a lots. Form time to time I still buy the odd one on eBay. OK I know that I am a geek, but there is nothing like looking at an old timetable that shows routes and aircraft types that I would never of been able to fly. There is something odd in that a currently timetable (if there were any) is in some way of less interest than one from the 80’s, 70’s or earlier.


  36. LOL, thanks for the laugh. Throughout my early career in the late 70’s into the 80’s, I would also search out timetables at all the counters throughout my travels. There’s a container in my basement with many.
    Ozark, PeoplesExpress, Eastern, PanAm, Piedmont, Empire, etc.

    We, airline geeks do amazing things. How many of us have non rev’ed just to go flying for the day? Yep. I have. Or drove out to the airport to watch planes land or take off, Yep, I have.

    thanks for the memories this article has reminded me of during my junior days.

  37. I am laughing my @ss off at that pic…not because of the ‘chubby cheeks and buffalo hair’ but because I had/have the SAME timetables in my ‘stash’ of plane porn LOL. Yea, it is a sad day for airline dorkasaurus’ everywhere :/

    The timetable is a throwback to the days when marketing mattered and each carrier had its own sense of ‘style’. Even though it was printed material, it added a human touch to the travel experience (like the reservation center agent, airport CSAs, city ticket offices, skycaps who actually worked for the airline, etc). I think it is compelling that Southwest, which clings to the ‘old school’ mantra that marketing can actually contribute to the bottom line, was the final holdout of the printed schedule.

    Much like human beings working the check out lanes at the grocery…the timetable is something my kids will never know.

  38. For those of you who love airline collectibles, I recommend this show that is traveling the country. I saw some incredible TIMETABLES at this show when it was in NYC in the spring. It’s coming back in the fall. Great stuff there. Really enjoyed the “Eastern” table and enjoyed the retired guys who had wonderful memories and stories!!!


  39. Its quite amazing to see the airline dorks on here all doing the same things I did as a kid (and I thought I was the only one that did this – none of my friends could understand why I collected those things). I remember making my younger brother go into travel agencies and airline offices to get some of the schedules I missed or when I thought I had been in a few too many times. I remember a family trip to Portugal in the mid 80’s and one of the things I did was take the subway as close to the airport as possible and then walk the rest of the way for the purpose of watching the planes and grabbing as many schedules as possible. Then heading for downtown Lisbon where the airline offices were and getting even more.

    I guess the closest that comes to that in modern times is going online to see the route maps of airlines and seeing the list of cities the airline flies to and picking two random pairs of cities to see how often they fly there and when. Its just not the same.

  40. I hate to go into hyperspazz mode here, but where can one take an online gander at old OAGs? I mean OLD…like 60s and early 1970s.

    Also, for retro digital timetables and route maps featuring nonstop service from Fresno to Dayton, check out the most excellent sight maintained by a friend of mine:

  41. I did the exact same thing, alas I have none of them any more. They were thrown out at some point along my many moves. In my imagination, I was a 12-year old Frank Lorenzo — merging airlines to create the perfect carrier. It’s no wonder I grew up to be practically Republican.

  42. DRG
    I did the exact same thing, alas I have none of them any more. They were thrown out at some point along my many moves. In my imagination, I was a 12-year old Frank Lorenzo — merging airlines to create the perfect carrier.

    Speaking of memories, I worked for “Frank Lorenzo” in the early 80’s. He boarded my plane once as I was greeting passengers and he said with his hand held out for a handshake, “Do YOU know who I am?”

    I laughed and shook his hand.

    (He’s a scotch drinker)

  43. I thought I was the only one that did that. You sound like my long relative. (Actually until the time of 9-11 I was still gathering tons of them).

    Unfortunately in the mid 1990’s we suffered a flood and my many boxes of timetables, and other airline paraphernalia was ruined. I also had posters, letters, baggage tags, playing cards, so much stuff I cannot remember it all.

  44. I’m going to have to show this thread to my wife and kid
    I used to point at low flying international carriers in Mexico City and tell her where they were coming from and where they would go next
    Of course AF was coming from CDG and IB from MAD, but I also knew that LF came and went via DFW in the 80s
    My son thinks anyone with a box of old timetables has a screw loose
    I guess I got most of mine through the mails as the only airline in our town growing up was Texas International with Convair 600s
    I used timetables to route myself through every airport and on every possible carrier from prep school to home and back (and knew when/where best to get socked-in on the airline’s tab)
    I worked after school in a travel agency and eventually went to Kansas City to learn PARS from TWA thinking I’d work in an agency in college but never used it
    Timetables have now gone with that era, when air travel was an adventure, not a drudgery

  45. Dude, I love that photo. As a “die-hard” timetable collector, I fuly understand you. How I miss the “golden age” when every visit to an airport, even the smaller ones, meant for me coming back home with a bag full of goodies. I remember the first time I went to Madrid airport as a kid … I was in paradise : I had a pic taken at the Olympic airlines desk … I was so happy I could get so many timetables in a day !

  46. I have the very first timetable effective Aug 1st. 1983. Also 5 others the most recent dating Sep. 15, 1984. I will sell them if anyone is interested. They are in pristine condition.

  47. Loved to read this thread, it remmembered the old days, as a kid, anxious for the change of seasons to run all airline offices in Lisbon (Portugal) to pick their timetables. Really miss those days and the thrill do have new additions. And in my all travels used to go really early to the airports just to pick timetables. And when someone went on a trip, and asked me if I wanted something, always the same answer: bring me airline timetables. And have nice pieces, especially the last PanAm timetable.

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