Topic of the Week: Your Favorite Book About the Airline Industry

I’ve just finished re-reading (for the 10th time, probably) my favorite book ever written about the airline industry… Hard Landing by Thomas Petzinger Jr. If you’re looking for a compelling history of the airline industry from deregulation through the early 1990s centering around the chief executives who drove change, then this is by far the best book you’ll ever read. Back when I worked at America West, I even knew someone who gave the book to new hires and made them read it before starting. It’s that good.

But now, I’m hungry for more and since nobody has written Hard Landing 2 yet, I need to look elsewhere. What’s your favorite book about the industry? I’m not talking about books for enthusiasts and spotters. I’m talking about the business of airlines. Let’s hear your best suggestions in the comments.

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54 Responses to Topic of the Week: Your Favorite Book About the Airline Industry

  1. Andy says:

    Gordon Bethune’s From Worst to First – great read!

    • enplaned says:

      I’ve read it, and was unimpressed. There was a good book to be written about the Continental turnaround of the mid-90s, but this was not it.

  2. Chris says:

    Not a book, but fascinating about Cape Air :

  3. A says:

    “Boeing Versus Airbus” is a good read. Same author of The Sporty Game. First read it when it was newer, probably a decade or more ago. Obviously a lot has happened in the duopoly since then but the history still is relevant. Found it interesting how far Airbus has come from their scrappy beginnings.

  4. Dave says:

    “Frequent Flyer: One Plane, One Passenger, and the Spectacular Feat of Commercial Flight”, by Bob Reiss, is what began my fascination with the L-1011 back in high school. The bulk of the book’s content follows the life of a Delta TriStar, and branches off into topics such as service, maintenance, training, etc. It’s an easy read and he shares some cool stories. If you’re a TriStar fan, get this asap!

    Additionally, and this is kind of funny… “The Airline Passenger’s Guerrilla Handbook” (from the late 80s) is not really a novel-type book, but a collection of stats and anecdotes from some self-proclaimed travel expert dude. I got it when I was about 12 yrs old, and read it cover to cover dozens of times. Looking back on it now, I laugh at how it describes a 34″ seat pitch as tight. I’m sure I’m the only geek that has read this, but if you see a cheap used copy on Amazon or somewhere, pick it up – if for nothing other than nostalgia.

  5. Kilroy says:

    “Changing How the World Does Business” by Robert Frock is a good look at how FedEx started, the growing pains it went through, and how it eventually succeeded. Great book not only for insights on FedEx, but also as an example of a company that managed to make it past the painful startup times and growing years that shutter many young companies with strong potential.

  6. Denny says:

    An American Saga Juan Trippe and his Pan Am Empire, by Robert Daley. It’s an older book, published in 1980, but is an excellent story of the bigininng of Pan Am through the 747s, and as a result, a lot about the early days of the airline industry.

    • James Burke says:

      I really enjoyed ‘Skygods’ about Pan Am as well – it follows the company from start to the end.Robert Gandt is the author

    • JoEllen says:

      I too enjoyed SkyGods by Robert Gandt. It really paints a great picture of airline travel in it’s heyday peppered with humor and inside information about working for an airline from the CEO’s down to the janitors. From comments here, I’m rushing out to get a copy of Hard Landing as well.
      As an airline employee, I can’t get enough of it.

    • Eric L. says:

      A strong second on An American Saga. Fascinating story about Pan Am and the industry as a whole.

  7. Eric Morris says:

    I read Hard Landing and Rapid Descent in succession but cannot recall if I think one is better than the other. My recollection is both were informative.

  8. Ben in DC says:

    I found “Rapid Descent” to be a fascinating read about deregulation. You learn a lot about Frank Lorenzo, which I found really interesting but it may just bring back nightmares for some. It’s hard to find, because I think it is out of print. Amazon has a lot of used copies though. Might even be able to dig mine out for you

  9. SEAN says:

    Stuck at the airport by Harriet Baaskas.

  10. Mark of OKC says:

    Character & Characters: The Spirit of Alaska Airlines

  11. Marcis says:

    As an AA fan, I would say A Spirit of Greatness… It reminds me there is still hope :)

  12. enplaned says:

    There aren’t that many great books about the airline industry. Hard Landing stands out as an exception.

    Siobhan Creaton wrote a genuinely good book about Ryanair:

    It’s probably dated by now (perhaps she’s updated it?), but this is absolutely worth reading.

  13. enplaned says:

    Not as good as the book on Ryanair by Siobhan Creaton, but still worth reading is the book on Go (the in-house LCC that British Airways started as an easyJet competitor) by Barbara Cassani, Go’s founder:

  14. calvinbrookman says:

    I’m a big fan of “Splash of Colors” about Braniff.

  15. Mike says:

    Dirty Tricks, by Martyn Gregory. Fantastic read about how BA tried to screw Branson out of existence and failed. Case study in respecting your enemy.

  16. enplaned says:

    Rare, but worth reading — book by Lamar Muse (first CEO of Southwest) about the early days of Southwest.

  17. enplaned says:

    Dated, and about Branson’s development of Virgin (not just Virgin Atlantic), but covers the early days of Virgin Atlantic and does it well:

  18. enplaned says:

    Rare, expensive but worth getting your hands on it:

    Development and destruction of PSA (Pacific Southwest Airlines) which was predecessor and model for Southwest Airlines. They did it all, well before Southwest started, but the last CEO believed (I am not making this up) that PSA needed to be like United to succeed in the deregulated era, so basically abandoned the earlier Southwest-like business model. Yeah, what could have been.

    Expensive to find, but worth reading.

  19. Michael Lyons says:

    “The Airline That Pride Almost Bought” by Michael Murphy – the struggle to save Continental from Frank Lorenzo. Fascinating read – out of print but you can still find it at some libraries.

    • Arubaman says:

      An excellent choice. I really didn’t think anyone who reads this blog would even know of this book’s existence. Read this first, then read “Frank Lorenzo & The Destruction of Eastern Airlines” as cited by Chris Martin below. Again, well done.

  20. PK says:

    +1 on Hard Landing, it made me switch from software to the airline industry.

  21. Yo says:

    Flying Colors, all about Braniff and its post deregulation rise and rapid fall. Fascinating book.

  22. Chris Martin says:

    Interesting book on the demise of Eastern Airlines:
    Grounded: Frank Lorenzo and the Destruction of Eastern Airlines
    Jul 1990
    by Aaron Bernstein

  23. chip says:

    I personally like Skygods – The Fall of Pan Am, by Robert Gandt 1995. What a great story about the Golden Age of aviation and the turmoil of deregulation. Chip Stevens

  24. bolobar says:

    Hard Landing is outstanding.
    My favorite is Airlines of the United States since 1914 by R.E.G. Davis.
    A most detailed history of the industry prior to de-regulation.

    • Southeasterner says:

      I have to credit R.E.G. Davis for getting me into aviation. I grew up reading and re-reading his books on various airlines (Delta, Aeroflot, Lufthansa) that turned me into an aviation nut. I have since passed them on to my son who is too young to read but already loves the pictures and route maps.

      RIP R.E.G. Davis!

  25. jmanly says:

    Checked this book out on Amazon. Serious stuff here. But for fun, Michael Crichton’s novel Airframe (which was also published in 1996) is a good read.

    Especially if you aren’t involved in the industry, you’re likely to learn some interesting things. You’ll also have more appreciation for the different entities that must combine to manufacture what we call an ‘airplane’.


  26. Ann Wilkerson says:

    I have 2 favorites: “Sky Gods” by Robert Gandt is an account of the fall of Pan Am with the impact of management decisions intertwined with the perspective of the author, a Pan Am pilot.

    My other favorite is “Fasten Your Seatbelts” by Valerie Lester. This book contains the true stories of the heroism of flight attendants. If you think it is too specialized on the flight attendant profession, you will be missing out on a great read.


  27. DesertGhost says:

    My favorite is relatively new, “American Airlines, US Airways and the Creation of the World’s Largest Airline” by Ted reed and Dan Reed. History and current events rolled into one book.

  28. David M says:

    Just to mention something different, “Wings of Paradise: Hawaii’s Incomparable Airlines” is good if you want a history of Hawaii’s airlines.

  29. Tom M says:

    Aerotropolis was an interesting take on how airports are critical to commerce and the growth of airports in China. DFW has evolved into that model and I wonder if DEN won’t be similar after another 10-20 years.

  30. Frank Frick says:

    “Coffee, Tea, or Me” – Trudy Baker & Rachel Jones.

  31. george says:

    FLYING HIGH about Neeleman was quite good.

  32. Jason Steele says:

    Emergency!: Crisis in the Cockpit by Stanley Stewart is as much an aviation book as it is an industry book. Couldn’t put it down!

  33. Gary Leff says:

    Hard Landing was the book that first fueled my passion, I discovered it browsing the stacks at a Borders not long after it came out and I couldn’t put it down.

    Rapid Descent was good, though not in the same league.

    Ready anything by Robert Serling that you haven’t already read! From the Captain to the Colonel (Eastern), Eagle (American), Maverick (Continental)…

  34. Jon says:

    I could not put down Blue Streak by Barbara Peterson, it’s about the starting up of Jet Blue.

    Also a book called Touching History, it’s written by an airline pilot and it’s about 9/11 and what went on in the aviation/airline industry that day, I couldn’t put it down either. It’s very well written

  35. Kevin says:

    Flying the Line volumes 1&2 by Hopkins. Surprised if you have not read these.

  36. kevinaalexander says:

    I think I’ve read Hard Landing 2-3 times now? That one sets the bar pretty high.

    If you’re looking for something on the other end of the spectrum, “Non Stop- a turbulent history of Northwest Airlines,” by Jack El-Hai is great.
    This is a coffee table book, and is loaded with great pics & other info.

  37. Farontino says:

    Coming from Canada, my two must-reads are “Straight From The Top – The Truth About Air Canada” by former AC president Robert Milton and “Air monopoly: how Robert Milton’s Air Canada won and lost control of Canada’s skies” by Keith McArthur. Both great reads that describe the take-over of Canadian Airlines by Air Canada in the late 90s in great detail. They were not exactly number one on best seller lists but I have re-read these books numerous times. I look forward to reading the suggestions from other followers of this blog!

  38. Donald says:

    A recent book by a British Airways pilot “Skyfaring” by Mark Vanhoenacker, brought back
    many memories. I am a retired line pilot, its about the flying and the magic of the airlines.
    Not about buyouts, mergers, and ego, its about the flying, the weather and traveling the

  39. Dan says:

    I’ll add my recommendation for “Hard Landings,” and add a nod for my sentimental favorite, “North Star Over My Shoulder,” beautifully written by Robert Busk, and a tale of classic, WWII USAAF and post-war TWA flying. (

    But for a post-modern look at flying in the post-deregulation, post-9/11, and post-politeness age, you’ll find nothing funnier than “4-Day Follies. (

  40. Second that motion, my favorite as well.

  41. Jackie says:

    For a few chuckles, I enjoyed the book Plane Insanity by Elliott Hester. It is funny and sometimes frightening. Enjoy.

  42. I still enjoy rereading “Hard Landing” from time to time. Just like Dave, I read “The Airline Passenger’s Guerrilla Handbook” cover to cover more than a few times, I still keep the well-worn, dog-eared copy on my bookshelf.

    Two other favorites, John Nance’s “Splash of Colors: The Self-Destruction of Braniff International” and Robert Serling’s “Eagle: The Story of American Airlines”.

  43. Bill Hough says:

    In addition to REG Davies’ classic airline histories, I’d recommend the “Great Airliners” series published by World Transport Press back in the 1990s. They did the CV-880/990, Boeing 720, Boeing 747SP, Douglas DC-8, -9, -10 and the Lockheed 188 Electra. I heard Air Britain will republish Jon Proctor’s book on the Convair jets.

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