5 unusual airlines that actually existed

(CNN) – In the late 1970s, the US government deregulated the airline industry, removing federal control over fares, routes, and entry of new airlines.

As a result, many new airlines have emerged since the 1980s, some of which have been particularly unusual. Let’s take a look.

Pat Airways

Dog flight: Pet Airways’ Alice Tognotti prepares a passenger dog for the journey.

Dave Weaver/AP

Founded in 2009 in Delray Beach, Florida, Pet Airways was exclusively dedicated to pets like cats and dogs, or puppies as they called them.

They flew without owners in the main cabin of a specially adapted aircraft, in which the seats were replaced with trunks.

Each plane could carry about 50 pets, and “escorts” checked them every 15 minutes. Before takeoff, the animals had a pre-flight walk and had a toilet break in specially equipped airport lounges.

The idea was that concerned pet owners would rather fly with their pets through a dedicated airline rather than keep them on board their own flight in the cargo hold. Description of the Pet Airways website as “dangerous” due to sudden changes in temperature and lack of proper lighting.

The airline operated for about two years, serving a dozen US cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Denver, Chicago, and Atlanta. Fares started at $150 and could go up to $1,200 depending on the size of the animal.

In 2012 the airline ran into financial problems and began canceling flights, and shut down entirely the following year after moving about 9,000 pets.

However, its website is still active, with the message saying “Flights will start, post-Covid, hopefully mid-2022,” suggesting the beloved airline could have a second life on the horizon.

Hooters Air

Spin off: "horns girl" Hillary Vinson (foreground) attends to passengers on Flight 2003.

Spin-off: “Hooters Girl” Hillary Vinson (foreground) serving passengers on a 2003 flight.

Eric S. Lesser/Getty Images

In 2002, Robert Brooks, chairman of restaurant chain Hooters, acquired Pace Airlines, a charter airline with a fleet of eight aircraft, mostly Boeing 737s. The following year, he turned it into Hooters Air, an airline modeled after the restaurant chain.

Its difference was, in addition to the bright orange livery with bulging eyes of an owl, that there were two so-called “hoot girls” on board, who communicated with passengers and arranged quizzes with gadget prizes – in the same T-shirt – and orange shorts “uniform” popularized by restaurants.

However, they did not serve food or perform duties on board as they were handled by three FAA-certified flight attendants.

The airline was based in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, a popular holiday destination known for its golf courses and beach resorts, which lost direct air service as a result of the general restructuring of commercial aviation after 9/11.

With budget prices and direct connections to cities like Atlanta, Newark, and Baltimore, Hooters Air attracted a wide variety of passengers—mainly golfers and tourists, but also families.

However, it was never successful enough to make money and went out of business in early 2006 due to rising fuel prices in the wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

Airline Lord

Wing and Prayer: The Lord's Airline aircraft at Miami International Airport, August 1988.

Wing and Prayer: The Lord’s Airline aircraft at Miami International Airport, August 1988.

Guido Alieri

It is strictly forbidden to drink alcohol on board, Bibles and Torahs instead of in-flight magazines, only religious films are shown, and a quarter of the ticket price is devoted to fund missionary work: These were the unique features of The Lord’s Airline, founded by New Jersey businessman Ari Marshall in 1985 when he bought an old DC-8 that was to be the airline’s sole aircraft.

The plan was to have three weekly flights from Miami to Ben Gurion Airport in Israel, offering a direct route to Jerusalem, about 30 miles away.

At that time, religious pilgrims wishing to reach the Holy Land had to fly with a transfer to New York. “The Russians have their own airline. The British have. Playboy does too. So why shouldn’t the Lord have his own airline?” Marshall said in 1986, according to the Associated Press.

However, by 1987, the airline was unable to obtain an FAA license due to incomplete modifications and maintenance work on the aircraft. Investors got nervous and fired Marshall, appointing a new board of directors to move forward.

The new chairman, Theodore Lischash, disagreed with Marshall and they began to squabble in the press.

Eventually, Leashash and his brother showed up at Marshall’s house demanding corporate records, which, according to newspaper reports, led to a fight and Marshall sued them for trespassing. They were acquitted, but Lord’s Airline eventually died, and the plane was eventually written off.

Express and SmintAir smokers

Smoke and mirrors: Smintyre aircraft model.  The real version never materialized.

Smoke and mirrors: Smintyre aircraft model. The real version never materialized.

Karlheinz Schindler/picture-alliance/dpa/AP

The FAA banned smoking on all US domestic flights in 1990, but William Walts and George Richardson, two entrepreneurs from Brevard County in Florida, were unhappy about it. In early 1993, they decided to get around this rule by creating an airline based on a private club. It required a $25 membership fee and was only open to people over the age of 21.

The airline was to be based at the Space Coast Regional Airport in Titusville, Florida, and planned to offer steaks and hamburgers on board, as well as free cigarettes.

However, almost a year after it was announced, the airline still had neither a license nor an aircraft, and although the founders reportedly claimed to have recruited over 5,000 members, regulators denied Smokers Express a license to operate, causing it to disappear in a puff of smoke without taking off.
In 2006, the idea was redesigned by German entrepreneur Alexander Schoppmann. announced his intention to start Smoker’s International Airways, or SmintAir for short.

Schoppmann, who smoked 30 cigarettes a day, wanted to run a daily service between Tokyo and Düsseldorf, his hometown, home to a large number of Japanese expatriates, and the European offices of hundreds of Japanese companies.

At the time, there were still significant numbers of smokers in both countries. However, SmintAir suffered the same fate as Smokers Express: it failed to raise the capital needed to get started and never took off.

MGM Grand Air

Opened in 1987, MGM Grand Air was a first-class, ultra-luxury only airline that initially operated single-route flights from Los Angeles to JFK using Boeing 727s and Douglas DC-8s in luxury configurations: the rule was that no flight could carry more than 33 passengers, although aircraft could carry 100 or more as standard.

The airline promised no queues, no check-in, no waiting for luggage—porters carried the bags onto the plane and returned them at their destination—and even offered the optional door-to-door limousine service. Dedicated lounges at both airports offer luxurious amenities and concierge services.

On board were five flight attendants and a stand-up bar, as well as separate meeting bays. A full meal was always available with fine wine and champagne, and the toilets had golden faucets and monogrammed soaps. All this was offered for a little more than the cost of a first class ticket on other airlines.

Initially popular with celebrities and the very wealthy, MGM Grand Air eventually opened up more routes but struggled to fill all 33 seats on its planes.

Operations slowed in the 1990s as private jets became more common, and in 1995 the airline was sold and changed its name to Champion Air, offering charter flights to sports teams and government agencies. It eventually closed completely in 2008.

Top image: A Hooters aircraft arrives at Newark Liberty International Airport in Newark, New Jersey on April 3, 2003. Photo: Matthew Peyton/Getty Images

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