Oldest Airline in the World

Q: Which is the oldest airline?

Tracing the genealogies of various carriers can be complicated, as many companies have changed names and identities. But most airline historians (there really are such things) agree that the world’s oldest continuously operating airline is Amsterdam-based KLM (that’s Koninklijke Luchtvaart Maatschappij for those of you speaking Dutch), which lists its founding date as 1919. Other pioneers include Colombia’s Avianca, also harking back to 1919, and even the national airline of Bolivia, LAB, which started flying in 1925.

In the USA, Northwest is the oldest, beginning operations in 1926. (Northwest’s pilot uniforms pay tribute to their airline’s origins as a mail carrier by featuring the words ‘US Mail’ in the center of their emblems.) As many people know, KLM and Northwest joined several years ago in the first of the big strategic alliances, but for whatever reason they never exploited their status as two of the world’s first airlines.


This Q&A is part of a collection that originally appeared on Salon.com. Patrick Smith, 38, is an erstwhile airline pilot, retired punk rocker and air travel columnist. His book, Ask the Pilot (Riverhead) was voted “Best Travel Book of 2004” by Amazon.com. Patrick has traveled to more than 55 countries and always asks for a window seat. He lives near Boston.