Northwest Orient Airlines’ 747 inaugural service - 1970

The Queen of the Skies was made for routes like these

December 2017 marks the end of scheduled 747 service for Delta Air Lines, and with the final aircraft in its fleet making a farewell tour, it’s appropriate to take a look back at how merger partner Northwest Airlines began service with this type back in 1970.

Northwest Orient, as they were styling themselves, had placed orders for ten of the all-new Boeing 747-100 in 1966, not long after Pan Am had launched the type, and they started receiving their jets only a few months after Pan Am, as well. All ten were delivered in 1970-71, and Northwest topped up its order with five more 747-100B longer-range variants to be delivered in 1971.

By 1980 Northwest had started to swap in the newer, more-capable 747-200 (as well as a handful of all-cargo models), and would later go on to be the launch customer for the extended 747-400. The -400s would pass on to Delta when the companies merged, but the remaining -200s were quickly disposed of, as well as the all-cargo subfleet.

Northwest’s system map in Spring 1970 showed a mix of local-service flights across the upper Midwest and Mountain states, with trunkline services among many major Northeast and Great Lakes cities, plus new lines to Florida and California, and of course long-haul service across the Pacific. Minneapolis and Seattle were their main domestic bases, but they also had a significant presence at Chicago, and had even scored Chicago-Hawaii nonstop authority (in competition with United.) NWA was using several types of Boeing 707 and 727, and a dwindling number of Lockheed Electra prop-jets to fly the system.

Photo by  Ken Fielding  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Photo by Ken Fielding via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Northwest’s plan was to use the 747 to replace long-range 707s, giving them significantly more cargo and passenger capacity for revenue growth, as a “frequency-driven” model was not appropriate for the traffic demands of that era, not to mention less-capable air-traffic control and more-cramped airports. And by the late 1970s, 707s would be relegated to just flights from Tokyo to its Asian stations.

From the collection of my good friend, Arthur Na.

From the collection of my good friend, Arthur Na.

Eventually Northwest would place 747s on many domestic routes, so much so that in the early 1980s their radio jingle called them the “wide-cabin airline”. The phase-out of this remarkable aircraft is also a reminder that there used to be a time when even coach service had both comfortable legroom as well as seat width…

NW_timetable_cover_19700426.png

The first aircraft to enter service flew a very light schedule to help train flight crews; just out and back from Minneapolis headquarters to New York City. While the timetable called for a June 15 start date, in fact the first flights didn’t begin until June 22, 1970:

  • Flight 232 left Minneapolis 12:30 pm, arrived New York JFK 3:59 pm
  • Flight 221 left JFK 5:30 pm, arrived MSP 7:19 pm

At July 1, 1970 the pace for that first aircraft picked up, and three more joined the fleet. The aircraft routed in this sequence, taking four days to make a complete circuit, with lots of slack time in Minneapolis for training and familiarization:

Day one

  • Flight 203: Depart JFK 9:00 am, arrive MSP 10:47 am
  • Flight 232: Depart MSP 12:30 pm, arrive JFK 3:59 pm
  • Flight 221: Depart JFK 5:30 pm, arrive MSP 7:19 pm
  • Maintenance & training checks at Minneapolis

Day two

  • Flight 230: Depart MSP 6:15 pm, arrive JFK 9:38 pm

Day three

  • Flight 7: Depart JFK 10:00 am, stop at Chicago 11:17-12:20 pm, stop at Seattle 2:15-3:45 pm, arrive Tokyo 5:35 pm on day 4

Day four

  • Flight 4: Depart Tokyo 8:20 pm, stop at Seattle 12:50-2:40 pm earlier the same day, stop at Chicago 8:10-9:10 pm, arrive JFK 11:58 pm
Photo by  clipperarctic  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Photo by clipperarctic via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

The Minneapolis-San Francisco-Honolulu-Tokyo route was added next, starting August 1 with every-other-day service, going to daily on September 1. The six aircraft in the fleet could then route like this:

Day one

  • Flight 9:  Depart Minneapolis 8:15 am, stop at San Francisco 9:50-11:00 am, stop at Honolulu 12:55-2:30 pm, arrive Tokyo 5:10 pm on day 2

Day two

  • Flight 4: Depart Tokyo 8:20 pm, stop at Seattle 12:50-2:40 pm earlier the same day, stop at Chicago 8:10-9:10 pm, arrive JFK 11:58 pm

Day three

  • Flight 203: Depart JFK 9:00 am, arrive MSP 10:47 am
  • Flight 232: Depart MSP 12:30 pm, arrive JFK 3:59 pm
  • Flight 221: Depart JFK 5:30 pm, arrive MSP 7:19 pm
  • Maintenance & training checks at Minneapolis

Day four

  • Flight 230: Depart MSP 6:15 pm, arrive JFK 9:38 pm

Day five

  • Flight 7: Depart JFK 10:00 am, stop at Chicago 11:17-12:20 pm, stop at Seattle 2:15-3:45 pm, arrive Tokyo 5:35 pm on day 6

Day six

  • Flight 10: Depart Tokyo 9:00 pm, stop at Honolulu 9:00-10:45 am earlier the same day, stop at San Francisco 6:20-7:20 pm, arrive MSP 12:35 am on day 1
NW 747 tour wing.png
The 747-200s and even a couple -100s were painted in the"bowling shoe" livery, which remains my favorite.

The 747-200s and even a couple -100s were painted in the"bowling shoe" livery, which remains my favorite.

Final Resting Places

Delta has preserved one 747-400 at their big museum in Atlanta, and the forward fuselage of Northwest’s first 747, N601US, is on display at the Smithsonian National Air & Space museum in Washington, DC.

 

Also see…

http://www.startribune.com/delta-s-747s-a-vestige-of-northwest-s-heyday-will-visit-minnesota-for-the-final-time/464645563/

 

Our airport guide to Minneapolis/St. Paul

Our article on Northwest Airlines’ “Mall of America” Asian flights

Our Northwest Airlines folder on Pinterest

Delta Air Lines' Asian mini-hub in Portland

Image by  JKruggel  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Image by JKruggel via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

A clever improvisation

In the second half of the 1980s, management at Delta Air Lines had come to the conclusion that the carrier had to either grow significantly or else be at risk of a hostile takeover. Growth it had to be, and they used the strength of their Atlanta hub to open up new routes across the Atlantic, feeder services throughout the Southeast, and out to nearly every major city in the U.S., including Hawaii.

By Richard Silagi - http://www.airliners.net/photo/Western-Airlines/McDonnell-Douglas-DC-10-10/1823207/L/, GNU license

By Richard Silagi - http://www.airliners.net/photo/Western-Airlines/McDonnell-Douglas-DC-10-10/1823207/L/, GNU license

But that wasn’t going to be enough: Delta had strength on the East Coast and across the South, but only tendrils to the West. A merger opportunity presented itself with Western Airlines, headquartered in Los Angeles, with a smartly-run mountain-states hub in Salt Lake City, and strong coverage up and down the West Coast, Hawaii, and Mexico. In April 1987 the carriers combined. Delta, however, knew to secure their position as a “top 3” US carrier, they would have to grow even further west…

Ambitions for Asia, but with one big problem

By this time United had acquired Pan Am’s Pacific system, and Northwest Orient was continuing to open up new services (and was on the hunt for acquiring another carrier themselves). Delta was not going to be able to buy their way into a large network like they did with Western, so they were going to have to build it from scratch.

Even in the 1980s, Delta’s Atlanta hub was the largest operation of its sort, easily capable of filling flights to Frankfurt, Paris, and London as the Sunbelt’s industry continued to grow and Florida continued to add attractions and beach developments. Opening a route to Tokyo would certainly be successful – and as Delta would be the official airline for the 1996 Olympics, they had to have an Asian connection to the city.

Photo by  Aero Icarus  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Aero Icarus via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

But – the flagship of Delta’s fleet, the three-engined widebody Lockheed L-1011 Tristar, simply did not have the range to get to Asia from Atlanta. Even its high-performance model, the L-1011-500, was best suited for runs to Germany or Hawaii – not nearly far enough. And Lockheed wasn’t going to make a better TriStar for Delta, because they had just quit the civilian airliner market.

So Delta ordered the new McDonnell Douglas MD-11 long-range widebody (itself the ultimate derivative of the venerable DC-10), but those birds wouldn’t start to be available until 1990. Delta needed a solution to open up Transpacific flights, quickly, before American or Continental moved into the market in earnest.

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    Photo by  Dean Morley  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Dean Morley via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Options from the West

Not only was Delta constrained by the capabilities of its fleet, it was also constrained by the location of its new Western Airlines assets:

  • Los Angeles had ideal local demand for Transpacific service, and could use the many Delta/Western flights to feed connecting traffic. And the L-1011-500 might be just able to make Tokyo or Seoul (perhaps with a brief refueling stop in Alaska.) But there were no government-issued route authorities available to Japan or Korea in the late 1980s: United and Northwest had already claimed all the new slots and were using 747 equipment that could fly them nonstop.
  • Salt Lake City, while smaller, nevertheless had an excellent ability to corral connecting traffic. But its high elevation meant the TriStar had no chance of reaching Asia.
  • Seattle was a major terminal point for the combined carrier, but Northwest and United dominated all the possible routes westward.
  • Portland? United had just given up its once-per-week flight from Portland to Tokyo-Narita in favor of beefing up its Seattle service, so there was no westward competition… and a TriStar leaving PDX would have enough range to make Japan or Korea.
PDX-entrance-underglass.JPG

PDX marks the spot

Portland in the late 1980s was a city in transition, moving from its regional economy and industrial and agricultural base to its globally-connected future of arts and crafts, technology, music and sports gear, and cuisine. It wasn’t yet the “spirit of the ‘90s” boomtown but it was growing – and being in the Pacific Northwest, of course it had a significant Asian population and important business ties to Japan, Korea, and China.

DL-WA-merger_at_PDX-map.png

The combined Delta and Western route network that served Portland also happened to have ideally-timed connecting flights from all the carrier’s hubs, as well as San Francisco, Seattle, Vancouver, and Anchorage.

Even before the merger with Western was consummated in April, on March 2, 1987 Delta started 5-per-week nonstops from Portland to Tokyo-Narita with the L-1011-500, with the flight originating in Atlanta.

DL_timetable-cover_19861215.png
DL_timetable-ad-1987-Tokyo.png

That seemed to work

Delta was immediately pleased with the small, elegant “scissor hub” operation at PDX: they occupied a handful of gates at the end of Concourse D and Customs processing for inbound passengers was literally one floor below. Travelers could go through immigration and be back on their airplane bound for hubs at Atlanta, Cincinnati, Dallas, or Salt Lake in far less time than it would have taken to handle them at Los Angeles or San Francisco.  As predicted, the route was successful.

Delta had no ambition to turn Portland into a massive hub; Salt Lake City was already built up and handled intra-western connections at a low cost, plus Portland was too far north to capture California-to-Midwest/East Coast traffic. All it needed to do was pipeline Asian passengers and freight onward to Delta’s primary hubs, at a modest investment.

DL_timetable-cover_19871215.png

A second Transpacific route was opened in December 1987, to Seoul, also with the TriStar. At first the Tokyo flight simply continued on to Korea, but was made a nonstop in its own right in 1988. With two routes, the timing of arrivals and departures at PDX was re-tuned so that the Seoul run came in and out almost wingtip-to-wingtip with the Tokyo flight.

DL_timetable-cover_19880701.png
DL_timetable-cover_19891215.png
DL_timetable-ad-1989-Bangkok.png

Encouraged by success to Korea, Delta extended the route from Seoul to Taipei in July 1988, and from Taipei to Bangkok in December 1989, taking advantage of unused route authorities. Finally in 1991, they launched a Portland-Nagoya, Japan nonstop.

DL-transpac-PDX-1991-map.png
DL-PDX-hub-diagram-1991.png

The disappointing MD-11 (was good for Portland)

Delta put its new MD-11s on the Asian routes as soon as they were delivered, and by 1993 the TriStars were on their way out of the Pacific (though it took them until 2001 to finally be retired by Delta.) The extra freight capacity on the new aircraft was appreciated and profitable, and the relatively-shorter hops across the Pacific from Portland were ideal for training the crews who would take the MD-11 on the anticipated super-long-range flights.

Except the MD-11 never met its promised performance. Too heavy and underpowered when fully loaded to attain the range of a new 747-400 despite its smaller capacity, nearly every airline who bought it immediately started looking for a replacement. If Delta wanted to fly nonstop from Atlanta to Tokyo, they’d have to do so with severe constraints on how heavy they could load it.

Which meant Delta would not be dismantling Portland right away, despite other challenges that airline was facing in the 1990s:

  • Retreat from its large base at Chicago O’Hare in the early 1990s
  • Acquiring many European routes (including a mini-hub at Frankfurt, Germany) as well as the Boston-New York-Washington shuttle, from defunct Pan Am – the Frankfurt hub would close in 1997
  • A fumbled attempt to build a low-cost “airline within an airline”, Delta Express, to handle tourist routes into Florida from Eastern and Midwestern cities.
  • Big construction projects at the Cincinnati and Dallas/Ft. Worth hubs
  • Southwest Airlines expanding in force along the West Coast and at Salt Lake City, depressing yields throughout the former Western Airlines territory
  • Actually getting authorities and landing slots to run Los Angeles – Tokyo, as well as Los Angeles – (Anchorage fuel stop) – Hong Kong

Delta was getting to be a very big airline and was facing big-organization challenges, but they did appreciate that Portland was still an efficient and passenger-pleasing element of their Pacific strategy. So the carrier invested modestly to build additional gates and a premium lounge, and even put their MD-11 maintenance base there. From a modest 4-gate beginning, Delta was operating 20 gates at PDX by 1998.

DL-PDX-map-1998.png
PDX-end-of-D-concourse.JPG

With Delta’s attention focused on Europe in the mid-90s, the links to Anchorage, Bangkok, and Taipei were cut, but a flight to New York was added. In 1998 they added Boston and Las Vegas domestic service, plus a new route to Fukuoka, Japan, and announced service to Osaka, as well.

DL_timetable-cover-19980601.png
DL-transpac-PDX-1998-map.png
DL-PDX-hub-diagram-1998.png
MD-11 landing at Narita Airport.   
  
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  Photo by  saku_y  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

MD-11 landing at Narita Airport. Photo by saku_y via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

And they were confident enough in their Japanese traffic to start Atlanta-Tokyo nonstops with the MD-11, even though it would have to fly with weight restrictions. That meant Atlanta had double-daily service to Tokyo in Summer 1998; one nonstop and one flight via Portland.

(Don’t just blame it on) the Asian economic crisis or September 11

Despite Southeast Asia’s severe recession, originally caused by exchange rate manipulation in Thailand in 1997, Delta was still doing good passenger and freight business well into 1998 – and was confident enough in their own forecasts to add extra flights as described above.

But by Fall 1998 the crisis had moved well beyond Southeast Asia and pushed South Korea, Japan, China and Hong Kong into economic free-fall: outbound tourism evaporated and imports of US foods, energy, and manufactured goods collapsed.

In response, Delta cut its Osaka route before it even started, and stopped running the one-stop service from Atlanta to Tokyo – instead, shifting the one-stop flight to their second-largest hub, Cincinnati.

Those cuts weren’t sufficient to keep Transpacific service viable, however, as the “dot-com crash” in the USA started to gather momentum. In April 1999, Delta had to drop its Portland-Seoul and Portland-Fukuoka flights, leaving it with just Tokyo and Nagoya nonstops. Domestic service to technology center Boston was also dropped then.

The loss of technology jobs in Portland, coupled with the hit to freight volume as Japanese consumers stopped buying expensive (to them) Oregon blueberries, Washington apples, and Pacific-coast salmon, meant that PDX itself could no longer contribute strong local traffic to Asian flights.

Even by 1998, Delta had stopped running a full schedule of flights between Portland and Los Angeles, keeping only one round-trip between the cities; Southwest and Alaska Airlines had captured much of the volume up and down the West Coast by then. Delta was not operating LAX as a hub at this time and essentially abandoned many of the shorter-range legacy Western Airlines routes it picked up in the merger. Likewise, Delta had downgraded the Portland-San Francisco and Portland-Vancouver services from a full-size 727 to the cramped 50-seat Canadair Regional Jet. This meant there was less feed available from the coastal cities to connect onto the Asian flights.

While the concept of airline alliances was still in its early stage in the late 1990s, Delta had struck up an arrangement with Korean Air for joint sales on that carrier’s Seoul-Chicago-Atlanta and Seoul-New York-Washington services, cushioning the impact on Delta’s network of dropping its flight to Korea. But Delta did not have any partners to connect with at Tokyo-Narita (a problem that never was solved even after the merger with Northwest), and this too made it more difficult to sell seats on the run to Portland.

DL_777-at-ATL-2006.JPG

Another indirect strike against the Portland operation was Delta’s introduction in late 1999 of its replacement for the MD-11: the Boeing 777-200. Initially Delta put these aircraft on services to Europe, but its capability to fly Atlanta-Tokyo nonstop with a full load meant the clock would be running out for the Portland scissor hub.

ATL-DL_MD11_at_gate_RonAllen-scheme.png

MD-11 maintenance was relocated to Atlanta, and in September 2000 the announcement was made that the PDX flights to Nagoya and Tokyo would be ending with the April 1, 2001 schedule update, and the city would just be a “spoke” for its hubs at Atlanta, Salt Lake City, Cincinnati, and Dallas/Ft. Worth. So even before 9/11 and its devastating impact on the world’s air travel, Portland was already off the international grid.

Back on the map, for now

Photo by  Cory Barnes  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Cory Barnes via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

After the world’s economy had shaken off the Asian currency crisis and post-9/11 shock, freight and passenger demand started to pick up again over the North Pacific. But it would be Northwest Airlines who would re-start service from Portland to Tokyo, where that airline had a mini-hub at Narita. NWA used its new-generation A330, starting in April 2004. This service has continued through the present day, although when Northwest and Delta merged, Delta assigned one of their slightly smaller, long-range 767-300 aircraft to the route.

PDX_DL-763atgate.JPG

However, with Delta starting to dismantle its Tokyo-Narita operation, and adding significant Transpacific capacity out of Seattle, the Portland service is once again at risk. Will the route remain viable in Delta’s eyes on the basis of local passenger and cargo demand? Will Delta’s joint-venture partner Korean Air start service to Seoul, giving Delta rationale to drop the Tokyo flight? Or will one of the Japanese carriers decide to move onto the route?

Photo by  Andrew Nash  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Andrew Nash via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

United - Transpacific Inaugural April 1983

Executives at United’s headquarters just outside Chicago must have been beyond frustrated in the early 1980s. They were the biggest airline in the U.S., yet for twenty years had been rejected to start international services, time and again. And not having international experience meant they weren’t getting preferential status when new route authorities were opened; a classic catch-22. United had made a big filing with the US Civil Aeronautics Board in the late 1960s to start Asia service, but not only were they rejected, their duopoly with Pan Am to Hawaii was broken apart and they had to compete with Western and Continental on what had been their lucrative Los Angeles/San Francisco-Honolulu traffic!

Northwest Orient and Pan Am had Asia; Pan Am and TWA had Europe and the Mideast; Braniff and Pan Am had Latin America. Braniff, Delta, and even little Air Florida had received European routes in the late 1970s – and Braniff had been granted flights to Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore! When both Braniff and Air Florida had gone out of business, none of the available authorities went to United.

Photo by Ralf Manteufel via Wikimedia Commons, GNU 1.2 license

Photo by Ralf Manteufel via Wikimedia Commons, GNU 1.2 license

The Japanese government in the 1970s and 1980s took a dim view of letting US carriers expand services to Tokyo any further; while Japan Air Lines still had the largest single-carrier market share across the Pacific, agreements after World War II allowed both Pan Am and Northwest Orient generous “fifth-freedom” rights to pick passengers and freight up in Japan and take them to other points in Asia, and this put JAL into serious competition on both sides of the island chain. While Japan also had similar rights beyond the USA, it was only used on one route to Brazil, so they did not consider the treaty to be well-balanced.

JAL wanted to fly to additional points in America, but was not keen on the prospect of giving NWA or Pan Am an even greater assortment of cities to fly to Tokyo from as a result of negotiations with the US government. Talks went on for years, until someone had the idea to suggest giving United Airlines a route to Japan. United would not have “fifth-freedom” rights … and United’s massive domestic operation could put NWA and Pan Am at a tactical disadvantage. Both elements appealed to the Japanese side, and it was agreed: United would get a Seattle-Tokyo slot, and JAL would get access to both Seattle and Chicago. And Northwest would go from having a monopoly on the Seattle run to having two strong competitors in one blow.

Once the US government agreed on Japan’s conditions, United lobbied hard to pick up landing rights at Hong Kong, where there was an unused daily frequency after Braniff’s collapse. Hong Kong’s government was agreeable, but United would have to fly there without stopping in Japan.

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  Photo by  clipperarctic  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by clipperarctic via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

United’s fleet of seventeen 747-100s, delivered from 1970-1972, would be stretched thin on services to Hawaii as well as the Tokyo flight, but the airline’s large and more-recently built fleet of DC-10-10s was the “lightweight” version – enough range to handle flights to Hawaii or from California to New York, but not nearly enough to make Japan, much less another four hours’ flying to Hong Kong.

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  Photo by  contri  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by contri via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The solution came from across the northern border: Vancouver-based carrier CP Air was willing to lease United three longer-range DC-10-30s, and this would be just enough to cover the schedule. Plus, United was quite familiar with the DC-10 so crew training for -30 version would be minimal.

On April 2, 1983, United started its Tokyo service with six weekly nonstops from Seattle/Tacoma, daily except Tuesdays, and on Tuesdays they offered a nonstop from Portland, Oregon, using the 747-100 on all flights. The aircraft would sit at Tokyo-Narita for about four hours before returning to the USA.  Both the outbound and return flights terminated at Chicago-O’Hare.

Click to enlarge this route map

Then on May 28, 1983, United began Seattle-Hong Kong nonstops with daily frequency, with both inbound and outbound flights terminating at New York-JFK. The DC-10-30 would arrive Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport at 6:15 pm and not depart until 1:45 pm the next day – while HKG was happy to have United fly there, the one-runway airport had severe congestion and these were the best times United could get. But even if UA could get a later landing slot and a morning takeoff slot, they’d still need three aircraft to run the routing, and the arrivals and departures at Seattle worked well for connecting traffic from across United’s system, as they had a large operation at SEA in the 1980s.

Outside of a few flights to Toronto, Vancouver, Cancun/Cozumel, and the Bahamas, the Tokyo and Hong Kong routes from the Pacific Northwest would be all the prestige international flying United would do for the first half of the 1980s. But in 1985, UA’s management began quiet negotiations with Pan Am that would change the carrier’s fortunes…

 

Also see:

http://m.csmonitor.com/1983/0328/032837.html

and other weninchina resources - - -

Our Transpacific Flying folder on Pinterest

Our Tokyo-Narita airport guide

Our Hong Kong airport guide

Our Seattle/Tacoma airport guide

Our Portland airport guide

Our Chicago O’Hare airport guide

Thai Airways - April 1983

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    Photo by Christian Volpati via Wikimedia Commons, GNU 1.2 license

Photo by Christian Volpati via Wikimedia Commons, GNU 1.2 license

While home-grown service from Thailand to North America (San Francisco) did sort of begin in 1947 with DC-4s by the company POAS, albeit not on a regular schedule, that company was gone by 1951.

But, in 1951, after some merger activity, the carrier we would know as Thai Airways would come to exist. They were able to maintain a link with Tokyo with DC-4 equipment but had trouble getting anything more sophisticated into their fleet. In the late 1950s they tried to form a management alliance with Northwest Airlines - but the US government didn't want NWA to expand past Hong Kong and compete with their favored airline Pan Am. But in 1959 Thai was able to find an able partner with SAS - Scandinavian Airlines, who was able to provide management assistance and most importantly engineering and sourcing help for newer, advanced aircraft. We can look back at this relationship now and see the seed of today's Star Alliance - both carriers were early members.

By 1962 Thai was operating jet equipment, and by the late 60s had established a respectable network across East Asia, hubbing at Bangkok. But while Thai extended its routes to Europe and Australia in the early 70s, Tokyo remained their eastern terminal.  A short lived-service to Los Angeles via Honolulu and Tokyo ran in the mid-70s by erstwhile competitor Air Siam, but that company was unstable and ended up causing a political crisis at home which ended up with the government owning a big chunk of Thai International and TG having all international traffic rights.

So by the late 1970s with stability at home and new DC-10s, Airbus A300s, and 747s joining the fleet, Thai began massive route expansion. In March 1980 they finally made the jump from Tokyo to Seattle. This flight, operated by 747s, originally continued on to Los Angeles, but was soon switched to end at Dallas/Ft. Worth - a significant and pioneering link as this was DFW's first Transpacific service.

In the attached schedule scans (courtesy of the collection of my good friend Arthur Na), effective April 1, 1983, we see flight TG741 leaving Dallas/Ft.Worth on Monday, Thursday, and Saturday at 10:45 am, passing through Seattle/Tacoma 12:25 - 1:25 pm, Tokyo Narita the next day at 3:10 - 4:10 pm, and finally arriving Bangkok at 8:20 pm on Tuesday-Friday-Sunday. 

The reverse schedule leaves Bangkok at 10:30 am on Wednesday-Friday-Sunday and gets to DFW at 6:25 pm the same day (thanks to the International Date Line.)  The timings at Dallas and Seattle were superb for onward connections all over the United States.

While the arrival and departure times at Bangkok were certainly convenient for North American travelers wanting to get in or out of the Thai capital, TG had virtually nothing to offer for same-day flight connections to other Southeast Asian regional destinations - you would have to stay an extra night there when traveling to or from somewhere else.

By the late 1990s, Thai had left Seattle and DFW, making Los Angeles their North American terminal, served via Tokyo and also Osaka.

In the mid 2000s, Thai acquired ultra-long-range Airbus A340-500s and started nonstops from Bangkok to Los Angeles and New York JFK. While there was sound strategic network logic in the move, the 345 required too many payload compromises to perform the flights safely and the company could not fill enough seats at a high enough premium to justify the service.  (Singapore Airlines tried the same strategy and also failed at it.)

After pulling the A340-500 out of service, Thai resumed LAX flights via Seoul with Boeing 777 equipment.  However, the carrier ultimately dropped Los Angeles and North America completely in October 2015. While Thai, like most of the legacy carriers in Southeast Asia, has struggled with intense local competition, the relentless pressure by the "Middle East 3" on traffic to Europe and Australia, and the uneven economies of East Asia, it is nevertheless sad to see a well-regarded and friendly carrier leave the skies over the Pacific.