Take a Trip on an Airline Time Machine

Ever hear of the WayBack Machine?

Think of it as an internet time machine that allows you to visit the past – as far back as 1996 anyway – via billions of carefully archived website pages from all kinds of companies – including the airlines. I used WayBack as well as my own historical data to take a look at recent air travel history.

See Airline Websites of Years Past

Some highlights:

1996: If you type in the address for American Airlines, www.aa.com you won’t get the airline; at this point it still belongs to something called Architech & Arts (and except for the title, it’s all in Japanese).

1997: TWA’s site greets visitors with this cheery message: “Welcome aboard the TWA ‘We’re up to something good’ Web Site!” What they’re not up to is selling tickets online.

1998: American Airlines’ site is up and it proclaims itself, “The most popular airline site on the Web!” Not much of a contest though considering how few had any internet presence at all.

2000: By this point, Expedia, Orbitz and Travelocity all have websites (and some have been up for years).

2001: The September 11 terrorist attacks. American’s website carries this message: “I know that I speak for every employee at American Airlines when I extend our deepest sympathy to those who lost a loved one, family member or friend on American Airlines Flight 11, American Airlines Flight 77, United Airlines Flight 93, United Airlines Flight 175 or at the sites of these tragic accidents. Our thoughts and prayers are with you at this time of immense sorrow.” AA’s CEO was wrong about one thing; these were no “accidents.”

Meanwhile, people are afraid to get on planes although sites like Southwest try to provide reassurance: “We know that you may be asking the question, ‘Should I fly by air?’. The 32,000+ Employees of Southwest are hard at work, night and day, to provide you with the safest and most dependable transportation possible.” Eventually passengers return but airlines begin cutting capacity as a survival mechanism, something they continue to do throughout the decade.

2002: The TSA’s website is up and running, just months after the airport security agency was created. Eventually travelers will have to go through various screenings including the so-called naked picture machine (later abandoned) and are forced to remove their shoes.

2008: The economy picks up again, and we’re seeing flights to Europe for about $700 round-trip. Then, boom – the big recession. Airlines are in trouble again. Brand new fees become commonplace (including previously unheard of charges for first checked bags introduced earlier in the year).

2009: Post-recession deals to Europe include round-trip flights for about $400.

2013: U.S. travelers still don’t like fees but they’re getting used to them. And they’re still taking their shoes off, though there are some exceptions to this rule.

2113: Virgin Galactic advertises non-stops to Mars for $14 million (well, in my imagination they do).

More from Rick Seaney:

Take a Ride in an Airline Time Machine


Published: May 20, 2013