Air Florida was, thanks to its President Ed Acker, one of the darlings of the first years of deregulation and exploded out of Florida with low fares and cheeky service in late 1978. Acker’s expansionist dreams would never be satisfied with just the USA and as well as trying to buy a selection of much larger airlines Air Florida also positioned itself for the long-haul. This is the story of their push across the Atlantic.
I have discussed the spectacular growth Air Florida experienced and the Acker effect in my earlier post covering their period from 1979-82:
In this post I plan to concentrate only on the DC-10 services, which became the jewel in the crown. Acker had always had a knack for finding funding for his dreams at Air Florida even in 1979 when the airline was still only operating a handful of DC-9-15s and 737s. In fact bizarrely when National Airlines was up for sale (National was second only to Eastern in Florida and one of the original, albeit smaller, US Trunk airlines) Air Florida was interested in getting in on the deal.
To be honest they never really had a chance and before they, and Eastern, had even put in their bids with the CAB Pan Am had, by August 1979, ‘won’ a harrowing battle with Frank Lorenzo’s Texas International for control of National. In reality Pan Am lost as they paid a staggering sum for National and then almost choked to death on the merger. Lorenzo meanwhile laughed all the way to the bank and made a huge profit on the 25% of National he bought during the fight. Anyway, that is another story.
Despite this defeat the game wasn’t up for Air Florida as part of the CAB approval for the deal required Pan Am to divest itself of National’s Miami-Europe routes. Throughout the short period after this Air Florida put on one of its customary campaigns declaring ‘Air Florida’s Battle for Britain’ as it tried to win the case to serve London from Miami with fares from $143 one way. Once again it lost as the route was awarded to Eastern in 1980.
Air Florida wasn’t about to give up though and sub-leased a single DC-10-30 from Seaboard World who themselves were actually leasing it from Loftleidir / Icelandair. This aircraft, N1035F, joined the Air Florida fleet in hybrid colours on March 11, 1980. She entered service on March 27 on a variety of transatlantic charters to destinations such as London Gatwick, Zurich, Brussels, Amsterdam, Dublin, Paris and Manchester.
These charters would have perhaps been the end of Air Florida’s dreams of transatlantic schedules if it weren’t for the fact that Eastern so annoyed the licensing bodies with its demands to fly to Heathrow and not Gatwick that the route authority was taken away from them before they could fly it and reassigned to little Air Florida instead! See:
It was a major triumph for Air Florida and they pulled out all the stops despite there being three other airlines already serving the route. In 1981 the airline, which had only a few years earlier had a handful of old jets, opened a new route connecting Miami to London Gatwick. To fly this route, it leased a trio of DC-10-30s from Transamerica, the first of which, N101TV, arrived on March 16, 1981 ready for the first service on April 3.
The DC-10s services were enhanced with the offer of a door to door limousine service at each end of the journey for first class passengers who flew in what was known as “Upper Class”. All this for only $750, below the other airlines first class tickets.
Despite this Air Florida wasn’t ready to give up on its long-haul services, which still included London, Amsterdam and Brussels in April 1983, being serviced by a single DC-10-30 leased from World Airways (once again in a hybrid scheme). In fact, they actually increased services again and spent other money to try and make a success of it.
Football shirt sponsorship was in its infancy but in the 1983/84 season Air Florida sponsored Southampton Town Football Club (who finished runners up in the top division (the old Division 1) that season. New direct service was also begun to Madrid and Zurich.
By then Air Florida was in its death spiral but the international services continued right until the end. In fact, when bankruptcy was finally declared on July 3, 1984 the last service was flown by the leased DC-10-30 from LGW-MIA as QH201 arriving at the gate at 16:07.
In the end it wasn’t the international routes that caused the demise of Air Florida and in fact they may have assisted its survival. The fallout was quickly resolved and Eastern didn’t complain this time when it finally got its route authority to fly the Miami – London Gatwick route after Air Florida made it wait 4 years.
Young, B. Air Florida: When I grow up I want to be like the big boys. Airliners #98
1979, August. Pan Am gains control of National. Flight International
I'm Richard Stretton: a fan of classic airliners and airlines who enjoys exploring their history through my collection of die-cast airliners. If you enjoy the site please donate whatever you can to help keep it running: