The World's First Commercial Airline

On Jan. 1, 1914, the world’s first scheduled passenger airline service took off from St. Petersburg, Fla., and landed at its destination in Tampa about 17 miles away. The St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line was a short-lived endeavor — lasting only four months — but it paved the way for today’s daily transcontinental flights. The first flight’s pilot was Tony Jannus, an experienced test pilot and barnstormer. The first paying passenger was Abram C. Pheil, former Mayor of St. Petersburg. Their short flight across the bay to Tampa took only 23 minutes. At that time, a trip between the two cities, sitting on opposite sides of Tampa Bay, took two hours by steamship or up to 12 hours by rail. Traveling by automobile around the bay took about 20 hours. An estimated 2,000 people paraded from downtown St. Petersburg to the waterfront to watch as the first ticket was auctioned off. Pheil, then in the warehouse business, won with a bid of $400 (a value equal to more than $11,200 today). Jannus flew the plane no higher than 50 feet over the water. After that, the airline made two flights daily, six days a week. The regular fare was $5 per person (about $140 today) and $5 per 100 pounds of freight. Tickets sold out for 16 weeks in advance. Passenger interest declined rapidly when Florida's winter residents began heading back north in late March, and on April 27, 1914 Jannus flew the last flight before leaving Florida.