100 years of commercial flight

January 9, 2014 |

If your company relies on business travel to accomplish its goals, then January 1, 2014, might have been a day to celebrate. It’s hard to believe, but it marked the 100th anniversary of commercial airline travel.

It all started with one little 23-minute flight from St. Petersburg to Tampa in Florida on the not-so-creatively named St. Petersburg-Tampa Air Line. Though the Wright brothers had been successfully flying since 1904, this was the first flight with a paying customer. In fact, the former mayor of St. Petersburg, Abram Pheil, won a seat on the tiny two-seater Benoist XIV plane by winning an auction with his bid of $400 – which, with inflation, equates to a whopping $5,000 during that time period.

Today, commercial travel has likely far surpassed what people of that time period could have ever imagined: Nonstop flights and global travel and around 8 million people up in the air per day. In fact, the numbers continue to climb each year. In 2013, 3.1 billion passengers took to the skies – passing the 3 billion mark for the first time ever – and this number is expected to be about 3.3 billion in 2014. Additionally, 140,000 tons of cargo is transported each day, which totals about 50 million tons of cargo per year, with an average value of $6.4 trillion.

Aside from supporting global businesses, airlines themselves also provide jobs – 57 million, to be exact, which creates $2.2 trillion in economic activity. If your company relies on business travel and you enjoy jetting around the globe for pleasure, you likely have Tony Jannus and Thomas Benoist to thank for creating buzz around the idea of commercial flight 100 years ago.