This Was The First Commercial Airline In History

The world's first passenger flight was operated in 1909 by DELAG, a German company offering sightseeing airship flights between Berlin and southern Germany, according to Airships. Taking several hours, most flights were extremely comfortable and luxurious, even offering meals on board.

The first scheduled commercial airline started a few years later, and it was a completely different experience. It was known as the St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line, and it operated from January to May 1914, partly thanks to a subsidy from the city of St. Petersburg, via History Net.

The Airboat Line was the brainchild of American aviator pioneer Thomas W. Benoist, who designed the fixed-wing aircraft used for passengers. The airplane, known as the Benoist XIV (it wasn't his first design) or The Lark of Duluth, was a small biplane that could land and take off from water, per Historic Missourians.

As an aviator, Benoist had big goals. According to History Net, he confessed he "dreamed of the skies filled with air lanes carrying the world's passenger and freight traffic." The St. Petersburg–Tampa Airboat Line was just the first step to reach those huge dreams.

Benoist was also set to attempt a transatlantic flight in less than 72 hours — a challenge offered by the London Daily Mail with a massive prize of $50,000. The event was canceled when WWI started in August 1914. Benoist died in a freak accident in 1917 when stepping off a streetcar, but by then he had already built over 100 airplanes and forever changed the history of flight (via Historic Missourians).

A flight on the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line was very different from a flight today

The Benoist XIV didn't exactly offer a luxury ride. The entire airplane, including the unpadded seat, was made of wood. There was no enclosed cabin and not even a windshield, so rainy or windy days probably didn't make for a very pleasant flight. You didn't get much of a view either — the plane flew just 5 feet above the water, per History Net.

Still, the Benoist flew at a maximum speed of 64 miles per hour and took only 22 minutes to connect the two cities. That might not seem that fast today, but in 1914, a train would have taken 12 hours to cover that distance. Or you could have taken a much longer ride on a steamship around the bay (via History Net).

A one-way ticket in either direction was $5 or about $130 in today's money. According to the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History, the average salary in 1914 was about $2.50 per day, so buying a flight ticket wasn't for everybody. There was an additional charge for excess weight ($5 per 100 pounds) and the Benoist also offered "special flights" to other destinations for up to $20, according to History Net. For the short time they were in operation, the airplanes transported over 1,200 passengers, flying six days a week with two scheduled flights per day (via This Day in Aviation).