America’s First Scheduled Passenger Air Service
On New Year’s Day, 1914, the first scheduled passenger air service in the United States made its inaugural flight between St. Petersburg and Tampa, Florida. The plane covered the 17-mile distance across Tampa Bay in 23 minutes. The trip between the two cities took two hours by boat, 20 hours by car, and at least four hours by train.
The air service, the St. Petersburg-Tampa Airboat Line, flew a Benoist Model XIV seaplane between the two cities. The biplane held one passenger. Eventually a second Benoist plane was added that held two passengers. Pilot and passengers sat in the open subjecting them to wind as well as salt-water spray.
Passenger tickets were $5, about $140 in today’s money. For the inaugural flight, an auction was held to determine the lucky passenger. Abe Phiel, former St. Petersburg mayor, won with his bid of $400, equivalent to about $11,000 today. Pilot was Anthony H. Jannus, a Benoist test pilot who performed demonstration flights throughout the Midwest. He was an early pioneer who set several aviation records.
In addition to individual investors, the City of St. Petersburg subsidized the airline for three months. Shortly after the three months expired, the airline went out of business.