First Recorded Commercial Trip Occurred In St. Petersburg,
by ANN Correspondent Aleta Vinas
The thought of hopping on an airline these days makes many
people cringe. Paying for drinks, paying for your luggage, what's
next? The airlines seem to be nickel and diming passengers to death
in an effort to stay afloat. But what of the first commercial
airline flight in the US?
The date was January 1, 1914... and tied up at the North Mole of
the Central Yacht Basin at St. Petersburg, FL , was a Benoist model
14 seaplane with pilot Tony Jannus at the ready.
Bidding to be the first passenger on the flight from St.
Petersburg to Tampa had started a little before 9:00 am. The winner
was former St. Petersburg Mayor Abraham C. Pheil, who paid $400 for
his ticket. On his the 19 mile, 23 minute flight Pheil experienced
the salt spray... and a short delay in the middle of the bay for
some repairs. At least he didn't have the TSA to deal with.
After this inaugural flight of the St. Petersburg to Tampa
Airboat Line, Jannus flew several more times that day. The
alternative to this short 23 minute flight was a 12 hour train
ride, two hour steamship ride or six hours in an automobile (if it
didn't break down).
The normal flight schedule was to be two flights per day at $5
one way or $10 round-trip. Charter flights could be arranged for
$15. The airline lasted about four months and carried over 1000
passengers. With the end of the tourist season, the airline
There is some question whether the St. Petersburg to Tampa
flight actually constitutes the first commercial airline flight.
The first commercial airline rights are claimed by DELAG, which
carried passengers starting in 1909 in airships. There is also a
claim of hydroplane flights between San Francisco and Oakland,
California in 1913. However, records cannot be shown for these
The Centennial is still years away but the St. Petersburg Museum
of History is celebrating this Sunday, August 10. Why the early
start? Dr, George Banez, Executive Director of the Museum says "we
decided since we don't have a lot of resources, we can start early
to drum up interest and maybe gain momentum along the way."
The Museum, founded by Mary Wheeler Eaton in 1920 is a 501C3
non-profit organization and is "supported by the community" Banez
points out. It relies on the generosity of groups such as, the
Pinellas County Cultural Affairs Department, the Petersburg
Clearwater Convention and Visitors Bureau, the St. Petersburg Times
and the Pinellas County Cultural Council to hold special
The celebrating actually began last year, with an aerospace art
exhibit. In August 2007, there was a Family Aviation Weekend. The
weekend included a one man reenactment of Lindbergh's solo flight.
Banez hopes one year to have a reenactment of Jannus flight. "We
need someone to write the script and perform it," Banez sighs.
The activities for this Sunday are scheduled to begin at 10:00
am. The event is FREE to Florida residents with an ID. Several
speakers will be on hand. NASA engineer Louise Kleba will speak
about women in aviation and Dr. Warren Brown will give a
presentation on the Red Baron, along with several other speakers.
The talks will encourage interaction.
"We want the kids to move around, see the exhibits, we want them
to ask questions and have fun," explains Banez.
Radio station WSJT will be broadcasting their smooth jazz live
from 10:00 am until 2:00 pm. Representatives from the Tampa Bay
Rays will be on hand, setting up a batting cage and interactive
video games. "The whole idea of this is to get families –
kids and their parents learning together," hopes Banez.
The highlight of the day will be the awarding of cash and prizes
for the winners of the Diversity in Aviation Art exhibit that has
been on display at the Museum. Middle School, High School and adult
nonprofessional artists were challenged to submit paintings
pertaining to any aspect of aviation. Banez says "As a follow up to
last year's events, we combined the two events, the art show and
Many of the events will take place in the Museum's First Flight
Gallery which opened in 1991 to commemorate the Benoist airline
flight. The centerpiece of the gallery is a replica of the Benoist
flying boat. The replica built by the Florida Aviation Historical
Society re-created Jannus's flight at the 70th anniversary of the
The replica won't be flying again in 2014 but according to Banez
"we have BIG plans for the actual year. We hope this will be
something national and even international." Banez offered a small
tidbit of what was to come – a 1/3 scale R/C model of the
Benoist would recreate the trip across the Bay.
Join the celebration, it's free for Florida residents... and the
TSA is no where in sight.