Not the First Transcontinental Flight, But The First by Commercial Jet

January 25, 1959

The first transcontinental commercial jet trip in the United States took place when an American Airlines Boeing 707 flew from Los Angeles to New York City. This inaugural flight began at 12:01 p.m. at Los Angeles International Airport after Bernice Brown, the wife of California Governor Edmund G.  “Pat” Brown, pressed the buttons to start the jet’s engines. The pilot for what turned out to be a very festive west-east flight across the country was Captain C.A. McAtee. He transported the 112 passengers on board to New York City in just a little over four hours.

This pioneering Boeing 707 landed – “like a snowflake,” in the words of one newspaper account at the time – onto the icy runway at Idlewild Airport (now John F. Kennedy International Airport) at 4:04 p.m. During the welcoming ceremonies at the airport, the world-famous poet Carl Sandburg addressed those in attendance. “We salute the intelligence and the daring of man that was wrought this strange and blessed device, now so familiarly known as the passenger jet plane,” proclaimed Sandburg. “And don’t we all know this is only a beginning and a promise.” After the ceremonies, Captain Hamilton Smith took over the controls of the aircraft and flew the same passengers back to Los Angeles. This east-west flight lasted six hours and 22 minutes.

For more information on the first transcontinental commercial jet trip in the United States, please check out the 25 January 2009 New York Times article “Lobster in the Menu and History in the Air” at https://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/26/nyregion/26american.html.

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