American Airlines and the Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei (DZR), the German airline that operated Hindenburg, offered the first connecting airline service from cities around the United States to cities throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa.
American Airlines timetables from 1936 and 1937 advertised “World-Wide Air Service” from 57 cities in the United States to destinations around the world, via American Airlines to Lakehurst, Hindenburg to Frankfurt, and connections on Deutsche Lufthansa, Imperial Airways, KLM, and Air France.
For the first time in history, the entire world could be reached from the United States entirely by air.
In 1936 a passenger could board an American Airlines “Flagship Club Plane” in Chicago and reach Frankfurt in less than 65 flying hours, and then catch a fast Lufthansa connection to Berlin, Paris, London, or almost any other European destination.
Passengers on the West Coast could depart Los Angeles, San Francisco, or Seattle for an overnight flight on a Douglas Sleeper Transport “Flagship Skysleeper” and arrive in Frankfurt after little more than 85 hours in the air, a trip that took more than a week in each direction by railroad and steamship.
Timetables for 1937 advertised even faster connections: Chicago to Frankfurt in 53 hours, and San Francisco to Frankfurt in just 67 hours.
American also offered service on the short flight between Lakehurst and Newark Airport. While it was primarily intended to connect Hindenburg passengers to the American Airlines route network, many New York passengers took advantage of the $6.00 flight to avoid a lengthy rail or road trip between New York and the Pine Barrens of central New Jersey.
American Airlines and the Hindenburg Disaster
Herbert Morrison’s famous radio broadcast of the Hindenburg disaster — Oh the Humanity! — would never have happened without American Airlines: the airline had invited Morrison to cover Hindenburg’s first American landing of 1937 to help promote their connecting service with the zeppelin.
American Airlines flew Morrison and sound engineer Charlie Nehlsen from Chicago to Lakehurst the day before the landing and Morrison actually began his famous recording with a promotional mention of the airline:
We both flew down from Chicago yesterday afternoon aboard one of the giant new 21-passenger flagships of American Airlines. It took us only 3 hours, 55 minutes to fly nonstop from Chicago to New York. When we landed at Newark we found another flagship of American Airlines waiting to take us to Lakehurst with our equipment when we were ready to go.
And incidentally, American Airlines is the only airline in the United States which makes connections with the Hindenburg.
American Airlines and its personnel also played a role in rescue efforts after the disaster. American had an aircraft at Lakehurst when Hindenburg crashed; one of their airliners had flown to Lakehurst from Newark with passengers for the airship’s return voyage to Germany, and was scheduled to fly back to Newark with arriving passengers. American Airlines stewardesses — who were all registered nurses at the time — assisted with medical care for the survivors of the disaster and the American plane was used to transport badly injured passengers to New York for hospital treatment.