The worst airline names of all time, from Turdus to Bonza
A new entry into the pantheon of dodgy airline names has taken to the skies. Bonza, an Australian low-cost carrier with a business model likened to Ryanair, flew from its its Sunshine Coast base to the Whitsundays on Tuesday using a 737-8 Max christened ‘Shazza’. Dubbed the “bogan” airline, the inaugural service featured hotdogs on the in-flight menu and plenty of purple budgie smugglers.
It takes bravery to launch an airline in the midst of a global cost-of-living crisis, but Bonza hopes its low fares and desire to increase connectivity in under-served Australian cities – away from the key trio of Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane – will lure plenty of loyal customers.
At the very least it will be hoping to last longer than the most recent questionably-titled airline arrival. On March 28, 2021, Ego Airways commenced operations at Milan Malpensa Airport. Its name suggested no lack of confidence, but within 10 months it had folded.
Some carriers boast refreshingly direct monikers – and perhaps this is the key to their success. Wizz Air, easyJet, Delhi-based Zoom Air and Boom, which plans to launch supersonic flights as soon as 2026, are all commendably on message. But then so, presumably, was Flash Airlines, an Egyptian charter company that folded in 2004, Icelandic WOW (bankrupt after seven years), and Go, the low-cost airline created in 1998 by British Airways that was merrily going around Europe until, of course, it was gone.
Other names just miss the mark, like IAG’s Level and China’s Okay Airways, which by definition promise an average experience. Both are still operating. Air Leap, a Swedish regional carrier, sounded inherently risky – and folded earlier this year, and I do wonder if the helicopters of Papillon Airways, which offers scenic flights over the Grand Canyon, follow a deliberately erratic flightpath.
More inexcusable are airline names that employ excruciating puns. It is easy to imagine the hilarity back in 1989 when someone came up with the now defunct Teddy Air, no doubt while downing shots of aquavit in its home base at Geiteryggen, southern Norway (logo: a teddy bear with a Superman-style cape – or is it a parachute?). The same goes for the Luton-based carrier Debonair, New Zealand’s air2there, which spanned the Cook Strait dividing North and South Islands, and Air Do, which sounds more like a suburban hairdressing salon than a Japanese scheduled service ferrying travellers between Sapporo and Tokyo.
In a similar vein, I have little time for airlines that ignore the nature of their business in favour of a generic title intended to evoke good feelings. These are invariably plucked from the ice cream counter in a shameless act of sensual appropriation, as in the case of Mango, a South African low-cost airline that went under this year, Bahamas-based Pineapple Air (“the sweetest way to fly”), Sri Lanka’s Cinnamon Air, and Japan’s Vanilla Air – which then merged (to go for the double scoop) with Peach.
Another crime is to mislead. For example, where do you think Dandy operated between 2001 and 2005? Paris? Milan? Regency Bath? Actually, it was Bulgaria, which is not known for being an epicentre of foppishness.
Acronyms can also lead to misconceptions. Treq is a proposed Canadian carrier that plans to offer flights (not hikes) across Quebec, being named after the Coopérative de Transport Régional du Québec. And while some of the world’s greatest airlines have been christened in this way, such as BOAC, Qantas, TWA and KLM, there are always a few to get the children sniggering. Sweden’s BRA (Braathens Regional Airlines), for instance, and Kazakhstan-based SCAT Airlines, which I’m sure you know stands for Special Cargo Air Transport...
Then there’s the problems of translation. There may have been concerns about booking with the short-lived airline Alas Uruguay. But “alas” is just the Spanish for “wings”. I do, however, remain baffled by the South Korean carrier T’Way (apparently the “T” stands for “together, today and tomorrow”). And if you flew with the now-passed Taiwanese low-cost U-Land Airlines, were passengers really handed the controls during the descent into Taipei Songshan Airport?
An airline’s founder(s) can also inspire a catchy name. Laker Airways and Cambridge-based Suckling Airways may be no more, but Ryanair, Loganair and Susi Air, co-founded by Indonesian entrepreneur Susi Pudjiastuti, fly on. Meanwhile a certain Austrian racing driver (pub quiz question alert) was responsible for which three eponymous airlines? That would be Nikki Lauda, who spawned Lauda Air, Niki and Lauda. Spare a chuckle, too, for Sham Wings, named from its Syrian founder Issam Shammout, which sensibly became Cham Wings in 2008.
My top three worst airline names, ever? Bmibaby, for sure (2002-2012), along with Gandalf, a not-so-wizard appellation for an Italian carrier that took to the skies in 1998 (and failed in 2004). The all-time winner, though, has to be Turdus Airways, a Dutch airline from the 1980s. It’s possible the founders may have been thinking of the Latin word for a genus of thrushes, but it was still a truly terrible idea.