NEW YORK — SINCE 1946 Flying Tiger has been carrying G.I.s to and from war zones, students to Europe, and refugees to new homes.
Tomorrow those trips will become a part of airline history as Flying Tiger carries its last passengers from Alaska to St. Louis. Federal Express, which bought Flying Tiger in August 1989, has decided to end Flying Tiger's charter business.
"With the winding down of the military, there is just not that much demand," says Armand Schneider, a Federal Express spokesman.
The cancellation of service will ground 270 Flying Tiger flight attendants. Federal Express has never laid employees off. But, the flight attendants are different - they are members of the Teamsters Union. No other employees of Memphis-based Federal Express are unionized.
Thus, Federal Express decided not to offer the flight attendants other jobs within the company. Instead, after long negotiations, the company reached an agreement in June with the Teamsters to provide Federal Express personnel for 60 days to help the flight attendants find other jobs. That commitment ends Sept. 30.
For many of the flight attendants, it was more than a job. "It was a love affair - it wasn't a job," says Anne Royall, flight attendant from 1959-62.
The romance actually began in 1945 when Robert Prescott, with a group of World War II flyers, began the National Skyway Freight Company, the nation's first all-freight airline. Mr. Prescott and his buddies had flown P-40s, protecting supplies being flown over the Burma hump. Their nickname was the Flying Tigers.
Prescott began the airline with little money, but a lot of spirit. His philosophy was summarized by the unofficial company motto: "Tiger Can Do Spirit." Pilots were not pampered. They helped unload freight from the back of the planes.
In 1946, to supplement cargo revenue, the airline began hauling passengers. Pilots would roam airports, offering cut-rate flights to passengers waiting for their flights. But the company soon developed a more lucrative business: In 1949 it signed its first contract to fly military personnel.
Flying Tiger flights helped transport troops to Korea and Vietnam. Two years ago, the company was contracted to fly troops back from Saudi Arabia after Operation Desert Storm.
However, other charter airlines and cheap air fares on scheduled lines have eaten away the business. As a result, Federal Express is letting its lease expire on Tiger's two 747s.