There was once an airline that wanted to be different, very different. But sometimes being different, no matter how good the idea seems at the time, just doesn’t work out. This was the case for an airline that started in 1973 called Freelandia, the first “Not-For-Profit” airline.
Freelandia was thought up by an ex-Wall Street millionaire named Kenneth Moss. After spending $125,000 on a plane that didn’t work, he was finally able to lease a DC-8 for $750,000. After spending $1.5 million, he managed to get a license to operate from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) in 1973, and Freelandia was born.
The airline was considered an air club and not an airline, so Freelandia was not exposed to the commercial rates required of the airlines. This helped decrease the cost of operating the airline. Passengers would purchase a membership at $35 per year, and then they would get a reduced rate wherever the airline happened to be flying. This was usually a mystery since club members voted on where the airline would go every three months.
There were about 15,000 members during the life of the club, and they would take a “survey” to decide where the one lone plane of the airline would fly. Members would then buy a share of the trip. The air club reportedly got landing rights in Hong Kong, Yugoslavia, and South America. The plane made a trip to Geneva, Switzerland, after its inauguration and went back and forth from Los Angeles to New York.
Freelandia was intended to have a light and different atmosphere as compared to the regular airlines. Flight attendants wore colorful and flashy uniforms, organic food was served, passengers could move about in the cabin, and denim pillows were strewn about the plane. There was a lounge, electronic video games, and reportedly, the Grateful Dead and Stevie Wonder played for the passengers on different flights.
Even though the passengers were getting reasonable rates on flights, the airline couldn’t sustain the experiment. Some legs members had voted on for the airline to take never had enough interest to make them feasible. About 40 to 50 flights were completed before Freelandia began missing payments to the leasing company, and the aircraft was eventually repossessed in May 1974.
Freelandia also began running into other legal troubles when the State of California charged it with false advertising and fraudulent business practices later in 1974. In addition, the FAA still hadn’t certified that Freelandia was operating as a club and not an airline, which would have required them to meet the standards to operate as an airline. Freelandia went out of business only a year after it started.
The founder, Kenneth Moss, had his own personal problems at the end of 1974 after the demise of Freelandia. He was charged with murder for providing narcotics to the drummer for the Average White Band, Robbie McIntosh, while he was in his home in September 1974. Moss pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and was sentenced to 120 days in jail and four years probation.
Sources: The Honolulu Advertiser, Globe-Gazette, The Harvard Crimson, Los Angeles Times, The Charleston Daily Mail