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On a December day in 1934, C.R. Smith — chief executive officer of American Airlines and the patriarch of our company — placed a person-to-person call from American’s New York headquarters to Donald Douglas, president of Douglas Aircraft Company, in California. The purpose of the call was to convince Douglas to produce a vastly improved version of his company’s newest aircraft, the DC-2. Smith had a vision for a bigger, faster, more comfortable plane that would enable American­ to earn a profit carrying passengers without relying on government mail subsidies.

During the two-hour phone conversation, Douglas repeatedly told Smith that the changes he was proposing were impossible. But “Mr. C.R.” (as he was known at American) wouldn’t take no for an answer, and when he committed to buying 20 of the nonexistent airplanes sight unseen, Douglas agreed to launch a design study. That study resulted in probably the most famous and important aircraft in the history of commercial aviation: the DC-3.

The DC-3 was revolutionary, inside and out. From an engineering standpoint, everything from the wing flaps to the landing gear, propellers and skin of the airplane was improved. The plane had a range of nearly 1,500 miles. With only three refueling stops necessary, an eastbound traveler could cross the country in about 15 hours (westbound trips took a couple hours longer because of headwinds). The DC-3 was a leap forward in capability and comfort. With an altitude ceiling of 20,000 feet, it could fly over the top of most bad weather. Noise-absorbing fabric and carpet made the cabin quieter, and customers were able to enjoy plush seats and onboard dining.

In June 1936, American launched the world’s first DC-3 operations, with service between Chicago and Newark, N.J. (fare: $47.19). C.R. Smith’s brainchild had evolved from impossible idea to reality in just a year and a half, and the industry would never be the same. From American’s initial order of 20 planes, Douglas Aircraft went on to build more than 10,000 DC-3s between 1936 and 1944, eventually accounting for 90 percent of the world’s commercial fleet. The amenities and performance of the DC-3 helped popularize air travel, as planes replaced trains as the nation’s preferred way to cross long distances.

Being at the industry forefront when it comes to our fleet has been a central part of American’s history. To cite one more example, in 1959 we ushered in the jet age with the introduction of the first nonstop transcontinental service. But fleet leadership is an even more important part of our future, and today, we are in the midst of our biggest and most dramatic fleet transformation. Within a few short years, we will operate the youngest, most fuel-efficient, most thoroughly modern fleet of aircraft among our U.S. industry peers. We have hundreds of new airplanes on the way — far more than any other carrier — and we are investing in both our new and existing aircraft to ensure that every customer will be able to remain comfortable, connected and entertained, no matter where they’re flying or where they’re seated.

Our fleet transformation is well under way, and we will be taking a big step forward early this year when the first of our brand-new Boeing 777-300ER (Extended Range) aircraft we have ordered enters service, flying between Dallas/Fort Worth and São Paulo. American is the first U.S. airline to take delivery of the 777-300ER, and as we plan to take delivery of at least 15 of these exciting aircraft, we will be flying them in key long-haul markets like DFW-Heathrow and New York-Heathrow.

The 777-300ER is an exciting new addition to our fleet, and it’s another example of how American­ can revolutionize the skies. From a customer perspective, there is a lot to be excited about, and I hope you will turn to the “AA Insider” feature on page 74 to learn more. But let me give you just a few highlights. With the 777-300ER, we will be among the first in the industry to offer a combination of fully lie-flat seats with all-aisle access, international Wi-Fi and state-of-the-art in-seat entertainment. A walk-up bar in the premium cabin will be stocked with snacks, sandwiches and sweets, and throughout the cabin customers will be able to choose entertainment options including up to 120 movies, more than 150 TV programs and hundreds of audio selections. Every seat on the plane will also feature AC power outlets and USB jacks for charging personal electronics. I’ve just been on our first delivery, and it’s a remarkable plane.

They say the more things change, the more they stay the same. When C.R. Smith made his fateful call to Donald Douglas in 1934, the cost of the call was $333.50. To say times (and long-distance rates) have changed since then is beyond understatement. And yet, the people of American today have the same commitment to keeping American at the forefront — and to giving our customers the very best — that “Mr. C.R.” had nearly 80 years ago.

Wherever you are headed today, thanks for flying with us. Have a great trip!

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Thomas W. Horton
Chairman & CEO
American Airlines