In the mid 1970s, Trans World Airlines (TWA) was left with a choice: to either make Chicago or St Louis their next main hub. In real life, they chose St Louis as to not compete too heavily with American and United. But what if they went for Chicago, and succeeded? In this thread, I will attempt to answer that question
Brief TWA History Before 1975
TWA formed as a result of a merger between Transcontinental Air Transport and Western Air Lines to becomes Transcontinental & Western Air (T&WA) in 1930 (several other small airlines were also forced into this merger, but they're not important). In 1931, TWA became a major proponent of Douglas' new DC-1, of which it operated the only one built. It later operated both the DC-2 and DC-3. Following the Air Mail Scandal in 1934, Transcontinental Air Transport and Western Air Lines split up (Western would later merge with Delta). Howard Hughes bought controlling stock in the company in 1937, and in that same year TWA purchased several Boeing 307 Stratoliners, the first pressurized aircraft produced.
TWA and Hughes famously contracted with Lockheed to develop the Lockheed Constellation in the 1940s, which would enter service just after World War II. TWA would go on to operate the type until 1967. TWA also ordered Martin 4-0-4s in 1950, and that same year changed their name to Trans World Airlines
. Hughes would also go on to purchase the L-1049 Super Constellation in 1953, and in 1956 he placed orders for the Boeing 707. Hugh's large order for the CV-880 would be his downfall, as TWA's jet order climbed to $480 million. Following Hughs, Charles Tillingast became CEO and oversaw TWA establishing it's hub and spoke system, as well as what is considered TWA's golden age in the 1960s. During this period, TWA opened its now iconic JFK Flight Center designed by Eero Saarinen.
In the late 1960s, as a result of a flood 10 years earlier, Kansas City decided to build a new airport 18 miles north on land currently owned by TWA which they were using as their main overhaul base. TWA vetoed designs similar to Dulles, as they wanted the gates to be 100 feet from the street. As a result, the airport resembles 3 horseshoes, and construction overruns ended up costing the city a total of $250. Funnily enough, as Vice President Agnew was opening the airport in 1972, a hijacking was taking place that would force airports to install security checkpoints, rendering the airport obsolete. As such, TWA began searching for a new main hub, and in the mid-1970s, had narrowed it down to St. Louis-Lambert and Chicago-O'Hare...
Point of Divergence and the 1980s
In this universe, TWA makes what many now think would be the smart decision: choosing Chicago. TWA had established sizable and competing position there in the 1970s, and when they pulled the plug on their Chicago hub in 1979 they accounted for some 20-25% of the total traffic there. But here, they continue to increase their presence in Chicago, while also keeping their Kansas City Hub (albeit it gets downsized and remains somewhat small until the 2010s, but kept due to the overhaul base and historical ties). By 1982, Chicago has become the new main hub of TWA, and is able to be in a stronger position by the time deregulation hits in 1979.
As a result, TWA is not spun off from its parent corporation and sold to Carl Ichan (aka Satan) in 1985. By the 1980s, American and TWA had begun to infringe on United at O'Hare, who was in turn further hampered when TWA bough Pan Am's Pacific Division in 1985. United would be further weakened by strikes, and would file for bankruptcy in 1987 and would struggle through the next decade. Since TWA does not make St. Louis its main hub, Ozark continues to operate past 1986, eventually becoming something akin to Southwest or Alaska Airlines in our world.
1990s and 2000s
Pan Am and Eastern both go out the same way they do in our world in 1991, and TWA takes delivery of the 747-400, which replace its aging Classic 747s. TWA also places orders for the 757 and 717 in the 1990s, placing them into service later in the decade. By the mid 1990s, United had seen a short, few year turn-around to profitability. But poor management decisions and a large amount of debt taken to order new aircraft hampered the airline who once again filed for bankruptcy in 1998. United and TWA then enter into merger talks, and as a result the DOJ allows United and TWA to merge. United renamed a subsidiary of TWA from 1998-1999, and the two formally merged on January 1, 2000.
9/11 still occurs, but with TWA and American aircraft used instead. As such, the market takes a downturn, and TWA files for bankruptcy in 2003. TWA emerges 2 years later in 2005, and places orders for the 737 NG. That year, US Airways mergers with America West in the same manner as OTL, and a year later they successfully merge with Delta which they failed to do in OTL. As such, Northwest continues to exist, later merging with American in 2009 who had never fully recovered from 9/11 and their subsequent bankruptcy
TWA entered the new decade by revealing a new livery for the first time in 15 years called the "Modern Twin-stripe Scheme" on a new 737-800. By 2011, TWA's fleet had grown to 570 aircraft. In 2011, TWA moves its headquarters back to where it started: Kansas City, after having been based in Chicago from 1982-1993 and New York again from 1993-2011. The move back to Kansas City coincided with a 3 year construction project which saw the airport consolidate into two new terminal buildings. As a result of the Southwest and AirTran merger, Southwest sells their 55 717s to Northwest who finally use them to replace their DC-9s in 2014. A year later, Continental and TWA merge creating this timelines 3 legacy carriers (US Airways, Northwest, and Trans World Airlines). These three airlines remain supreme to this day, and as with OTL are, in this blessed year of 2020, facing their own challenges with the Coronavirus pandemic after seeing a little over a decade of merger and growth while adding new aircraft like the A220 and A320neo to their fleets. Even before the pandemic, TWA had begun trimming its fleet down, first by retiring the A318 in 2017, 767-300ER in 2018, and soon the 767-400ER, 717-200, most 757-200s, and many older 777-200s. The plane is to have a fleet consisting of A220s, A320s, A330s, A350s, 737s, and 777s by the beginning of the next decade.
Flow chart of this timeline's consolidations and mergers since 2000
x35 A220-100 (since 2019) (60 in service by 2023)
x5 A220-300 (since 2020) (45 in service by 2026)
x56 A319-100 (since 1999)
x119 A320-200 (since 1993) (Older aircraft being retired)
x15 A320neo (since 2018) (80 in service by 2026)
x88 A321-200 (since 2001)
x7 A321neo (since 2019) (120 in service by 2030)
x25 A330-200 (since 2002)
x19 A330-300 (since 1995)
x5 A330-900neo (since 2019) (35 in service by 2027)
x10 A350-900 (since 2018) (35 in service by 2022)
x10 717-200 (since 1997) (To be retired by August 2021)
x102 737-700 (since 2009)
x132 737-800 (since 2006)
x52 737-900 (since 2009)
x55 757-200 (since 1997) (To be phased out by mid-2020s)
x21 757-300 (since 2002) (To be phased out by mid-2020s)
x16 767-400ER (Since 2013) (To be retired by or before 2022)
x39 777-200ER (since 2000) (Older planes being retired)
x0 777-9X (22 on order)
Total: 811 Aircraft (Not including Trans World Express fleet)
x15 A318-100 (2003-2018)
x22 767-200 (1982-2005; N601TW now at TWA Flight Museum in Kansas City, MO)
x33 767-300 (1995-2018)
x77 727-200 (1968-2003)
x737-500 (2015-2017; acquired from Continental)
x46 747-400 (1991-2019; N640TW repainted into 1975-1995 scheme and placed at TWA Flight Museum)
x28 Convair 880 (1961-1975; N819AJ later purchased back by the airline 2014 and is still undergoing restoration)
x23 DC-9 (1966-1982; IRL fleet life extended due to Ozark, absence of OZ purchase means type retired first time like IRL TWA)
x16 DC-10 (1985-1990, Acquired from Pan Am); x55 (1998-2004; Acquired from United, most were placed into storage shortly after merger)
x5 L-1011-500 (1985-2002, former Pan Am)
Chicago O'Hare (Main)
Kansas City International (Main Maintenance Base)
Los Angeles International
San Francisco International (Main Pacific)
Antonia B. Won Pat (Guam; Trans World Micronesia Hub)