Flying Since 1928: The History Of LOT Polish Airlines

LOT Polish Airlines is one of the oldest continually operating airlines in Europe, and indeed the whole world. Based out of Warsaw’s Chopin Airport, Poland’s flag carrier flies various aircraft to both European and intercontinental destinations. The airline, which became a member of the Star Alliance in October 2003, also has bases in Katowice and Kraków.

LOT Polish Airlines Boeing 787
LOT will celebrate its 100th birthday later in the decade. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

LOT Polish Airlines came into existence in December 1928. The country’s government established the airline, which entered service a month later, to succeed Aerolot and Aero, a pair of existing domestic carriers. For much of the post-war era, LOT exclusively flew Soviet aircraft. However, in the three decades since the end of communist rule in the country, the airline has transitioned to a modern fleet serving destinations worldwide.

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The early years

When LOT commenced operations in January 1929, it initially served solely as a domestic carrier. Flying interwar aircraft such as the Junkers F.13 and the Fokker F.VII, it served cities such as Bydgoszcz, Gdańsk, Katowice, Kraków, Lviv, Poznań, and Warsaw. However, in August that year, the carrier expanded internationally when it opened a route to Vienna.

LOT Polish Airlines Douglas DC-2
LOT began flying the Douglas DC-2 in 1935. Photo: Matpc via Wikimedia Commons

Moving into the 1930s, LOT continued to grow in terms of its fleet, network, and corporate identity. In terms of the latter of these, 1931 saw the airline’s leadership officially recognize its early crane-based logo, a variant of which it still uses today.

Meanwhile, LOT’s European network enjoyed significant expansion during this decade. The carrier began serving the likes of Athens, Berlin, Budapest, Copenhagen, Helsinki, and Rome. It did so with aircraft that arrived in the mid-1930s, such as the Douglas DC-2, and Lockheed’s 10A ‘Electra’ and 14H ‘Super Electra’ designs. By 1939, it was even flying to Beirut.

After the war

Poland as a whole was hit hard by the events of the Second World War, and LOT was not immune from this. The national airline suspended operations after the conflict began in September 1939, and remained inactive throughout the war. It evacuated most aircraft to the Baltic states, Great Britain, and Romania, although 13 were seized in the latter.

LOT Polish Airlines Vickers Viscount
The Vickers Viscount was LOT Polish Airlines’ last Western aircraft before its switch to an all-Soviet fleet. Photo: Ralf Manteufel via Wikimedia Commons

Towards the end of the conflict, the Polish government worked to reinstate the airline in March 1945. It recommenced operations in 1946, replacing the Polish Air Force’s transport services that had ceased in December 1945. LOT flew two developments of the Douglas DC-3 in the immediate postwar period, namely the Douglas C-47 and the Lisunov Li-2.

In the 1940s and 1950s, LOT also began acquiring Soviet aircraft. These began to dominate the carrier’s fleet, and it transitioned to an all-Soviet setup. The airline’s last Western acquisitions were the Convair 240 (1957) and the Vickers Viscount (1962). The political situation also delayed the reopening of routes to the likes of London and Zürich until 1958.

LOT Polish Airlines Tupolev Tu-154
LOT’s first jetliners were Soviet designs from the likes of Tupolev. Photo: Simon Butler via Flickr

Long-range expansion in the jet age

Amid the backdrop of a growing Soviet-era fleet, LOT Polish Airlines entered the jet age when it began flying the Tupolev Tu-134. It started operating these rear-engined twinjets in 1968, just in time for the opening of a new terminal in Warsaw. These typically served European destinations, but, in 1972, the arrival of the Ilyushin Il-62 allowed further expansion.

The Il-62 was once the world’s largest commercial aircraft. Its four rear-mounted engines bore similarities to the design of the British Vickers VC-10. With this jetliner at its disposal, LOT was able to operate Poland’s first-ever commercial transatlantic flights when it opened a route to Toronto. The following year, it also served New York on a charter basis.

The Il-62 didn’t just unlock transatlantic routes. Indeed, LOT also used the type to fly from Warsaw to Bangkok, Thailand. It began doing so in 1977, via stops in Dubai and Mumbai. Later in the communist era, LOT replaced its Tu-134s with the Tu-154 trijet.

LOT Polish Airlines Ilyushin Il-62
The Il-62 helped LOT to establish transatlantic services. Photo: Felix Goetting via Wikimedia Commons

The post-communism era

In 1989, Poland’s constitution was changed as the country came towards the end of its period of communist rule. It was in this year that the country’s national airline also began to fly Western aircraft once again. The first of these was the Boeing 767.

LOT acquired its maiden 767 in April 1989, and it went on to fly both the 767-200ER and the 767-300ER. The use of these widebodies allowed the airline to serve North American destinations with large Polish communities in both Canada and the US.

In the early 1990s, LOT also began to fly aircraft from the Boeing 737 Classic family. This proved a successful venture, as it didn’t retire the 737-400 until March 2020. Meanwhile, the carrier also delved into the world of Western turboprops when it began flying the ATR 72.

Lot Polish Airlines Boeing 767 Landing
One of LOT’s 767s performed an injury-free gear-up landing in Warsaw in 2011. Photo: Getty Images

21st-century developments

Moving into the 21st century, LOT increased its footprint on the world by joining the Star Alliance. It did so in October 2003, becoming the group’s 11th member. This helped LOT to unlock Warsaw’s potential as a transit airport, particularly after it was reconstructed in 2006. The 2000s also saw LOT establish Centralwings, a short-lived low-cost carrier.

The 2010s saw LOT diversify in terms of the locations of its operating bases. Specifically, it began to open bases outside of Poland. One of these was Budapest, Hungary, from which LOT served destinations such as London City. It even had a limited long-range offering from Budapest, and opened a route from the Hungarian capital to Seoul, South Korea in 2019.

LOT Polish Airlines Boeing 787
LOT’s present widebody fleet consists of 17 Boeing 787s. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Simple Flying

More recently, LOT, like many airlines, has had to come to terms with the impacts of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. The health crisis forced the carrier to suspend its operations in March 2020, and it resumed domestically in June that year. International services restarted a month later, and LOT is now on the comeback trail, having recently opened a new route from Kraków to New York. It will be interesting to see where it goes next.

What do you make of LOT Polish Airlines? Have you ever flown with Poland’s flag carrier? Let us know your thoughts and experiences in the comments.

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