Originally founded as Boston-Maine Airways in 1931, Northeast Airlines was known for their distinctive bright yellow aircraft and service along the eastern seaboard. The airline was originally created as a contract carrier for Pan Am, by the Boston and Maine Railroad and the Maine Central Railroad. The airline’s first route connected Boston with Bangor, Maine, via Portland, Maine.
The service was operated using Pan Am aircraft but ended in August of 1931 after an aircraft accident.
In 1933, the Boston-Maine Railway again revitalized the airline as Boston-Maine Airways. Much of this early service was operated on Stinson T SM-6000 and the Lockheed 10A Electra, which was operated by the airline until the breakout of World War II. In 1937, Boston-Maine Railroad purchased National Airways and in 1940 renamed the new airline as Northeast Airlines.
During the second World War, the airline operated contracts for the U.S. military across the Atlantic, using Douglas DC-2 and DC-3 aircraft. The flights made stops in Newfoundland, Greenland, Iceland, and Scotland.
The U.S. government used Northeast as their pilots had experience with cold weather flying of the Northeast. After the war, Northeast attempted to gain authority for scheduled transatlantic flights, however, the CAB chose TWA and Pan Am over the smaller carrier.
The carrier went through a period of expansion in the post-war era. Flights were added down south to Newark as well as to cities on the cape of Massachusetts. The airline was awarded flights between New York and Boston in 1945 and expanded it to an hourly shuttle a year later.
In the 1950s the airline was awarded a route between Boston and Miami/Ft. Lauderdale, with the flights making stops in cities in between.
In 1959, Northeast entered the jet age with the Boeing 707, allowing non-stop service between New York and Miami. In 1967, Northeast became the first airline to operate the Boeing 727-200 allowing the carrier to introduce jets to new markets. To coincide with the introduction to the jet age, Northeast launched the Yellowbird marketing campaign, featuring the vivid yellow and white livery.
In 1962, the CAB decided to terminate Northeast’s certificate to operate flights to Miami, though the local community in the Northeast as well as legal appeals saw the CAB reissue the certificate in 1967. This decision was followed by rapid expansion, with service to the Bahamas, Bermuda, and Los Angeles added in rapid succession. The expansion had its costs as the airline was facing financial problems.
In 1962, the Hughes Tool Company purchased a controlling interest in the airline but this would later be sold two years later in 1964. The new owners and the new routes failed to improve the airline’s financial situation.
In the early 1970s, Northeast was looking for a merger partner, and Delta found the airline suitable. The merger became effective the beginning of August 1972 making Delta the fifth largest airline in the U.S. at the time and allowed the carrier access to routes in the Bahamas and Bermuda.