It’s OK to Fly Czech

Wherever you are flying with Czech Airlines, it will always be OK. Why? Because OK is the Czech Airlines callsign. Let us tell you the story of the fifth-oldest airline in the world.

Ruzyne Airport in Prague. Archive photo of flight attendant in front of the plane
Flight attendant Alena Sedláčková in Prague at Ruzyne Airport. Photo: PAP / CTK / Tachezy Jan

To start: yes, it is true! Czech Airlines is the fifth oldest airline in the world (the primacy belongs to the Dutch KLM). The official founding date of the Czechoslovak State Airlines (ČSA) is 6 October 1923. The first flight of the new airline took place three weeks later, on 28 October 1923, on the fifth anniversary of the founding of the Czechoslovak Republic. The following day, on 29 October, pilot Karel Brabenec flew from Prague to Bratislava on the first scheduled commercial flight.

At first, ČSA only operated domestically. But flying solely between Czechoslovak big cities proved to be a limit for the airline in the mid-1930s. And it was in 1930 when Czech aircraft were marked with the big, white OK for the first time.

Not long after that, the decision was made to carry out the first international flight to Zagreb, Yugoslavia. The new Prague-Zagreb route opened a whole new chapter for the young airline. Soon, many more foreign destinations followed, such as Bucharest, Budapest, Moscow, Paris, Brussels, and Rome.

Czechoslovak State Airlines: the wings of socialism

The short break during World War Two couldn’t stop the booming potential of ČSA. Soon after the war, the airline restarted regular flights and sought possibilities to grow. The global reach came in 1960 when the first flight was made to Jakarta, Indonesia. The airline also made its first cross-Atlantic flight to Havana (Czechoslovak Airlines was one of the few airlines to offer flights to this destination.) With the advent of more powerful jet aircraft, regular flights to the USA and Vietnam were introduced. There was no limit now!

It’s (not always) OK to be first!

Czechoslovak Airlines hold first places in multiple areas. For example, it was the first airline to fly a regular jet-only route between the capitals of Prague and Moscow.

In 1950, ČSA became the world’s first victim of a mass plane hijacking. Hijackers took control of three planes and ordered pilots to fly to West Germany. People aboard the aircraft had to choose whether to return to communist Czechoslovakia or stay in the West. Around two-thirds of the people were unwilling to stay and returned home. In the 1960s and 1970s, ČSA regularly ranked highest among the world’s busiest airlines.

ČSA: Flying towards a better tomorrow

Life is not always a bed of roses, and the story of Czech Airlines is no exception. The war years, the difficult situation after the fall of communism, and most recently, the financial problems have tested the endurance of the ČSA. The airline is now stable, and all the issues seem to be gone. The airline has been a member of Sky Team since 2001, an elite club of airlines providing the best services airlines can offer.

So next time you say or hear someone say OK, you know there is also an old airline behind it. And if you are fortunate enough and it fits your schedule, we urge you to fly OK: to fly Czech! 

Marek Koten

A Ph.D. student in economics, specializing in nuclear energy from the Czech Republic, he also serves as a political consultant to the Czech government and the U.S. Republican Party.

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