The first passenger airline was the German airship company DELAG (Deutsche Luftschiffahrts-Aktiengesellschaft, or German Airship Transportation Corporation Ltd), established on November 16, 1909. The airline was created under the leadership of Zeppelin Company executive Alfred Colsman, who was married to the daughter of aluminum manufacturer Carl Berg, the aluminum supplier for Count Zeppelin’s airships.
In the first 10 years of its activity, DELAG offered flights in the form of simple sightseeing tours. Before World War I, DELAG provided its service to more than 34,000 passengers on over 1,500 flights. Most of the passengers—who included members of the German royalty, military officers, government officials, and business leaders—were given free flights to publicize the zeppelin industry. Only about 10,200 passengers paid their flights before the airline stopped its operations with the beginning of World War I. Some of the most important hangars and landing fields used by DELAG included Frankfurt, Oos (Baden-Baden), Dusseldorf, Lepizig, Postdam, Hamburg, Dresden, and Gotha.
After World War I, DELAG introduced the revolutionary airship LZ-120 Bodensee, which finally allowed the airline to offer daily passenger service between Friedrichshafen and Berlin. Completed in only six months, Bodensee was the first civilian zeppelin built after the war; it was primarily designed to provide fast air transportation between Friedrichshafen and Berlin. The flight from Berlin to Friedrichshafen took 4-9 hours. During its years of operations, Bodensee completed 103 flights and carried about 2,500 passengers.
In 1921, DELAG was forced to cease operations by the Military Inter-Allied Commission of Control established under the Treaty of Versailles. DELAG’s two airships were transferred to the Allies as part of Germany’s war reparations: LZ-120 Bodensee was given to Italy, while LZ-121 Nordstern was given to France.
In 1925, restrictions imposed on zeppelin construction under the Treaty of Versailles were relaxed by the Allies, enabling the construction of an advanced zeppelin suitable for intercontinental air passenger service. In 1931, the airline started scheduling flights between Germany and South America with its Graf Zeppelin, becoming the first airline to offer transatlantic passenger airline service. The Graf Zeppelin crossed the Atlantic Ocean 136 times.
DELAG provided passenger air service until 1935. That year, its services were taken over by the Deutsche Zeppelin-Reederei, established on March 22, 1935.