Western Airlines was caught in between a rock and a hard place shortly after World War II ended. The airline, which had been continuously operating since 1926, lacked the financial resources that other industry giants like United and American enjoyed and tried to figure out how they could catch up.
Rather than chase the competition, they decided to set the bar sky-high when it came to their services. It was time to focus on the passengers. Western Airlines introduced the pressurized DC-6B aircraft in 1954, allowing for more movement and relaxation. Passengers were catered to on every flight, served filet mignon and seafood, given cigars, perfume, and orchids, and toasted to the airline’s stewardesses and crew with glasses of champagne. At the center of it all was Western’s own “VIB” named Wally, the airline’s brand mascot who helped redefine the in flight experience.
We know what it means to be a “VIP,” but what’s a “VIB” anyway? This acronym stands for “Very Important Bird” which is exactly what Wally Bird was when he made his commercial debut in 1956.
Unlike ordinary birds that had to wing it in the sky, Wally was able to coast along on his champagne flights. Back then, every Western flight was a first class flight and there was no coach section. Wally represented the good life that any Western passenger could experience on these flights and viewers liked that about him. Perched on top of the carrier with a pillow and spotted with a cigar and glass of champagne, Wally declared that Western Airlines was “The O-O-Only Way to Fly.” It was Wally’s signature catchphrase — and Western’s slogan!
Voiced by actor Shepard Menken, the cosmopolitan Wally enjoyed plenty of in-flight entertainment outside of his complimentary gifts. Lion tamers put on quite the show for this VIB, who sat back and watched thoroughly enjoying every minute.
Other commercial spots featured pizzas being hand-tossed to perfection for a delighted Wally. He was also refreshed by watching divers perform (seemingly disappearing inside of the aircraft when they hit the “water”) while sipping on a glass of bubbly. By then, Western’s “champagne flights” had become quite famous for the 21 and over set, giving us only the tiniest hint into the dapper Wally’s age.
Western Airlines merged with Delta in 1986, but those touches to great customer service forever changed the way airlines did business. The next time you fly and enjoy a meal or drink en route to your destination, remember that there’s little bird to thank for this kind of revolutionary behavior!