My username indicates my favorite airline of all time: Ozark Air Lines.
Mom worked in OZ reservations in Peoria when I was growing up and my av-geek-hood was fostered due to that. I was born in 1965, she started in 1967. I grew up non-revving on OZ and many other carriers back when only a small proportion of the general public flew with any regularity, if ever. For 10 years or so Mom didn't have enough seniority to pull a summer vacation so we were always off somewhere in May (my birthday month) and October (her's). I fortunately had a grade school principal who thought that I would learn more in Europe or Hawaii etc...than I would for the two week's or so worth of school I missed. A couple of my teachers through those years hated giving me lesson plans for the time I was absent, my guess was out of jealousy more than anything. "So this 8 year old is going to France for a week and I have to create a special curriculum for him while he's gone." That kind of thing. Screw 'em!
When OZ didn't fly somewhere in those pre-deregulation days we were off on other carriers on free or steeply discounted flights. A few flights come to mind that brought other carriers to my Favorites List.
Non-revved from CDG to JFK in 1974. Coach was filled and they put Mom and me in first a bit reluctantly as I was 9 at the time but already a seasoned flyer and was well versed on my expected behavior. The agent in CDG was of course apprehensive and felt the need to "coach" me on how to behave, which my Mom was quietly amused by. Anyway, off to first we went and I spent most of the flight playing gin rummy with a couple of FA's who declared me one of the most delightful passengers they ever had to my Mother who had come looking for me and asked the FA's if I was "bothering" them. Quite the contrary!
Flew PIA-ORD on OZ, than TWA L-1011's to LAS and back in 1977. I was 12 and Mom and her boyfriend wanted to see Frank Sinatra, which they did (I was too young to attend the dinner show). That was the night Frank's mother was killed in a plane crash. He kept going offstage between numbers, which they thought was odd. He was checking on his Mom's status. Like the true pro he was he finished the show and cancelled the next few engagements. He knew in the middle of the show that his Mother was most likely, or confirmed dead. Meanwhile I had won a gigantic stuffed walrus at Circus Circus and we had no idea if TWA would let me on the plane with that monstrosity. Coach was full and the FA put me and my walrus in two open seats in (I think) Ambassador class while Mom and her boyfriend "rotted" in coach. I became the FA's "Pampered Little Prince" for the LAS-ORD leg and never forgot the awesome service I received on that flight as an airline non-rev brat. Albeit a VERY well behaved one. Those two TWA experiences stand out in my mind and boosted the airline to one of my "Faves".
We went to Quebec City for the Winter Carnival sometime in the early/mid 70's. LGA-YUL-YQB-YUL-ORD on AC IIRC. I don't really remember anything about the actual flights but every landing on the AC DC-9's were so smooth I never felt the planes hit the runways. ALL FOUR FLIGHTS! That meant something I guess as AC was a carrier I raved about for years.
In 1972 when I was 7 we flew TWA JFK-MAD, then on to LIS after a few days in Spain. Back then it was not so common to see a little blonde kid in either country but I remember quite well the way the men and women fawned all over me. After a few failed attempts to hail a cab in Madrid, Mom got the bright idea of shoving me into the street with my hand raised. Within seconds we had two or three cabbies fighting over the dubious honor of hauling us to the next place we were headed. The Spaniards bent over backwards to accommodate us but OMG....the Portuguese! Our first day in Lisbon we had checked into the hotel and were hungry. There was a little place down the street the concierge knew and insisted on walking us there. They didn't speak English in the place and the concierge said "something" to the proprietor of the place and the next thing we knew the were bringing out what seemed like 10 courses of food to us and all the ladies in the place (customers and employees) were coming over and making sure I wasn't going to starve that day. After a few awesome days in Lisbon we were back to JFK on TWA, but the flight was full so they sent us to Pan Am who had some seats available. Those PA FA's treated us like gold, even letting me up in the upper deck of what was my first 747 flight. It was the only time I flew Pan Am, but it was a great flight I still remember.
I had also flown on United, American, Braniff, Eastern, Delta, Aloha and Hawaiian in those years as well and never really had a bad flight. Flew the old British Northeast from LHR to NCL and back, up on a Viscount and back on a Trident. So glad I got to experience those aircraft, but the flights were unexceptional. Got to fly a Caravelle from LHR to ORY on AF, and loved those windows, but again, your basic flight.
The Honorable Mentions.
Never had the chance to fly these carriers, but I've always had a soft spot for the "Second Force" carriers of yesteryear:
Aero Condor (Colombia)
Sorry If I've bored anyone with the extended "trip reports" but I think some backstory enhances the reasons for my choices.
"My soul is in the sky". -Pyramus- A Midsummer's Night Dream