Pre-war LOT of the second republic
The airline was established on 29 December 1928 by the Polish government as a state-owned self-governing corporation taking over existing domestic lines Aerolot (founded 1922) and Aero (founded 1925), and started operations on 1 January 1929 with services (additional to those previously operated by Aero and Aerolot) to Bydgoszcz and Katowice. The first aircraft used were Junkers F.13 and Fokker F.VII. Its first international service began on 2 August 1929 to Vienna. It was also at this point in time that LOT's well-renowned logo (designed by a visual artist from Warsaw, Tadeusz Gronowski, and still in use today) was picked as the winning entry of the Airline's logo design competition. Accepted into IATA in 1930, LOT opened an international route to Bucharest that year, followed by Berlin, Athens, Beirut, Helsinki, Rome and some others.
In 1931 the stork and Gronowski's logo were officially recognised by the company's corporate leadership as the emblem of LOT Polish Airlines, and in the same year the company's first multi-segment flight along the route Warsaw - Lwów - Czerniowce – Bucharest was launched. Douglas DC-2, Lockheed Model 10A Electra and Model 14H Super Electra joined the fleet in 1935, 1936 and 1938 respectively (at its peak, LOT had 10 Lockheed 10, 10 Lockheed 14, 3 DC-2 and 1 Ju 52/3mge). The airline had carried 218,000 passengers by the outbreak of war. In 1934, after five years of operating under the LOT name, the airline received new head offices, technical facilities, hangars, workshops and warehouses located at the new, modern Warsaw Okęcie Airport. This constituted a move from the airline's previous base at Pole Mokotowskie as this airport had become impossible to operate safely due to the way in which it had gradually become absorbed into Warsaw's outlying urban and residential areas.
In 1938 LOT changed its name, in accordance with the Polish spelling reform of that year from Polskie Linje Lotnicze 'LOT' to Polskie Linie Lotnicze 'LOT'; in the same year a well-publicised transatlantic test flight, aimed at judging the feasibility of introducing passenger service on the Poland-United States route, was carried out by LOT pilots and crew. Services were suspended during the Second World War, and all of LOT's aircraft were either destroyed or evacuated to Romania.
LOT during the People's Republic
From August 1944 until December 1945 the Polish Air Force maintained basic transport in the country. On 10 March 1945 the Polish government recreated the LOT airline, as a state-owned enterprise. In 1946, seven years after the service was suspended, the airline restarted its operations after receiving ten Soviet-built Lisunov Li-2s, then a further 30 Li-2s and nine Douglas C-47s. Both domestic and international services restarted that year, first to Berlin, Paris, Stockholm and Prague.
Five Sud-Est Languedoc joined the fleet for a short period in 1947–1948, followed by five Ilyushin Il-12B in 1949; 13-20 Ilyushin Il-14s then followed in 1955–1957. After the end of Stalinism in Poland, few Western aircraft would be acquired; five Convair 240s in 1957 and three Vickers Viscounts in 1962 proved to be the last until the 1990s. After that, the composition of the airline's fleet shifted exclusively to Soviet-produced aircraft. Only in 1955 LOT inaugurated services to Moscow, being the centre of the Marxist–Leninist world, and to Vienna. Services to London and Zürich were not re-established until 1958, and to Rome until 1960.
A LOT Tupolev Tu-134 on approach to Frankfurt
Nine Ilyushin Il-18 turboprop airliners were introduced in June 1961, leading to the establishment of routes to Africa and Middle East, and in 1963 LOT expanded its routes to serve Cairo. In the 1970s there were added lines to Baghdad, Beirut, Benghazi, Damascus and Tunis. The Antonov An-24 was delivered from April 1966 (20 used, on domestic routes), followed by the first jet airliners Tupolev Tu-134 in November 1968 (which coincided with the opening of a new international terminal at Warsaw's Okęcie Airport). The Tu-134s were operated on European routes. The Ilyushin Il-62 long range jet airliner inaugurate the first transatlantic routes in the history of Polish air transport to Toronto in 1972 as a charter flight and a regular flight to New York City in 1973. LOT began service on its first Far East destination – Bangkok via Dubai and Bombay in 1977.
In 1977 the airline's current livery (despite occasional changes, notably in corporate typography) designed by Roman Duszek and Andrzej Zbrożek, with the large 'LOT' inscription in blue on the front fuselage, and a blue tailplane was introduced, the 1929-designed Tadeusz Gronowski logo, however, despite many changes in livery, was kept through the years, and to this day remains the same.
In the Autumn of 1981, commercial air traffic in Poland neared collapse in the wake of the communist government's crackdown on dissenters in the country after the rise of the banned 'trade union' dissident Solidarity movement, and some Western airlines suspended their flights to Warsaw. With 13 December declaration of Martial Law that same year, all LOT Polish Airlines connections were suspended. Charter flights to New York and Chicago resumed only in 1984, and eventually regular flight connections were restored on 28 April 1985. Tupolev Tu-154 mid-range airliners were acquired, after the withdrawal of Il-18 and Tu-134 aircraft from LOT's fleet in the 1980s, and were deployed successively on most European and Middle East routes. In 1986 transatlantic charter flights also reached Detroit and Los Angeles.
Post-1989 LOT Polish Airlines
After the fall of the communist system in Poland in 1989 the fleet shifted back to Western aircraft, beginning with acquisitions of the Boeing 767-200 in April 1989, followed by the Boeing 767-300 in March 1990, ATR 72 in August 1991, Boeing 737-500 in December 1992 and finally the Boeing 737-400 in April 1993. From the mid-1980s to early 1990s LOT flew from Warsaw to Chicago, Edmonton, Montreal, Newark, New York and Toronto. These routes were primarily inaugurated to serve the large Polish communities (Polonia) present in North America.
LOT was among the first Central European countries to operate American aircraft when the Boeing 767 was introduced; the 767s were used to operate LOT's longest-ever connection to Singapore. By the end of 1989 LOT had achieved much: it had hosted that year's IATA congress and achieved a milestone annual load-factor of 2.3 million passengers carried over the course of the year.
LOT's acquisition of long-range Boeing 767 airliners allowed it to reposition itself as a transit airline.
In 1990 LOT's third Boeing 767-300 landed at Warsaw Chopin Airport and not long after Boeing 737 and ATR 72 aircraft were acquired for use on LOT's expanded route network, which began to include new international destinations such as Kiev, Lviv, Minsk and Vilnius. Soon thereafter, in 1993, LOT began to expand its Western-European operations, inaugurating, in quick succession, flights to Oslo, Frankfurt and Düsseldorf, operations at Poland's other regional airports outside Warsaw were also duly expanded around this time.
By December 1992 the airline became a joint stock company, as a transitional step towards partial privatisation, which was effected in late 1999, with ownership then allocated thusly: State Treasury – 67.97% of shares in the company; Regionalny Fundusz Gospodarczy S.A. – 25.1%; the employees – 6.93%. In 1994 the airline signed a code-sharing agreement with American Airlines on flights to and from Warsaw as well as onward flights in the United States and Poland operated by both companies; flights to Thessaloniki, Zagreb and Nice were inaugurated, and according to an IATA report, in this year LOT had the youngest fleet of any airline in the world. After years of planning, in 1997 LOT set up a sister airline, EuroLOT, which, essentially operating as its parent airline's regional subsidiary, took over domestic flights. The airline was developed with the hope that it would increase transit passenger-flow through Warsaw's Chopin Airport, whilst at the same time providing capacity on routes with smaller load factors and play a part in developing LOT's reputation as the largest transit airline in Central and Eastern Europe. By 1999 LOT had purchased a number of small Embraer 145 regional jets in order to expand its short-haul fleet, and had, with the approval of the Minister of the State Treasury, begun a process of selling shares to the Swiss company SAirGroup Holding, this then led to the airline's incorporation into the then-nascent Qualiflyer Group.
Expansion of LOT's route network continued in the early 2000s and the potential of the airline's hub at Warsaw Chopin Airport to become a major transit airport was realised with more and more success. In 2000 LOT took delivery of its largest ever order of 11 aircraft and by 2001 had reached a milestone passengers-carried figure of 3 million customers in one year; such an expansion led to the reconstruction of much of LOT's ground infrastructure, and by 2002 a new central Warsaw head office was opened on Ul. 17 Stycznia. On 26 October 2003, LOT, after the collapse of the Qualiflyer Group, became the 14th member of the Star Alliance. By 2006 a new base of operations, with the reconstruction of Warsaw Chopin Airport, had opened, thus allowing LOT's full transit airline potential to be developed for the first time ever. The new airport is much larger than any previous airport in Poland. In that same year Pope Benedict XVI returned to Rome on a LOT flight following his pilgrimage to Poland.
LOT created low-cost arm Centralwings in 2004, however, the company was dissolved and reincorporated into LOT after just five years of operating due to its long-term unprofitability and LOT's wish to redeploy aircraft within its own fleet.
In 2008 LOT opened a new flight to Beijing, however this lasted just a month, in the period prior to the Olympics. The reason for failure to continue this service was given as the need to route aircraft via an air corridor to the south of Kazakhstan (as LOT did not have permission for flights over Siberia from the Russian government) which was making the services too long and thus unprofitable.
LOT started new services to Yerevan, Armenia, Beirut, Lebanon and resumed Tallinn, Estonia, Kaliningrad, Russia, Gothenburg, Sweden and Bratislava, Slovakia with its newly acquired Embraer aircraft in summer 2010, and in October of the same year LOT resumed service to Asia, with three weekly flights on the Warsaw – Hanoi route. In addition to this, new services to Tbilisi, Damascus and Cairo were inaugurated.
LOT celebrated the 80th anniversary of its foundation in 2009. The event was marked by the application of a gold livery to one of the airline's Boeing 737s.
In 2010 LOT cancelled flights, after 14 years of operation, between Kraków and the US destinations of Chicago and New York, citing profitability concerns and lack of demand. The last US-Kraków flight departed on 27 October 2010 from Chicago O'Hare. The aircraft previously used on this route were then re-deployed to serve LOT's Warsaw-Hanoi route. This route to Hanoi (the Vietnamese capital) was largely under-utilised by European carriers and has proved very successful for LOT in the beginning.
On 31 May 2010, CEO of LOT Sebastian Mikosz stated that the airline will be replacing its fleet to meet a goal of one-third new by 2011. Replacement already started with Embraer E-Jets 175/170. For domestic expanded operations, LOT purchased Dash 8-Q400 over ATR 72-600 aircraft. To date a total of six Boeing 787 Dreamliners have been delivered, with the remaining two aircraft expected to join the fleet by 2017.
On 5 February 2011, new CEO of LOT Marcin Piróg announced that the airline is considering, in the near future, to open service to Baku, Sochi, Stuttgart, Oslo, Gothenburg, Dubai, Kuwait and Ostrava from its Warsaw hub. Previously planned flights to Donetsk in Ukraine have already been inaugurated, as have routes to Tokyo and Beijing. This has now become feasible since the finalizing of an agreement on Siberian overflight permits for LOT by the Polish and Russian governments in November 2011. As a result of the new agreement, LOT will receive new take-off and landing slots at Moscow's Sheremetyevo International Airport and will begin service on a re-instated, improved Beijing service once Aeroflot begins service to Kraków on 1 June 2012. Although delayed from the original plans, LOT began flights to Tokyo Narita Airport in Japan on 13 January 2016, with flights three times per week.
Possible new destinations being considered include Bangkok, Shanghai, Shenzhen, Jakarta, Singapore, Delhi and Washington DC.
In 2010/11 LOT also announced its new 'East meets West' route expansion policy, which will see the airline add a number of new Asian destinations to its schedule over the coming years. The policy aims to take advantage of LOT's perspectives as a transit airline and the substantial passenger growth seen on Europe-Asia flights in recent years. Also, in line with this policy LOT has introduced, for the first time, a premium economy on all Boeing 787 aircraft. Additionally lie-flat seats are available in business class and all of the airline's new long-haul aircraft have been fitted with Thales personal entertainment systems.
In June 2012 LOT announced all services to New York would be centralized from Newark and JFK Terminal 4 to JFK Terminal 1 from October 2012. It would also enter into a code-share agreement with JetBlue to increase the number of onward connections available to its customers.
In July 2012 it was announced that a planned sale of a major stake in the airline to Turkish Airlines would not go ahead. The main problem was the inability of Turkish Airlines to own a majority stake as it is a Non-EU company. The airline is now again seeking a partner to take a major stake, likely a fellow EU airline.
Amidst a restructuring plan which saw the airline return to profitability for the first time in seven years, a 22 June 2015 press conference revealed details pertaining to the airlines future prospects. These include reinstating routes renounced as part of EU sanctions imposed following Polish government aid granted to ensure the airline's survival, as well as new long haul routes to Asia and North America.
As part of the airlines future fleet expansion, an increase may see the carrier operating up to 88 aircraft by 2025. Air Lease Corporation confirmed on October 13, 2016 the placement of 6 Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft with LOT, and options to lease 5 further aircraft of the same type. Four 737-800 aircraft will also be leased through AerCap with deliveries beginning in April 2017. Long haul plans will see the addition of further Boeing 787 aircraft, potentially increasing the total to 16 in the near future and 24 by 2025.