also air-line, 1813, "beeline, straight line between two points on the earth's surface" (as through the air, rather than over terrain), from air (n.1) + line (n.). From 1853 and in later 19c. especially in reference to railways that ran directly between big cities in the U.S. instead of meandering from town to town in search of stock subscriptions as early railways typically did. Meaning "public aircraft transportation company" is from 1914.
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