In August 1973, several Indianapolis men founded Ambassadair, an air travel club providing reduced rates for airfares and tour packages. The Ambassadair group then incorporated American Trans Air to operate as its air carrier, furnishing aircraft and operational support. ATA began operations late in 1973 with a single four-engine Boeing 720 jet, serving limited destinations in the United States and overseas.
With airline deregulation in 1978, ATA was certified as a common carrier, which allowed it to fly public charter flights as well as club tours. To handle the growing demand, it acquired a second Boeing 720. In 1984, scheduled flights began from Indianapolis to four Florida cities. This service greatly expanded, and other regular service was added from Indianapolis to Las Vegas and from San Francisco to Hawaii.
By the end of 1991, the American Trans Air club and charter flights had landed in some 490 cities in 100 countries. Contract charters had been operated for large tour operators, other major carriers, and, notably, for the federal government during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. The airlines flew 2.6 million passengers a total of 5.4 billion miles in 1991.
Still in operation over a decade later, ATA brought in $1.2 billion for troop and cargo transport in 2007. Increased costs for jet fuel, however, cut into its profits, and the airline went out of business on April 3, 2008.