Pan American World Airways

Pan American World Airways, originally founded as Pan American Airways[1] and commonly known as Pan Am, was the principal and largest international air carrier and unofficial flag carrier of the United States from 1927 until its collapse on December 4, 1991. It was founded in 1927 as a scheduled air mail and passenger service operating between Key West, Florida and Havana, Cuba. The airline is credited for many innovations that shaped the international airline industry, including the widespread use of jet aircraft, jumbo jets, and computerized reservation systems.[2] It was also a founding member of the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the global airline industry association.[3]

Pan American World Airways
IATA ICAO Callsign
FoundedMarch 14, 1927 (March 14, 1927)
(as Pan American Airways [PAA])
Commenced operationsOctober 19, 1927 (October 19, 1927)
Ceased operationsDecember 4, 1991 (December 4, 1991)
Focus cities
Frequent-flyer programWorldPass
SubsidiariesSahsa (40%) (1945–1970)
Pan Am Express (1987–1991)
Panagra (50%) (1928–1967)
Fleet size226
Destinations86 countries on all six major continents at its peak in 1968
Company slogan"The System of the Flying Clippers" (1946–1953)
"World's Most Experienced Airline" (1953–early 1970s)
"Pan Am makes the going great" (late 1960s/early 1970s)
"Experience makes the difference" (early 1970s)
"America's airline to the world" (late 1970s)
"You can't beat the experience" (1980s)
"Die Flügel Berlins" (German for "Berlin's wings", 1980s, only in Germany)
"Every country has an airline. The World has Pan Am." (late 1980s)
"Expect More From Pan Am" (Some TV ads)
"Say Hello To Pan Am" (Pan Am-National merger)
Parent companyPan Am Corporation
HeadquartersNew York City
Miami, Florida
Key peopleJuan T. Trippe
(CEO, 1927–1968)
Harold E. Gray
(CEO, 1968–1969)
Najeeb E. Halaby Jr
(CEO, 1969–1971)
William T. Seawell
(CEO, 1971–1981)
C. Edward Acker
(CEO, 1981–1988)
Thomas G. Plaskett
(CEO, 1988–1991)
Russell L. Ray, Jr.
(CEO, 1991)

Identified by its blue globe logo ("The Blue Meatball"),[4] the use of the word "Clipper" in its aircraft names and call signs, and the white uniform caps of its pilots, the airline was a cultural icon of the 20th century. In an era dominated by flag carriers that were wholly or majority government-owned, it was also the unofficial overseas flag carrier of the United States. During most of the jet era, Pan Am's flagship terminal was the Worldport located at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City.[2]



Pan American Airways, Incorporated (PAA) was founded as a shell company on March 14, 1927 by Air Corps Majors Henry H. "Hap" Arnold, Carl A. Spaatz, and John H. Jouett as a counterbalance to the German-owned Colombian carrier SCADTA,[5] operating in Colombia since 1920. SCADTA lobbied hard for landing rights in the Panama Canal Zone, ostensibly to survey air routes for a connection to the United States, which the Air Corps viewed as a precursor to a possible German aerial threat to the canal. Arnold and Spaatz drew up the prospectus for Pan American when SCADTA hired a company in Delaware to obtain air mail contracts from the US government. Pan American was able to obtain the US mail delivery contract to Cuba, but lacked any aircraft to perform the job and did not have landing rights in Cuba.[6]

Juan Trippe formed the Aviation Corporation of the Americas (ACA) on June 2, 1927, with the backing of powerful and politically connected financiers who included Cornelius Vanderbilt Whitney and W. Averell Harriman, and raised $250,000 in startup capital from the sale of stock.[7] Their operation had the all-important landing rights for Havana, having acquired American International Airways, a small airline established in 1926 by John K. Montgomery and Richard B. Bevier as a seaplane service from Key West, Florida, to Havana. ACA met its deadline of having an air mail service operating by October 19, 1927 by chartering a Fairchild FC-2 floatplane from a small Dominican Republic carrier, West Indian Aerial Express.[8][9]

The Atlantic, Gulf, and Caribbean Airways company was established on October 11, 1927 by New York City investment banker Richard Hoyt, who served as president.[8] This company merged with PAA and ACA on June 23, 1928.[8] Richard Hoyt was named as president of the new Aviation Corporation of the Americas, but Trippe and his partners held 40% of the equity and Whitney was made president. Trippe became operational head of Pan American Airways, the new company's principal operating subsidiary.[8]

The US government approved the original Pan Am's mail delivery contract with little objection, out of fears that SCADTA would have no competition in bidding for routes between Latin America and the United States. The government further helped Pan Am by insulating it from its US competitors, seeing the airline as the "chosen instrument" for US-based international air routes.[10] The airline expanded internationally, benefiting from a virtual monopoly on foreign routes.[11]

Trippe and his associates planned to extend Pan Am's network through all of Central and South America. During the late 1920s and early 1930s, Pan Am purchased a number of ailing or defunct airlines in Central and South America and negotiated with postal officials to win most of the government's airmail contracts to the region. In September 1929 Trippe toured Latin America with Charles Lindbergh to negotiate landing rights in a number of countries, including Barranquilla on SCADTA's home turf of Colombia, as well as Maracaibo and Caracas in Venezuela. By the end of the year, Pan Am offered flights along the west coast of South America to Peru. The following year, Pan Am purchased the New York, Rio, and Buenos Aires Line, giving it a seaplane route along the east coast of South America to Buenos Aires, Argentina, and westbound to Santiago, Chile. Its Brazilian subsidiary NYRBA do Brasil was later renamed as Panair do Brasil.[12] Pan Am also partnered with Grace Shipping Company in 1929 to form Pan American-Grace Airways, better known as Panagra, to gain a foothold to destinations in South America.[8] In the same year, Pan Am acquired a controlling stake in Mexicana de Aviación and took over Mexicana's Ford Trimotor route between Brownsville, Texas and Mexico City, extending this service to the Yucatan Peninsula to connect with Pan Am's Caribbean route network.[13]

Pan Am's holding company, the Aviation Corporation of the Americas, was one of the most sought after stocks on the New York Curb Exchange in 1929, and flurries of speculation surrounded each of its new route awards. In April 1929 Trippe and his associates reached an agreement with United Aircraft and Transport Corporation (UATC) to segregate Pan Am operations to south of the Mexico – United States border, in exchange for UATC taking a large shareholder stake (UATC was the parent company of what are now Boeing, Pratt & Whitney, and United Airlines).[14][15] The Aviation Corporation of the Americas changed its name to Pan American Airways Corporation in 1931.

Flight crews

Critical to Pan Am's success as an airline was the proficiency of its flight crews, who were rigorously trained in long-distance flight, seaplane anchorage and berthing operations, over-water navigation, radio procedure, aircraft repair, and marine tides.[16] During the day, use of the compass while judging drift from sea currents was normal procedure; at night, all flight crews were trained to use celestial navigation. In bad weather, pilots used dead reckoning and timed turns, making successful landings at fogged-in harbors by landing out to sea, then taxiing the plane into port. Many pilots had merchant marine certifications and radio licenses as well as pilot certificates.[17][18]

A Pan Am flight captain would normally begin his career years earlier as a radio operator or even mechanic, steadily gaining his licenses and working his way up the flight crew roster to navigator, second officer, and first officer. Before World War II it was not unusual for a captain to make engine repairs at remote locations.[19]

Pan Am's mechanics and support staff were similarly trained. Newly hired applicants were frequently paired with experienced flight mechanics in several areas of the company until they had achieved proficiency in all aircraft types.[20] Emphasis was placed on learning to maintain and overhaul aircraft in harsh seaborne environments when faced with logistical difficulties, as might be expected in a small foreign port without an aviation infrastructure or even an adequate road network. Many crews supported repair operations by flying in spare parts to planes stranded overseas, in some cases performing repairs themselves.[19]

Clipper era

Pan Am started its South American routes with Consolidated Commodore and Sikorsky S-38 flying boats. The S-40, larger than the eight-passenger S-38, began flying for Pan Am in 1931. Carrying the nicknames American Clipper, Southern Clipper, and Caribbean Clipper, they were the first of the series of 28 Clippers that symbolized Pan Am between 1931 and 1946. During this time, Pan Am operated Clipper services to Latin America from the International Pan American Airport at Dinner Key in Miami, Florida.

In 1937 Pan Am turned to Britain and France to begin seaplane service between the United States and Europe. Pan Am reached an agreement with both countries to offer service from Norfolk, Virginia, to Europe via Bermuda and the Azores using the S-42s. A joint service from Port Washington, New York to Bermuda began in June 1937, with Pan Am using Sikorskys and Imperial Airways using the C class flying boat RMA Cavalier.[21]

On July 5, 1937 survey flights across the North Atlantic began.[22] Pan Am Clipper III, a Sikorsky S-42, landed at Botwood in the Bay of Exploits in Newfoundland from Port Washington, via Shediac, New Brunswick. The next day Pan Am Clipper III left Botwood for Foynes in Ireland. The same day, a Short Empire C-Class flying boat, the Caledonia, left Foynes for Botwood, and landed July 6, 1937, reaching Montreal on July 8 and New York on July 9.

Trippe decided to start a service from San Francisco to Honolulu and on to Hong Kong and Auckland following steamship routes. After negotiating traffic rights in 1934 to land at Pearl Harbor, Midway Island, Wake Island, Guam, and Subic Bay (Manila),[24] Pan Am shipped $500,000 worth of aeronautical equipment westward in March 1935 using the North Haven, a 15,000 ton merchant ship it chartered for the purpose of provisioning each island that the clippers would stop at on their 4 to 5-day flight.[25] Pan Am ran its first survey flight to Honolulu in April 1935 with a Sikorsky S-42 flying boat.[26] The airline won the contract for a San Francisco – Canton mail route later that year and operated its first commercial flight carrying mail and express (no passengers) in a Martin M-130 from Alameda to Manila amid media fanfare on November 22, 1935. The five-leg, 8,000-mile (12,875 km) flight arrived in Manila on November 29 and returned to San Francisco on December 6, cutting the time between the two cities via the fastest scheduled steamship by over two weeks.[27] (Both the United States and Philippine Islands issued special stamps for the two flights.) The first passenger flight left Alameda on October 21, 1936.[28] The fare from San Francisco to Manila or Hong Kong in 1937 was $950 one way (about $16560 in 2018) and $1,710 round trip.[29]

On August 6, 1937 Juan Trippe accepted United States aviation's highest annual prize, the Collier Trophy, on behalf of PAA from President Franklin D. Roosevelt for the company's "establishment of the transpacific airline and the successful execution of extended overwater navigation and the regular operations thereof."[30]

Six large, long-range Boeing 314 flying boats were delivered to Pan Am in early 1939. On March 30, 1939, the Yankee Clipper, piloted by Harold E. Gray, made the first ever trans-Atlantic passenger flight. The first leg of the flight, Baltimore to Horta, took 17 hours and 32 minutes and covered 2,400 miles. The second leg from Horta to Pan Am's newly-built airport in Lisbon took 7 hours and 7 minutes and covered 1,200 miles.[31] The Boeing 314 also enabled the start of scheduled weekly contract Foreign Air Mail (F.A.M. 18) service and later passenger flights from New York (Port Washington, L.I.) to both France and Britain. The Southern route to France was inaugurated for Air Mail on May 20, 1939 by the Yankee Clipper piloted by Arthur E. LaPorte flying via Horta, Azores and Lisbon, Portugal to Marseilles.[32] Passenger service over the route was added on June 28, 1939 by the Dixie Clipper piloted by R.O.D. Sullivan.[33] The Eastbound trip departed every Wednesday at Noon and arrived at Marseilles on Friday at 3 pm GCT with return service leaving Marseilles on Sunday at 8 am and arriving at Port Washington on Tuesday at 7 am. The Northern transatlantic route to Britain was inaugurated for Air Mail service on June 24, 1939 by the Yankee Clipper piloted by Harold Gray flying via Shediac (New Brunswick), Botwood (Newfoundland), and Foynes (Ireland) to Southampton.[34][35] Passenger service was added on the Northern route on July 8, 1939 by the Yankee Clipper.[36] Eastbound flights left on Saturday at 7:30 am and arrived at Southampton on Sunday at 1 pm GCT. Westbound service departed Southampton on Wednesday at Noon and arrived at Port Washington on Thursday at 3 pm. After the outbreak of World War II in Europe on September 1, 1939 the terminus became Foynes until the service ceased for the winter on October 5 while transatlantic service to Lisbon via the Azores continued into 1941. During the war Pan Am flew over 90 million miles (145 million kilometers) worldwide in support of military operations.[11]

Pan Am also used Boeing 314 flying boats for the Pacific route: in China, passengers could connect to domestic flights on the Pan Am-operated China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) network, co-owned with the Chinese government. Pan Am flew to Singapore for the first time in 1941, starting a semi-monthly service which reduced San Francisco–Singapore travel times from 25 days to six days.[37]

In 1940 Pan Am and TWA began using the Boeing 307 Stratoliner, the first pressurized airliner in service and the first with a flight engineer in the crew. The Boeing 307's airline service was short-lived, as all were commandeered for military service when the United States entered World War II.[38]

The "Clippers" — the name hearkened back to the 19th century clipper ships – were the only American passenger aircraft of the time capable of intercontinental travel. To compete with ocean liners, the airline offered first-class seats on such flights, and the style of flight crews became more formal. Instead of being leather-jacketed, silk-scarved airmail pilots, the crews of the "Clippers" wore naval-style uniforms and adopted a set procession when boarding the aircraft.[39]

While waiting at Foynes, County Limerick, Ireland for a Pan Am Clipper flight to New York in 1942, passengers were served a drink today known as Irish coffee by Chef Joe Sheridan.[40]

During World War II most Clippers were pressed into military service. Pan Am pioneered a new air route across Western and Central Africa to Iran. In January 1942, the Pacific Clipper completed the first circumnavigation of the globe by a commercial airliner. Another first occurred in January 1943, when Franklin D. Roosevelt became the first US president to fly abroad, in the Dixie Clipper.[41] During this period Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was a Clipper pilot; he was aboard the Clipper Eclipse when it crashed in Syria on June 19, 1947.[42][43]

Growing competition after World War II

Air transport's growing importance in the post-war era meant that Pan Am would no longer enjoy the official patronage it had been afforded in pre-war days to prevent the emergence of any meaningful competition, both at home and abroad.[44]

Although Pan Am continued to use its political influence to lobby for protection of its position as America's primary international airline, it encountered increasing competition — first from American Export Airlines (American Overseas Airlines (AOA) from November 1945[45]) across the Atlantic to Europe, and subsequently from others including TWA to Europe, Braniff to South America, United to Hawaii and Northwest Orient to East Asia, as well as five potential rivals to Mexico. This changed situation resulted from the new post-war approach the Civil Aeronautics Board (CAB) took toward the promotion of competition between major US carriers on key domestic and international scheduled routes compared with pre-war US aviation policy.[46][44][47]

Overseas expansion and fleet modernization

AOA was the first airline to begin regular landplane flights across the Atlantic, on October 24, 1945. In January 1946 Pan Am scheduled seven DC-4s a week east from LaGuardia Airport, five to London (Hurn Airport) and two to Lisbon. Time to Hurn was 17 hours 40 minutes including stops, or 20 hours 45 minutes to Lisbon. A Boeing 314 flying boat flew LaGuardia to Lisbon once every two weeks in 29 hours 30 minutes; flying boat flights ended shortly thereafter.[nb 1]

TWA's transatlantic challenge – the impending introduction of its faster, pressurized Lockheed Constellations – resulted in Pan Am ordering its own Constellation fleet at $750,000 apiece. Pan Am began transatlantic Constellation flights on January 14, 1946, beating TWA by three weeks.[44]

In January 1946 Miami to Buenos Aires took 71 hours 15 minutes in a Pan Am DC-3, but the following summer DC-4s flew Idlewild to Buenos Aires in 38 hr 30 min. In January 1958 Pan Am's DC-7Bs flew New York to Buenos Aires in 25 hours 20 minutes, while the National – Pan Am – Panagra DC-7B via Panama and Lima took 22 hours 45 minutes.[48] Convair 240s replaced DC-3s and other pre-war types on Pan Am's shorter flights in the Caribbean and South America. Pan Am also acquired a few Curtiss C-46s for a freight network that eventually extended to Buenos Aires.[47]

In January 1946 Pan Am had no transpacific flights beyond Hawaii, but they soon resumed with DC-4s. In January 1958 the California to Tokyo flight was a daily Stratocruiser that took 31 hours 45 minutes from San Francisco or 32 hours 15 minutes from Los Angeles. (A flight to Seattle and a connection to Northwest's DC-7C totaled 24 hours 13 minutes from San Francisco, but Pan Am was not allowed to fly that route.)[48] The Stratocruisers' double-deck fuselage with sleeping berths and a lower-deck lounge helped it compete with its rival. "Super Stratocruisers" with more fuel appeared on Pan Am's transatlantic routes in November 1954, making nonstop eastward and one-stop westward schedules more reliably.

In June 1947 Pan Am started the first scheduled round-the-world airline flight. In September the weekly DC-4 was scheduled to leave San Francisco at 2200 Thursday as Flight 1, stopping at Honolulu, Midway, Wake, Guam, Manila, Bangkok and arriving in Calcutta on Monday at 1245, where it met Flight 2, a Constellation that had left New York at 2330 Friday. The DC-4 returned to San Francisco as Flight 2; the Constellation left Calcutta 1330 Tuesday, stopped at Karachi, Istanbul, London, Shannon, Gander, and arrived LaGuardia Thursday at 1455. A few months later PA 3 took over the Manila route while PA 1 shifted to Tokyo and Shanghai. All Pan Am round-the-world flights included at least one change of plane until Boeing 707s took over in 1960. PA 1 became daily in 1962–63, making different en route stops on different days of the week; in January 1963 it left San Francisco at 0900 daily and was scheduled into New York 56 hr 10 min later. Los Angeles replaced San Francisco in 1968; when Boeing 747s finished replacing 707s in 1971 all stops except Tehran and Karachi were served daily in each direction. For a year or so in 1975–76 Pan Am finally completed the round-the-world trip, New York to New York.[49]

In January 1950 Pan American Airways Corporation officially became Pan American World Airways, Inc. (The airline had begun calling itself Pan American World Airways in 1943.)[50][51] In September 1950 Pan Am completed the $17.45 million purchase of American Overseas Airlines from American Airlines.[44] That month Pan Am ordered 45 Douglas DC-6Bs. The first, Clipper Liberty Bell (N6518C),[52] inaugurated Pan Am's all-tourist class Rainbow service between New York and London on May 1, 1952 to complement the all-first President Stratocruiser service.[51] From June 1954, DC-6Bs began replacing DC-4s on Pan Am's internal German routes.[53][54][55]

Pan Am introduced the Douglas DC-7C "Seven Seas" on transatlantic routes in summer 1956. In January 1958 the DC-7C nonstop took 10 hours 45 minutes Idlewild to London, enabling Pan Am to hold its own against TWA's Super Constellations and Starliners. In 1957 Pan Am started DC-7C flights direct from the West Coast of the United States to London and Paris with a fuel stop in Canada or Greenland. The introduction of the faster Bristol Britannia turboprop by British Overseas Airways Corporation (BOAC) between New York and London from December 19, 1957 ended Pan Am's competitive leadership there.[56][51]

In January 1958 Pan Am scheduled 47 flights a week east from Idlewild to Europe, Africa, the Middle East and beyond; the following August there were 65.[48]

Jet age

Although Pan Am contemplated purchasing the United Kingdom's De Havilland Comets (having held the distinction of being the first jetliner in the world), they ultimately waited for Boeing to release their first jetliner, and thus was the launch customer of the Boeing 707, placing an order for 20 in October 1955. It also ordered 25 of Douglas's DC-8, which could seat six across (the 707 originally was to be 144 inches (3.66 m) wide with five-abreast seating; Boeing widened it to match the DC-8). The combined order value was $269 million. Pan Am's first scheduled jet flight was from New York Idlewild to Paris Le Bourget (stopping at Gander to refuel) on October 26, 1958, with Boeing 707–121 Clipper America (N711PA) with 111 passengers.[58][59] The 320 "Intercontinental" series 707 in 1959–60, and the Douglas DC-8 in March 1960, enabled non-stop transatlantic crossings with a viable payload in both directions.

Widebody era

Pan Am was the launch customer of the Boeing 747, placing a $525 million order for 25 in April 1966.[60][61] On January 15, 1970 First Lady Pat Nixon christened a Pan Am Boeing 747 Clipper Young America at Washington Dulles in the presence of Pan Am president Najeeb Halaby. During the next few days, Pan Am flew several 747s to major airports in the United States as a public relations effort, allowing the public to tour the airplanes. Pan Am began its final preparations for the first 747 service on the evening of January 21, 1970, when Clipper Young America was scheduled to fly from New York John F. Kennedy to London Heathrow. An engine failure delayed the inaugural flight's departure by several hours, necessitating the substitution of another 747, Clipper Victor, which eventually flew to London Heathrow.[62] Passengers cheered and drank champagne as the jet finally lifted off from the runway at John F. Kennedy Airport.

Pan Am carried 11 million passengers over 20 billion miles (32 billion km) in 1970, the year it revolutionized air travel with the first widebodied airliner.[63]

Supersonic plans

Pan Am was one of the first three airlines to sign options for the Aérospatiale-BAC Concorde, but like other airlines that took out options – with the exception of BOAC and Air France — it did not purchase the supersonic jet. Pan Am was the first US airline to sign for the Boeing 2707, the American supersonic transport (SST) project, with 15 delivery positions reserved;[64] these aircraft never saw service after Congress voted against additional funding in 1971.[65]

Computerized reservations, Pan Am Building and Worldport

Pan Am commissioned IBM to build PANAMAC, a large computer that booked airline and hotel reservations, which was installed in 1964. It also held large amounts of information about cities, countries, airports, aircraft, hotels, and restaurants.[66]

The computer occupied the fourth floor of the Pan Am Building, which was the largest commercial office building in the world for some time.[67]

The airline also built Worldport, a terminal building at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York. It was distinguished by its elliptical, four-acre (16,000 m²) roof, suspended far from the outside columns of the terminal below by 32 sets of steel posts and cables. The terminal was designed to allow passengers to board and disembark via stairs without getting wet by parking the nose of the aircraft under the overhang. The introduction of the jetbridge made this feature obsolete. Pan Am built a gilded training building in the style of Edward Durell Stone designed by Steward-Skinner Architects in Miami.


At its peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Pan Am advertised under the slogan, the "World's Most Experienced Airline".[68] It carried 6.7 million passengers in 1966, and by 1968, its 150 jets flew to 86 countries on every continent except for Antarctica over a scheduled route network of 81,410 unduplicated miles (131,000 km). During that period the airline was profitable and its cash reserves totaled $1 billion.[59] Most routes were between New York, Europe, and South America, and between Miami and the Caribbean. In 1964 Pan Am began a helicopter shuttle between New York's John F. Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports and Lower Manhattan, operated by New York Airways.[58] Aside from the DC-8, the Boeing 707 and 747, the Pan Am jet fleet included Boeing 720Bs and 727s (the first aircraft to sport Pan Am — rather than Pan American — titles[59]). (The airline later had Boeing 737s and 747SPs (which could fly nonstop New York to Tokyo), Lockheed L-1011 Tristars, McDonnell-Douglas DC-10s, and Airbus A300s and A310s.) Pan Am owned the InterContinental Hotel chain and had a financial interest in the Falcon Jet Corporation, which held marketing rights to the Dassault Falcon 20 business jet in North America. The airline was involved in creating a missile-tracking range in the South Atlantic and operating a nuclear-engine testing laboratory in Nevada.[69] In addition, Pan Am participated in several notable humanitarian flights.[58]

At its height Pan Am was well regarded for its modern fleet[70] and experienced crews: cabin staff were multilingual and usually college graduates, hired from around the world, frequently with nursing training.[71] Pan Am's onboard service and cuisine, inspired by Maxim's de Paris, were delivered "with a personal flair that has rarely been equaled."[72][73]

Internal German Services (IGS) and other operations

From 1950 until 1990 Pan Am operated a comprehensive network of high-frequency, short-haul scheduled services between West Germany and West Berlin, first with Douglas DC-4s, then with DC-6Bs (from 1954) and Boeing 727s (from 1966).[53][54][55][74][75][76][77][78][79] This had come about as a result of an agreement among the United States, the United Kingdom, France, and the Soviet Union at the end of World War II which prohibited Germany from having its own airlines and restricted the provision of commercial air services from and to Berlin to air transport providers headquartered in these four countries. Rising Cold War tensions between the Soviet Union and the three Western powers resulted in unilateral Soviet withdrawal from the quadripartite Allied Control Commission in 1948, culminating in the division of Germany the following year. These events, together with Soviet insistence on a very narrow interpretation of the post-war agreement on the Western powers' access rights to Berlin, meant that until the end of the Cold War air transport in West Berlin continued to be confined to the carriers of the remaining Allied Control Commission powers, with aircraft required to fly across hostile East German territory through three 20 mi (32 km) wide air corridors at a maximum altitude of 10,000 ft (3,000 m).[nb 2][59][80] The airline's West Berlin operation consistently accounted for more than half of the city's entire commercial air traffic during that period.[81][82][83]

For years, more passengers boarded Pan Am flights at Berlin Tempelhof than at any other airport.[84] Pan Am operated a Berlin crew base of mainly German flight attendants and American pilots to staff its IGS flights. The German National flight attendants were later taken over by Lufthansa when it acquired Pan Am's Berlin route authorities. Over the years other local flight attendant bases outside the US included London for intra-Europe and transatlantic flying, Warsaw, Istanbul and Belgrade for intra-Europe flights, a Tel Aviv base solely staffing the daily Tel Aviv-Paris-Tel Aviv service, a Nairobi base solely staffing the Nairobi-Frankfurt-Nairobi service as well as Delhi and Bombay bases for India-Frankfurt flights.

Pan Am also operated Rest and Recreation (R&R) flights during the Vietnam War. These flights carried American service personnel for R&R leaves in Hong Kong, Tokyo, and other Asian cities.[85]

Passenger traffic (1951–1989)

Revenue passenger-miles (millions)
(scheduled flights only)
Year Pan American National Airlines (NA)
1951 1,551 432
1955 2,676 905
1960 4,833 1,041
1965 8,869 2,663
1970 16,389 2,643
1975 14,863 3,865
1979 22,872 8,294
1981 28,924 (merged 1980)
1985 27,144
1989 29,359

In August 1953 PAA scheduled passenger flights to 106 airports; in May 1968 to 122 airports; in November 1978 to 65 airports (plus a few freight-only airports); in November 1985 to 98 airports; in November 1991 to 46 airports (plus 14 more that just got "Pan Am Express" prop flights).


Fallout from 1973 oil crisis

Pan Am had invested in a large fleet of Boeing 747s expecting that air travel would continue to increase. It did not, as the introduction of many wide-bodies by Pan Am and its competitors coincided with an economic slowdown. Reduced air travel after the 1973 oil crisis made the overcapacity problem worse. Pan Am was vulnerable, with its high overheads as a result of a large decentralized infrastructure. High fuel prices and its many older, less fuel-efficient narrow-bodied airplanes increased the airline's operating costs. Federal route awards to other airlines, such as the Transpacific Route Case, further reduced the number of passengers Pan Am carried and its profit margins.[11][61]

On September 23, 1974, a group of Pan Am employees published an advertisement in The New York Times to register their disagreement over federal policies which they felt were harming the financial viability of their employer.[87] The ad cited discrepancies in airport landing fees, such as Pan Am paying $4,200 to land a plane in Sydney, while the Australian carrier, Qantas, paid only $178 to land a jet in Los Angeles. The ad also contended that the United States Postal Service was paying foreign airlines five times as much to carry US mail in comparison to Pan Am. Finally, the ad questioned why the Export-Import Bank of the United States loaned money to Japan, France, and Saudi Arabia at 6% interest while Pan Am paid 12%.[88]

By the mid-1970s Pan Am had racked up $364 million of accumulated losses over a 10-year period, and its debts approached $1 billion. This threatened the airline with bankruptcy. Former American Airlines vice president of operations, William T. Seawell, who had replaced Najeeb Halaby as Pan Am president in 1972, began implementing a turnaround strategy: trimming the network by 25%, slashing the 40,000-strong workforce by 30% and cutting wages, introducing stringent economies and rescheduling debt, and reducing the size of the fleet. These measures aided by the use of tax-loss credits enabled Pan Am to avert financial collapse and return to profitability in 1977.[61]

Attempts to build a US domestic network

Since the 1930s Juan Trippe had coveted domestic routes for Pan Am. Through the late 1950s and early 1960s, and in the mid-1970s, there were talks of merging the airline with a domestic operator such as American Airlines, Eastern Air Lines, Trans World Airlines or United Airlines.[44] As rival airlines convinced Congress that Pan Am would use its political clout to monopolize US air routes, the CAB repeatedly denied the airline permission to operate in the US, by growth or by a merger with another airline. Pan Am remained an American carrier operating international routes only (aside from Hawaii and Alaska). The last time Pan Am was permitted to merge with another airline prior to the deregulation of the US airline industry was in 1950, when it took over American Overseas Airlines from American Airlines.[44] After deregulation in 1978, more US domestic airlines began competing with Pan Am internationally.[89][90]

National Airlines takeover

To acquire domestic routes, Pan Am, under president Seawell, set its eyes on National Airlines. Pan Am wound up in a bidding war with Frank Lorenzo's Texas International that boosted National's stock price, but Pan Am was granted permission to buy National in 1980 in what was described as the "Coup of the Decade." The acquisition of National Airlines for $437 million further burdened Pan Am's balance sheet, already under strain after financing the Boeing 747s ordered in the mid-1960s. This acquisition did little to improve Pan Am's competitive position in relation to nimbler, lower-cost competitors in a deregulated industry, as National's North-South route structure provided insufficient feed at Pan Am's transatlantic and transpacific gateways in New York and Los Angeles. The airlines had incompatible fleets (apart from the Boeing 727) and corporate cultures (partly as a result of National being perceived by some Pan Am employees as mainly a regional "backwoods" carrier with few trunk routes), and the integration was poorly handled by Pan Am management who presided over an increase in labor costs as a result of harmonizing National's pay scales with Pan Am's.[91] Although revenues increased by 62% from 1979 to 1980, fuel costs from the merger increased by 157% during a weak economic climate. Further "miscellaneous expenses" increased by 74%.[92][93]

Disposal of non-core assets and operational cutbacks

As 1980 progressed and the airline's financial situation worsened, Seawell began selling Pan Am's non-core assets. The first asset to be sold off was the airline's 50% interest in Falcon Jet Corporation in August. Later in November, Pan Am sold the Pan Am Building to the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company for $400 million. In September 1981 Pan Am sold off its InterContinental hotels chain. Before this transaction closed, Seawell was replaced by C. Edward Acker, Air Florida's founder and ex-president as well as a former Braniff International executive. The combined sale value of the InterContinental chain and the Falcon Jet Corp stake was $500 million.[94][95]

Acker followed up the asset disposal program he had inherited from his predecessor with operational cutbacks. Most prominent among these was the discontinuation of the round-the world service from October 31, 1982, when Pan Am ceased flying between Delhi, Bangkok and Hong Kong due to the sector's unprofitability.[96] To provide additional seating capacity for its 1983 spring/summer season, the airline also acquired three passenger Boeing 747-200Bs from Flying Tigers, who took four Pan Am's 747–100 freighters in return.[97]

Fleet restructuring

Despite Pan Am's precarious financial situation, in summer 1984 Acker went ahead with an order for new Airbus models in wide body and narrow-bodied aircraft, becoming the second American company to order Airbus aircraft, after Eastern Air Lines.[98] These advanced aircraft, economically and operationally superior to the 747s and 727s Pan Am operated at the time, were intended to make the airline more competitive. New A300s began replacing 727s on the Internal German Services (IGS) and Caribbean networks later the same year while new A310s later replaced some of the 747s on the slimmed-down transatlantic network following ETOPS certification (approval by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) of transoceanic flying with twin-engined aircraft). Pan Am's decision not to take delivery of the A320s and to sell its delivery positions to Braniff meant that the majority of its short-haul US domestic and European feeder routes, and most of its IGS services, continued to be flown with obsolete 727s until the airline's demise. This put it at a disadvantage against rivals operating state-of-the-art aircraft with greater passenger appeal.[95] In September 1984 Pan American World Airways created a holding company called Pan Am Corporation to assume ownership and control of the airline and the services division.

The Boeing 747SP-21 "Clipper Constitution" on July 1, 1976 at Los Angeles International Airport.
A Boeing 747SP-21 Landing at Los Angeles International Airport in 1990.
The L-1011-500 "Clipper Golden Eagle" in 1984.
A Lockheed L-1011-500 of United Airlines after the sale of the Pan Am Pacific Division in 1985.

Sale of Pacific division

Given the airline's dire state, in April 1985, Acker sold Pan Am's entire Pacific Division, which consisted of 25% of its entire route system and their major hub at Tokyo Narita International Airport to United Airlines for $750 million. This sale also enabled Pan Am to address fleet incompatibility issues related to the earlier acquisition of National Airlines as it included Pan Am's Pratt & Whitney JT9D-powered 747SPs, its Rolls-Royce RB211-powered L-1011-500s and the General Electric CF6-powered DC-10s inherited from National, which were transferred to United along with the Pacific routes.[61][99]

Establishment of local feeder networks

In the early 1980s, Pan Am contracted several regional airlines (Air Atlanta, Emerald Air, Empire Airlines, Presidential Airways and Republic Airlines) to operate feeder flights under the Pan Am Express branding.[100][101]

The acquisition of Pennsylvania-based commuter airline Ransome Airlines for $65 million (which was finalized in 1987) was meant to address the issue of providing additional feed for Pan Am's mainline services at its hubs in New York, Los Angeles and Miami in the United States, and Berlin in Germany.[95][99][102][103] The renamed Pan Am Express operated routes mostly from New York, as well as Berlin, Germany. Miami services were added in 1990.[104] However, the regional Pan Am Express operation provided only an incremental feed to Pan Am's international route system, which was now focused on the Atlantic Division.

US East coast shuttle

In an attempt to gain a presence on the busy Washington–New York–Boston commuter air corridor, the Ransome acquisition was accompanied by the $100 million purchase of New York Air's shuttle service between Boston, New York, and Washington, D.C. This parallel move was intended to enable Pan Am to provide a high-frequency service for high-yield business travelers in direct competition with the long-established, successful Eastern Air Lines Shuttle operation. The renamed Pan Am Shuttle began operating out of LaGuardia Airport's refurbished historic Marine Air Terminal in October 1986. However, it did not address the pressing issue of Pan Am's continuing lack of a strong domestic feeder network.[95]

Financial, operational and reputational setbacks

Thomas G. Plaskett, a former American Airlines and Continental executive, replaced Acker as president in January 1988 (joining Pan Am from the latter).[95] While a program to refurbish Pan Am aircraft and improve the company's on-time performance began showing positive results (in fact, Pan Am's most profitable quarter ever was the third quarter of 1988), on December 21, 1988, the bombing of Pan Am flight 103 above Lockerbie, Scotland, resulted in 270 fatalities.[105] Faced with a $300 million lawsuit filed by more than 100 families of the victims, the airline subpoenaed records of six US government agencies, including the CIA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, and the State Department. Though the records suggested that the US government was aware of warnings of a bombing and failed to pass the information to the airline, the families claimed Pan Am was attempting to shift the blame.[106]

Also, in December 1988 the FAA fined Pan Am for 19 security failures, out of the 236 that were detected amongst 29 airlines.[107]

Failed bid for Northwest Airlines

In June 1989 Plaskett presented Northwest Airlines with a $2.7 billion takeover bid that was backed by Bankers Trust, Morgan Guaranty Trust, Citicorp and Prudential-Bache. The proposed merger was Pan Am's final attempt to create a strong domestic network to provide sufficient feed for the two remaining mainline hubs at New York JFK and Miami. It was also intended to help the airline regain its status as a global airline by re-establishing a sizable transpacific presence. The merger was expected to result in annual savings of $240 million.[108][109] However, billionaire financier Al Checchi outbid Pan Am by presenting Northwest's directors with a superior proposal.

Fallout from 1990–91 Persian Gulf War

The first Gulf War triggered by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait on August 2, 1990, caused fuel prices to rise, which severely depressed global economic activity. This in turn caused a sharp contraction of worldwide air travel demand, plunging once profitable operations, including Pan Am's prime transatlantic routes, into steep losses. These unforeseen events constituted a further major blow to Pan Am, which was still reeling from the 1988 Lockerbie disaster. To shore up its finances, Pan Am sold most of its routes serving London Heathrow – arguably Pan Am's most important international destination – to United Airlines. This left Pan Am with only two daily London flights, serving Detroit and Miami, which used Gatwick as their London terminal from the start of the 1990/91 winter timetable. Further asset disposals included Pan Am's sale of its IGS routes to Berlin to Lufthansa for $150 million, which became effective at the same time and brought the total value of asset disposals to $1.2 billion.[95][110] These measures were accompanied by the elimination of 2,500 jobs (8.6% of its work force). These cutbacks were announced by the airline in September 1990.[111]


Pan Am was forced to file for bankruptcy protection on January 8, 1991. Delta Air Lines purchased the remaining profitable assets of Pan Am, including its remaining European routes (except one from Miami to Paris), and Frankfurt mini hub, the Shuttle operation, 45 jets, and the Pan Am Worldport at John F. Kennedy Airport, for $416 million. Delta also injected $100 million becoming a 45 percent owner of a reorganized but smaller Pan Am serving the Caribbean, Central and South America from a main hub in Miami. The airline's creditors would hold the other 55 percent.[112][113][114][115][116]

The Boston–New York LaGuardia–Washington National Pan Am Shuttle service was taken over by Delta in September 1991.[117] Two months later Delta assumed all of Pan Am's remaining transatlantic traffic rights, except Miami to Paris and London.[113]

In October 1991 former Douglas Aircraft executive Russell Ray, Jr. was hired as Pan Am's new president and CEO.[118] As part of this restructuring, Pan Am relocated its headquarters from the Pan Am Building in New York City to new offices in the Miami area in preparation for the airline's relaunch from both Miami and New York on November 1, 1991.[119] The new airline would have operated approximately 60 aircraft and generated about $1.2 billion in annual revenues with 7,500 employees.[112] Following the relaunch, Pan Am continued to sustain heavy losses. Revenue throughout October and November 1991 fell short of what had been anticipated in the reorganization plan, with Delta claiming that Pan Am was losing $3 million a day. This undermined Delta's, Wall Street's and the traveling public's confidence in the viability of the reorganized Pan Am.[113][116]

Pan Am's senior executives outlined a projected shortfall of between $100 million and possibly $200 million, with the airline requiring a $25 million installment just to fly through the following week. On the evening of December 3, Pan Am's Creditors Committee advised US Bankruptcy Judge Cornelius Blackshear that it was close to convincing an airline (TWA) to invest $15 million to keep Pan Am operating. A deal with TWA owner Carl Icahn could not be struck. Pan Am opened for business at 9:00 am and within the hour, Ray was forced to withdraw Pan Am's plan of reorganization and execute an immediate shutdown plan for Pan Am.

Pan Am ceased operations on December 4, 1991 following a decision by Delta's CEO, Ron Allen, and other senior executives not to go ahead with the final $25 million payment Pan Am was scheduled to receive the weekend after Thanksgiving.[113][120] As a result, some 7,500 Pan Am employees lost their jobs, thousands of whom had worked in the New York City area and were preparing to move to the Miami area to work at Pan Am's new headquarters near Miami International Airport. Economists predicted that 9,000 jobs in the Miami area, including jobs at companies not connected to Pan Am that were dependent on the airline's presence, would be lost after it folded.[120] The carrier's last flown scheduled operation was Pan Am flight 436 which departed that day from Bridgetown, Barbados at 2 pm (EST) for Miami under the command of Captain Mark Pyle flying Clipper Goodwill, a Boeing 727–200 (N368PA).[113][116][121]

Delta was sued for more than $2.5 billion on December 9, 1991 by the Pan Am Creditors Committee.[122] Shortly thereafter, a large group of former Pan Am employees sued Delta.[116] In December 1994, a federal judge ruled in favor of Delta, concluding that it was not liable for Pan Am's demise.[123]

Pan Am was the third American major airline to shut down in 1991, after Eastern Air Lines and Midway Airlines.[120]

After serving only two months as Pan Am's CEO, Ray was replaced by Peter McHugh to supervise the sale of Pan Am's remaining assets by Pan Am's Creditor's Committee.[124] Pan Am's last remaining hub (at Miami International Airport) was split during the following years between United Airlines and American Airlines. TWA's Carl Icahn purchased Pan Am Express at a court ordered bankruptcy auction for $13 million, renaming it Trans World Express.[125] The Pan Am brand was sold to Charles Cobb, CEO of Cobb Partners and former United States Ambassador to the Republic of Iceland under President George H.W. Bush and Under Secretary of the US Department of Commerce under President Reagan. Cobb, along with Hanna-Frost partners invested in a new Pan American World Airways headed by veteran airline executive Martin R. Shugrue, Jr, a former Pan Am executive with 20 years of experience at the original carrier.[126]

In his book, Pan Am: An Aviation Legend, Barnaby Conrad III contends that the collapse of the original Pan Am was a combination of corporate mismanagement, government indifference to protecting its prime international carrier, and flawed regulatory policy.[127] He cites an observation made by former Pan Am Vice President for External Affairs, Stanley Gewirtz:[128]

What could go wrong did. No one who followed Juan Trippe had the foresight to do something strongly positive … it was the most astonishing example of Murphy's law in extremis. The sale of Pan Am's profitable parts was inevitable to the company's destruction. There were not enough pieces to build on.

Stanley Gewirtz

Under the terms of bankruptcy, the airline's International Flight Academy in Miami was permitted to remain open. It was established as an independent training organization beginning in 1992 under its current name, Pan Am International Flight Academy. The company began operating by using the flight simulation and type rating training center of the defunct Pan Am. In 2006, American Capital Strategies invested $58 million into the academy.[129] Owned by the parent of Japanese airline All Nippon Airways as of October 2014, Pan Am International Flight Academy is the only surviving division of Pan American World Airways.

Reuse of name

Aside from the aforementioned flight academy, the Pan Am brand has been resurrected six times after 1991, but the reincarnations were related to the original Pan Am in name only.


Pan American World Airways trademarks and some assets were purchased by Eclipse Holdings, Inc. at an auction by the US Bankruptcy Court on December 2–3, 1993. The scheduled airline rights were sold to Pan American Airways on December 20–29, 1993 by Eclipse Holdings, which was to retain the Pan Am charter rights and operate through its subsidiary Pan Am Charters, Inc., now Airways Corporation.[130]

The first reincarnation of the original Pan Am operated from 1996 to 1998, with a focus on low-cost, long-distance flights between the United States and the Caribbean with the IATA airline designator PN.[130] Eclipse Holdings (Pan Am II) later rescinded the Asset Purchase Agreement for cause and issued a cease and desist in January 1996, affecting all downstream transactions thereafter (as noted in US DOT proceeding OST-99-5945, and SEC 10-Q dated August 24, 1997, Plan(s) of Reorganization (S.D. FL), and others).[131]

The second was unrelated to the first and was a small regional carrier based in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, that operated between 1998 and 2004. It found its niche in operating usually at smaller airports near major ones, such as Pease International (Portsmouth), and Gary Municipal Airport in Indiana. It used the IATA code PA, and the ICAO code PAA.[130]

Boston-Maine Airways, a sister company of the second reincarnation, operated the "Pan Am Clipper Connection" brand from 2004 to February 2008. A domestic airline in the Dominican Republic, descended from the company's first reincarnation, traded until March 23, 2012, as Pan Am Dominicana.[130]

In November 2010 Pan American Airways, Incorporated, was resurrected for the fifth time by World-Wide Consolidated Logistics, Inc. The reincarnated operator is based at Brownsville/South Padre Island International Airport in Brownsville, Texas. The airline's inaugural flight was to Monterrey, Mexico, on November 12, 2010.[132] The airline had said it would carry cargo only at first but intended to announce passenger service by 2011.[133] Due to serious legal charges that were laid against the company's CEO Robert L. Hedrick in 2012, including child pornography charges for which he was eventually convicted, the company lost its bid with the FAA to pursue passenger or cargo flights of any kind.[134]


In 1998 Guilford Transportation Industries purchased Pan American World Airways and all related naming rights and intellectual properties.[130][135] The railway is now operated as Pan Am Railways.[130]

Record-setting flights

At the outbreak of the war in the Pacific in December 1941, the Pacific Clipper was en route to New Zealand from San Francisco. Rather than risk flying back to Honolulu and being shot down by Japanese fighters, it was directed to fly west to New York. Starting on December 8, 1941 at Auckland, New Zealand, the Pacific Clipper covered over 31,500 miles (50,694 km) via such exotic locales as Surabaya, Karachi, Bahrain, Khartoum and Leopoldville. The Pacific Clipper landed at Pan American's LaGuardia Field seaplane base at 7:12 on the morning of January 6, 1942, completing the first commercial plane flight to circumnavigate the world.[136]

During the mid-1970s, Pan Am set two round-the-world records. Liberty Bell Express, a Boeing 747SP-21 named Clipper Liberty Bell, broke the commercial round-the-world record set by a Flying Tiger Line Boeing 707 with a new record of 46 hours, 50 seconds. The flight left New York-JFK on May 1, 1976, and returned on May 3. The flight stopped only in New Delhi and Tokyo, where a strike among the airport workers delayed it two hours. The flight beat the Flying Tiger Line's record by 16 hours 24 minutes.[137]

In 1977, to commemorate its 50th birthday, Pan Am organized Flight 50, a round-the-world flight from San Francisco to San Francisco, this time over the North Pole and the South Pole with stops in London Heathrow, Cape Town and Auckland. 747SP-21 Clipper New Horizons was the former Liberty Bell, making the plane the only one to go around the globe over the Equator and the poles. The flight made it in 54 hours, 7 minutes, and 12 seconds, creating seven new world records certified by the FAI. Captain Walter H. Mullikin, who commanded this flight, also commanded the Liberty Bell Express flight.[138]

Corporate affairs

For much of its history the corporate headquarters were the Pan Am Building in Midtown Manhattan, New York City.

When Juan Trippe had the company offices relocated to New York City, he rented space in a building on 42nd Street. This facility was across from the Grand Central Terminal. From a period in the 1930s until 1963, the airline headquarters were in the Chrysler Building,[139] on 135 East 42nd Street, also in Midtown Manhattan.[140]

In September 1960 Trippe and developer Erwin Wolfson signed a $115,500,000 lease agreement for the airline to occupy 613,000-square-foot (56,900 m2) worth of space for the headquarters, totaling about 15 floors, and a new main ticket office at the intersection of 45th Street and Vanderbilt Avenue. At the time, the 30-year lease in the Chrysler Building was nearing the end of its life. The new lease was scheduled for 25 years.[139]

Toward the end of the 1958 film Auntie Mame, the title character announces that "... In Hindustani, that means, 'The water oxen are waiting at the gate.' Of course, my ox is waiting at Idlewild. Pan American Flight 100 for Karachi."[141]

Pan Am held a lofty position in the popular culture of the Cold War era. One of the most famous images in which a Pan Am plane formed a backdrop was the Beatles' February 7, 1964 arrival at John F. Kennedy Airport aboard a Pan Am Boeing 707–321, Clipper Defiance.[142]

From 1964 to 1968 con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr., masqueraded as a Pan Am pilot, dead-heading to many destinations in the cockpit jump seat. He also used Pan Am's preferred hotels, paid the bills with bogus checks, and later cashed fake payroll checks in Pan Am's name. He documented this era in the memoir Catch Me if You Can, which became a movie in 2002. Abagnale called Pan Am the "Ritz-Carlton of airlines" and noted that the days of luxury in airline travel were over.[143]

In August 1964 Pan Am accepted the reservation of Gerhard Pistor, a journalist from Vienna, Austria, as the first passenger for future flights to the moon. He paid a deposit of 500 Austrian Schillings (roughly US$20 at the time).[144] About 93,000 people followed on the Pan Am waiting list, called "First Moon Flights Club". Pan Am expected the flight to depart about 2000.[145]

A fictional Pan Am "Space Clipper,"[146] a commercial spaceplane called the Orion III, had a prominent role in Stanley Kubrick's film 2001: A Space Odyssey and was featured prominently in one of the movie's posters. Plastic models of the 2001 Pan Am Space Clipper were sold by both the Aurora Company and Airfix at the time of the film's release in 1968. A satire of the movie by Mad magazine in 1968 showed Pan Am female flight attendants in "Actionwear by Monsanto" outfits as they joked about the problems their passengers faced while vomiting in zero gravity. The film's sequel, 2010, also featured Pan Am in a background television commercial in the home of David Bowman's widow with the slogan, "At Pan Am, the sky is no longer the limit."[147]

The airline appeared in other movies, notably in several James Bond films. The company's Boeing 707s were featured in Dr. No and From Russia with Love, while a Pan Am 747 and the Worldport appeared in Live and Let Die.[148]

A term used in popular psychology is "Pan American (or Pan Am) Smile." Named after the greeting stewardesses supposedly gave to passengers. It consists of a perfunctory mouth movement without the activity of facial muscles around the eyes that characterizes a genuine smile.[149]

The 1982 film Blade Runner contains several prominent shots of advertisements for Pan Am. The 2017 sequel, Blade Runner 2049 also shows a Pan Am sign in an establishing shot, most likely as a continuity nod to the earlier film.[150]

In 1991, in the film Hook, Peter, played by Robin Williams, and his family, fly to London on a Pan Am 747 painted in the billboard livery.

In 2011, ABC announced a new television series based on the lives of a 1960s Pan Am flight crew. The series, titled Pan Am, began airing in September 2011.[151] It was canceled in May 2012.

In 2016, the film Neerja was released about the story of Neerja Bhanot, a flight attendant who gave her life during the hijacking of Pan Am Flight 73.

Acquisitions and divestments

Accidents and incidents

Pan Am aircraft were involved in numerous accidents and incidents, including a number of aircraft hijackings and terrorist attacks.[159]

On April 15, 1948, Pan Am Flight 1-10, a Lockheed Constellation, Clipper Empress of the Skies, crashed during an attempted landing at Shannon Airport, in Ireland. 10 flight crew and 20 passengers died in the crash; 1 passenger survived with minor injuries.

On November 8, 1957, Pan Am Flight 7, a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser (N90944), Clipper Romance Of The Skies, disappeared over the Pacific Ocean en route to Honolulu. A week later debris and bodies were recovered. The definitive cause of the accident has never been determined.[160] 44 passengers and crew lost their lives.

On December 8, 1963 Pan Am Flight 214 was flying from Baltimore to Philadelphia. While in a holding pattern, the Boeing 707 (N709PA, Clipper Tradewind) caught fire after being struck by lightning. The lightning ignited vapors in the fuel tanks killing all 81 people on board. As a result of the crash, Lightning discharge wicks were installed on all commercial airplanes.[161]

Between 1965 and 1974 a further five Pan Am 707s were involved in major accidents that resulted in substantial loss of lives. Three of these occurred on the airline's Pacific network between December 1973 and April 1974 within a time span of five months. More than 300 lives were lost in all five accidents, two-thirds of which were accounted for by the last three (30 fatalities: September 17, 1965 / 707-121B N708PA Montserrat, Caribbean; 51 fatalities: December 12, 1968 / 707-321B N494PA near Caracas, Venezuela; 78 fatalities: July 22, 1973 / 707-321B N417PA near Papeete Faaa; 97 fatalities: January 30, 1974 / 707-321B N454PA near Pago Pago, American Samoa; 107 fatalities: April 22, 1974 / 707-321B N446PA near Denpasar Ngurah Rai, Bali, Indonesia).[159]

On November 15, 1966, Pan Am Flight 708, was due to land at Berlin Tegel Airport (instead of Tempelhof due to runway resurfacing) The Boeing 727 (N317PA, Clipper München) crashed 10 miles away from the airport. At the time of the accident it was snowing and visibility was poor. However it couldn't be determined if this played a part in the accident, because only 50% of the wreckage was returned. This excluded the CVR & FDR as well as other important equipment. The NTSB report determined that the aircraft descended below its assigned altitude, but they could not determine why. As of 2019 the crash is still listed as undetermined.[162][163]

On December 26, 1968 Pan Am Flight 799, crashed after takeoff from Joint Base Elmendorf–Richardson in Alaska. The Boeing 707 (N799PA, Clipper Racer) failed to takeoff due to the crews failure to extend the flaps

On September 6, 1970, Pan Am Flight 93, a Boeing 747–121 (N752PA, Clipper Fortune) en route from Amsterdam to New York, was Hijacked as part of the Dawson's Field hijackings. The flight diverted to Beirut International Airport to take on board seven other gang members for the next leg to Cairo International Airport, where the hijackers ordered the aircraft evacuated and destroyed it with explosives.[164]

On July 2, 1972, Pan Am Flight 841, a commercial passenger flight of a Boeing 747 from San Francisco, California to Saigon, South Vietnam, was hijacked over the South China Sea. The lone hijacker was overpowered and killed after arrival at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in Saigon, and no other passengers were killed or seriously injured.[165]

On December 17, 1973 Pan Am Flight 110 was bombed at Rome Fumicino airport during an attack on the airport by Palestinian terrorists. The Boeing 707-321B (Clipper Celestial, N407PA) caught fire, killing 30 people.[166]

On July 9, 1982 Pan Am Flight 759 crashed into houses after takeoff from New Orleans. The Boeing 727-200 (N4737, Clipper Defiance) crashed to due to microburst-induced wind shear. All 145 people on board were killed, along with eight on the ground.[167]

On August 11, 1982 Pan Am Flight 830 en route from Narita International Airport to Honolulu made an emergency landing at the Hawaiian airport after a bomb exploded, killing one and injured 16. The Boeing 747 landed safely.[168]

On November 6, 1986 Eastern Air Lines Captain George Baines was flying in his private aircraft, a Piper PA-23 (N2185P), from his home to Tampa International to catch a flight. As he approached Tampa International's runway 36L (now 1L) in heavy fog, he declared a missed approach and went around to try it again. On the second attempt, he touched down on a parallel taxiway and ultimately collided with a Pan Am 727–200 that was taxiing on this taxiway. Baines lost his life in the accident. He was the only fatality. No other injuries were reported.[169][170]

Pan Am Flight 1736

Clipper Victor, which was the first Boeing 747 to carry fare-paying passengers in 1970 (N736PA), was involved in the Tenerife disaster on March 27, 1977, the deadliest aviation accident in history. On that day, Clipper Victor operated a charter flight, PA 1736, from Los Angeles to Las Palmas in the Canary Islands, Spain, via New York. The aircraft, along with many other aircraft, diverted to Los Rodeos Airport on Tenerife because of a bomb scare at Las Palmas. After Las Palmas airport reopened, the diverted aircraft began preparations for departure. By this time the airport had become surrounded in fog. Clipper Victor was instructed to taxi along the active runway after KLM Flight 4805 (a Boeing 747-200). The pilot of the KLM aircraft commenced takeoff without clearance and collided with Pan Am 1736 while it was still taxiing on the runway. 335 passengers on the Pan Am plane died while 61 survived. Everyone on the KLM was killed. A total of 583 people were killed.[171]

Pan Am Flight 73

On September 5, 1986 a Pan Am 747 named the Clipper Empress of the Seas (N656PA), operating as Pan Am Flight 73, was taken over by hijackers while on a scheduled stop in Karachi. The flight never departed Karachi, but 20 people were killed when the aircraft was stormed on the ground. The chief purser of the flight, Neerja Bhanot (an Indian National), perished, while saving many lives on the flight, and was posthumously awarded the Ashok Chakra Award by the Indian Government, as well as civil accolades by the US Government and the Pakistan Government for her selfless act.[172]

Pan Am Flight 103

Pan Am Flight 103 was Pan Am's third daily scheduled transatlantic flight from London Heathrow Airport to New York John F. Kennedy Airport. On December 21, 1988 the aircraft flying this route, a Boeing 747–121 (N739PA) named Clipper Maid of the Seas, was blown up and crashed on Lockerbie in Dumfries and Galloway, Scotland, when approximately 1 pound (450 g)[173] of plastic explosive was detonated in its forward cargo hold, triggering a sequence of events that led to the rapid destruction of the aircraft. The aircraft that crashed was the 15th 747 built and was delivered to Pan Am in February 1970.[174] A total of 270 people lost their lives: 259 on board the aircraft and 11 on the ground in Lockerbie.[175]


Fleet in 1990

The following were aircraft operated Pan Am and Pan Am Express in March 1990, a year and a half before the airline's collapse:

Pan Am Fleet[176]
Aircraft In service Orders Passengers Notes
F C Y Total
Airbus A300B4 12 24 230 254
Airbus A310-200 7 18 207 225[177]
Airbus A310-300 12 12 30 154 196
Boeing 727-200 91 9 14 131 145 Orders for used aircraft
Boeing 737-200 5 21 95 116[178]
Boeing 747-100B 18 39 52 286 377[179] 747 Launch Customer

1989 seating configuration (for South American flights)

Boeing 747-200B 7 21 44 347 412[180] 1987 seating configuration
Total 152 9
Pan Am Express Fleet[176]
ATR 42-300 8 3 46 46
de Havilland Canada Dash 7 10 50 50
Total 18 3

Fleet history

All the aircraft ever operated by Pan Am:

Pan Am Fleet[181][182][183]
Aircraft Total Introduced Retired Notes
Flying Boat
Boeing 314 7 1939 1946 Carried first Transatlantic Air Mail
Consolidated Commodore 14 1930 1943
Douglas Dolphin 2 Unknown Unknown Transferred to China National Aviation Corporation
Martin M-130 3 1935 1945 Carried first Transpacific Air Mail
Sikorsky S-36 5 1927 1928
Sikorsky S-38 24 1928 1943
Sikorsky S-40 3 1931 1944 First aircraft to carry the Clipper name
Sikorsky S-42 10 1934 1946
Sikorsky S-43 Baby Clipper 10 1936 1945
Jet Aircraft
Airbus A300B4 13 1984 1991 2 more ordered
Airbus A310-200 7 1985 1991 Disposed to Delta Air Lines
Airbus A310-300 14 1987 1991 Launch customer for CF6-80 engine for A310
Disposed to Delta Air Lines
Airbus A320-200 50 Cancelled 50 ordered, never delivered to PA.
First 16 aircraft delivered to Braniff (BN).
Boeing 707-120 8 1958 1974 Worldwide launch customer of the 707 series
Boeing 707–320B 85 1959 1981
Boeing 707-320C 34 1963 1979
Boeing 720B 9 1963 1974
Boeing 727-100 46 1965 1991 19 aircraft were acquired from National Airlines
Boeing 727-200 105 1979 1991 24 aircraft were acquired from National Airlines
Boeing 737-200 16 1982 1991
Boeing 747-100 33 1970 1991 Launch Customer of the Boeing 747.
4 Acquired from American Airlines
2 Acquired from Delta Air Lines
5 Acquired from United Airlines
Boeing 747-200B 7 1983 1991 Previously owned by Singapore Airlines.
Boeing 747-200C 1 1974 1983 Acquired from World Airways.
Operated by Pan Am Cargo
Boeing 747-200F 2 1979 1983 Operated by Pan Am Cargo
Boeing 747SP 10 1976 1986 Launch Customer of the Boeing 747SP
Disposed to United Airlines
1 Acquired from Braniff Airways
Douglas DC-8-32 19 1960 1970
Douglas DC-8-33
Douglas DC-8-62 1 1970 1971
Lockheed L-1011-500 TriStar 12 1980 1986 Aircraft were later disposed to United Airlines when Pan Am's Pacific Division was sold to United.
McDonnell Douglas DC-10-10 11 1980 1984 Acquired from National Airlines.
Aircraft were later disposed to United Airlines.
McDonnell Douglas DC-10-30 5 1980 1985 Acquired from National Airlines.
Aircraft were later disposed to United Airlines.
Propeller Aircraft
Boeing 307 Stratoliner 3 1940 1948
Boeing 377 Stratocruiser 28 1949 1961 8 aircraft were acquired from American Overseas Airlines
Convair CV-240 20 1948 1957
Convair CV-340 6 1953 1955
Curtiss-Wright C-46 Commando 12 1948 1956
Douglas DC-2 9 1934 1941
Douglas DC-3 90 1937 1966
Douglas DC-4 22 1947 1961
Douglas DC-6 49 1953 1968
Douglas DC-7 37 1955 1966
Fairchild FC-2 5 1928 1933 First aircraft of Pan Am's subsidiary Panagra
Fairchild 71 3 1930 1940
Fairchild 91 2 1936 1937 4 more ordered, but all cancelled
Fokker F-10A 12 1929 1935
Fokker F.VIIa/3m 3 1927 1930 First Pan Am owned airplane to carry air mail
Ford Trimotor 11 1929 1940
Lockheed Model 9 Orion 2 1935 1936
Lockheed Model 10 Electra 4 1934 1938
Lockheed L-049 Constellation 29 1946 1957
Lockheed L-749 Constellation 4 1947 1950
Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation 1 1955 Unknown
Turboprop Aircraft
ATR 42 12 1987 1991 Operated by Pan Am Express
BAe Jetstream 31 10 1987 1991 Operated by Pan Am Express
de Havilland Canada Dash 7 8 Unknown 1991 Operated by Pan Am Express


See also

Notes and citations

  1. The 1/46 Air Traffic Guide shows the B314 to Lisbon, but a B314 book says PA's last transatlantic B314 was in December 1945.
  2. the cruising altitude of propliners employed on the Berlin Airlift
  1. Pan American World Airways, Inc.: American Airline Company
  2. Guy Norris & Mark Wagner (September 1, 1997). "Birth of a Giant". Boeing 747: Design and Development Since 1969. Zenith Imprint. pp. 12–13. ISBN 978-0-7603-0280-4.
  3. Airliner World (IATA: A new mandate in a changed world), p. 32, Key Publishing, Stamford, November 2011
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  • Baum, Brian (1997). Boeing 747SP.
  • Bilstein, Roger E. (July 1, 2001). Flight in America. Johns Hopkins University Press. ISBN 978-0-8018-6685-2.
  • Burns, George E. (2000). "The Jet Age Arrives". Pan American Historical Foundation. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  • Clausen, Meredith. The Pan Am Building and the Shattering of the Modernist Dream. MIT Press, 2005. ISBN 0262033240, 9780262033244.
  • Conrad, Barnaby (1999). Pan Am: An Aviation Legend. Emeryville, CA: Woodford Press. ISBN 978-0-942627-55-8.
  • Daley, Robert (1980). An American Saga; Juan Trippe and His Pan Am Empire. Random House. ISBN 978-0-394-50223-6.
  • Davies, Ronald Edward George (1987). Pan Am: an airline and its aircraft. Twickenham, England: Hamlyn. ISBN 978-0517566398.
  • Gandt, Robert L. (1995). Skygods: The Fall of Pan Am. New York: Morrow. ISBN 978-0-688-04615-6.
  • Homan, Thomas; Reilly (2000). Pan Am. Arcadia Publishing. ISBN 978-0-7385-0552-7.
  • Lawrence, Harry (2004). Aviation and the Role of Government. Kendall Hunt. ISBN 978-0-7575-0944-5.
  • Ray, Sally J. (1999). "Pan American World Airways Flight 103". Strategic Communication in Crisis Management. Quorum/Greenwood. pp. 183–204. ISBN 978-1-56720-153-6.
  • Robinson, Jack E. (1994). American Icarus, The Majestic Rise and Tragic Fall of Pan Am. Noble House. pp. 154–191. ISBN 978-1-56167-154-0.
  • "The Clipper Heritage – Pan American World Airways 1927–1991". Pan American Historical Foundation. 2005. Missing or empty |url= (help)
  • "Pan American World Airways, Inc., Records". Otto G. Richter Library, University of Miami Archives. June 26, 1996. Archived from the original on July 28, 2005. Retrieved August 2005. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  • "Pan American World Airways, Queen of The Skies (2004)". Archived from the original on August 5, 2005. Retrieved August 2005. Check date values in: |accessdate= (help)
  • Death of an American Dream, The Pan Am Story. Stepping Stone Productions. 1992.
  • "Pan American World Airways: Part 2". Aviation News. Stamford, UK: Key Publishing. 73, 11: 48–53. November 2011. ISSN 1477-6855. (Aviation News online)

Further reading

  • "Aviation News (Pan American World Airways: Part 1)". 73, 10. Stamford, UK: Key Publishing. October 2011: 78–82. ISSN 1477-6855. Cite journal requires |journal= (help) (Aviation News online)
  • "Jets Monthly (Airline History – Pan Am: Come fly with me!)". Cudham, UK: Kelsey Publishing Group. February 2012: 48–53. Cite journal requires |journal= (help) (Kelsey Publishing Group online)
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