Looking back at Pan Am… the mightiest airline in the world!


 Pan Am 747…

Death of An American Dream – The Pan Am Story

Documentary tells the story of how Pan American World Airways kick-started the jet-age and shrank the globe. This was the greatest airline in the world… Pan Am was America! 

A Pan Am video from 1958 to show there new 707 jet service.

Pan Am’s success was largely due to its visionary founder Juan Trippe, who transformed a small mail carrier in to a global airline, pioneered flights for the masses and helped create the Boeing 747 jumbo jet. Honor Blackman narrates the story of how Pan Am conquered the skies and left a legacy of affordable travel and a much smaller world.  Beluga caviar and vintage champagne were served. Passengers dressed it was not like today’s cattle cars in the air.


Mary Higgins Clark – Traveling the world as a Pan Am hostess would inspire Clark’s first short story.

For most of 1949, Mary Higgins Clark, famed best selling author, was a stewardess for Pan American. She traveled through Europe, Africa and Asia. One of her flights became the last flight allowed into Czechoslovakia before the Iron Curtain fell. On another of her flights, Ms. Clark escorted a four-year-old orphaned child down the steps of the airplane into the waiting arms of her adoptive mother, a scene that was heavily televised.


Coffee and Cocktails: Pan Am First Class “lounge” – Boeing 707, early 1960’s. Lounge was located forward of first class. You can see a 707 at the Ronald Reagan Library in Simi Valley. It was the jet used for the original Air Force One. 

coach lounge

Coach lounge on a 747 – early 1970s. The original 747s had first class and coach lounges. Some of the planes had piano bars.

Pan American World Airways was one of several carriers that was created and flourished as a result of the Air Mail Act of 1925 (Kelly Act). The Air Mail Act of 1925 was the first major piece of legislation created by Congress in 1925 that would effect the aviation industry. The Act authorized the awarding of government mail contracts to private carries, and established rates for transporting mail. This Act inspired owners of aircraft and investors to start up air carrier services, providing airmail service as it was very profitable. Pan American World Airways, was one of several air carriers that grew out of the Kelly Act.

Pan American Airways had procured a lucrative airmail contract from the United States Postal Service in 1927. The contract was to deliver mail to and from the Country of Cuba and United States. It was the Key West, Florida Havana Mail Route The airmail service to Cuba proved to be a very profitable route for Pan Am. Its owner, Juan Trippe had such success he expand services between the United States, Mexico and Latin America by 1930.

Juan Trippe, the first and last aviation tycoon in history, learned to fly in the rickety machines of World War I, when he sky appealed only to daredevils, and his life expectancy could have been counted, probably, in days. He was as star struck as any of the other young aviators of the day, but he was also a Yale educated banker’s son who believed the world was crying out for air travel but didn’t yet know it.

In 1927 Pan American had only one route, 90 miles from Key West to Havana. Within eight years at great risk and against fantastic odds Pan Am had crossed the Pacific, and after that Trippe thrust his tentacles into all of Latin America, into Europe, Africa, Australia–even into China. He was a nerveless, sometimes vicious competitor who bought up or drove out of business anyone who got in his way—President Roosevelt once referred to him as a “Yale educated gangster” until he had built Pan Am into the mightiest airline in the world.

Although Pa Am was providing some passenger service, it was not the bulk of it business. During this period of time, air carriers in general did not concentrated its energies on passenger service. As airmail contracts were much more profitable per air-mile and aircraft were limited in gross weight, roughly around 3,500 pounds. It was much more cost-effective to for air carriers to provide air service for cargo than passengers.

However, with the establishment Airmail Act of 1930, air carriers were forced to contend with passenger carriage. The Airmail Act of 1930, changed how airmail contract were to be awarded to air carriers. The act in essence forced air carriers to purchasing larger aircraft. In turn, it placed the carrier in a position of being able to bid on postal contracts, increasing the likelihood of being awarded airmail contracts. To remain competitive air carriers now had to fill space on the aircraft with passengers. This act as well created a frenzy within the industry. For the first time in history, air carriers were being swallowed up by more solvent carriers. This in an effort to increase aircraft inventory and to acquirer air routes that these air carriers had already received rights. By the mid 1930, Pan Am had taken over several smaller air carriers. This in an effort to strengthen its markets and to gain access into new air passenger and airmail markets.

On May 20, 1939, Pan Am launched the first US passenger service to Europe, using the Boeing 314 Yankee Clipper, the “flying boat”. With the explosion of the Zeppelin Hindenburg in 1937, the flying boat replaced the need for such airships as the Hindenburg. However, the flying boat soon became obsolete. With the United States entering into World War II, Pan Am began providing military transport of US troops into Europe, Africa and Asia. This gave Pan Am the insight and edge over other carriers into that part of the world.

By the end of the war, Pa Am had establish passenger and cargo routes throughout the continents of Africa, Europe and Asia.

By the mid 1970’s, Pan Am had changed its name to Pan American World Airways, acquired several air carriers; such as American Overseas Airlines and National Airlines. Had increased its passenger and cargo services to include such routes as New York to London and had become one of the world’s largest air carriers providing passenger and air cargo service.

By this time Pa Am’s aircraft fleet had included the Boeing 727, 737, Douglas DC-10, Airbus A-300 and A310, and Lockheed L-1011.

By the mid 1980’s, US air carrier profits and ability to remain competitive began to weaken. This brought on by airline deregulation, worldwide recession, airline airfare wars and higher fuel costs. Pan Am was being to loose ground. Of the US airline giants, Delta Airlines, United and American Airlines appeared to maintain their leading positions. Delta Airlines achieved major carrier status after deregulation.

Pan Am’s competitive edge in foreign markets further placed Pa Am in harder times over other air carriers, due to the turmoil in world politics. Pan Am aircraft were now being used as a conduit by third world countries in an effort to change world politics.

An example of this was the bombing of Pan Am’s flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1988. In which 258 passenger were killed. It was believed that Iran was involved. In London, an anonymous caller phoned the Associated Press to claim that Pan Am flight 103 had been attacked in retaliation of a US Navy F-14 shooting down an Iranian Airbus in July in which 290 passengers were killed. The downing of flight 103, and the trend for terrorists to attack US air carriers significantly hurt Pan Am.
In addition Pan Am’s aircraft fleet was getting old and it could not afford to purchase new aircraft.

Pan Am aircraft fleet was costing Pan Am a more than what it could afford to keep its planes flying. Pan Am was paying more than the industry on a whole was paying in maintenance cost.

Pan Am was spending over $800 an hour for maintenance cost for every hour an aircraft was in flight carrying passengers – Delta Airlines was paying just under $400 an hour. With the airline price wars Pan Am did not have a chance.

In 1991, Pan American Airways filed for bankruptcy and closed its doors.

In early 1997, Pan American Airways reopened its doors and began providing services out of Miami, Florida and once again they had to shut their doors as they were unable to pay their creditors 1998.

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