The Smashing, Dashing Pan American Airlines

The flight attendant directs me to my seat, where I settle in to a wide space in front of me in which to stretch my legs.

Another flight attendant offers me a choice of sodas. All this and economy, too.

My reverie stops.

Sadly, I no longer fly this way anymore.

Leg room cut.

Freebies now cost, if they are served at all.

Flight attendants look harried.

We’re all flying public transportation in the sky where we once flew in economy what airlines now sell as luxury.

Pan American Airlines was America’s airline.

Growing up flying Pan Am felt like hitting the air travel jackpot.

It was America’s largest international air carrier from its inception in 1927 until its collapse in 1991.

Pan Am was so cool for so many reasons.

Pan American Airlines operated America’s first international flight.

Pan American Airlines offered America’s first international air service. 

In October 1927, Pan American World Airways No. 1 departed from Key West, Florida to Havana, Cuba. 

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According to one newspaper report, “A wood and fabric Fokker trimotor airplane loaded with sacks of mail bounces along a dirt runway at Key West, Florida. Airborne, it heads south across the water…. and an hour and ten minutes later lands in Havana, Cuba.”

A sign bearing the action was erected sometime after the flight and later a building was erected on the spot where the flight departed. A bar now exists, owned by actress Kelly McGuiness, on the field where the Fokker soared up to Cuba.

Children stand beneath a PAA sign marking the PAA's first international flight.
Children stand beneath the sign commemorating PAA’s first international flight, Key West, Florida

Pan American Airlines flew America’s first transatlantic flight.

The Hawaii Clipper flew from San Francisco to Hawaii and on to the Philippines in 1936.

This first was a very big deal.

The route…from San Francisco to Honolulu was at that time the longest landless air route in the world. Beyond the small rocky islands just past the Golden Gate, not a single spot of land breaks the waves for 2,400 miles.

They had the best trained crews in the business.

Pan American rigorously trained crews in long-distance flight, seaplane anchorage and berthing operations, over-water navigation, radio procedure, aircraft repair, and marine tides.

Pilots used celestial navigation at night and dead reckoning in bad weather.

Pan American had better trained pilot crews and more flying experience than the United States Army Air Force at the outbreak of World War II and offered unparalleled assistance to the USAAF.

Pan Am also projected an image for the jet age of the 1960s.

Pan American built a really sexy airport at JFK.

Known as the Worldport, the terminal was a showcase for international jet travel. The building was particularly famous for its 4-acre “flying saucer” roof suspended far from the outside columns of the terminal by 32 sets of pre-stressed steel posts and cables.

The terminal was designed to allow for aircraft to be parked under the partial overhang.

Pan Am expanded the terminal in 1971 to accommodate the then new 747s.

The Worldport was the world’s largest air terminal, a title Pan Am held for a number of years.

My grandfather took several photos of the various terminals at JFK airport, including the Worldport.

Thanks for the memories.

The days of glamorous flight travel are gone but certainly not forgotten.

I’m delighted my grandfather’s photo archive revealed this now demolished architectural treasure.

My aunt Robin, grandmother, great aunt (who raised my grandfather after his mother died) and my aunt Debbie at the Worldport, JFK airport, 1962.

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