Airline: The Story of Pan Am

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In 1927, the visionary Juan Trippe started his airline by flying mail from Key West, FL to Havana, Cuba.The next year he expanded it to include tourists and thus begins the the story of the airline that led the world for a half century.

In the 1930’s, Pan American pioneered trans-oceanic flight with the great flying boats; their first-class”Clippers” which were primarily Boeing 314s. After WWII, they flew the luxury Stratocruiser, or Boeing 377, with a double-decker configuration featuring seats and sleeping berths on the upper-level, with the bar and lounge below.  It was great for pampered long-haul travel, but it didn’t change the world.

Then came the Boeing 707, the second passenger jet in the skies (the first was the BOAC Comet which, unfortunately, crashed a lot). With it, Pan Am ushered in an era of glitz and glamour with their beautiful white-gloved ‘girls’ and celebrities everywhere.  And the ‘jet-set’ was born; regular people could now conduct business and holiday in far off places.

But, Trippe’s vision was to create an every-man’s airplane.  He came up with his concept, took it to Boeing, and in 1970 the 747 was born..  It changed the world of air travel forever.  

Sadly, world events, recession and poor financial management took its toll on the great airline.  Juan Trippe did not live to see its demise; he died in 1981. Pan Am filed for bankruptcy in January 1991. It closed its doors on December 4.

Enjoy this one-hour BBC presentation of ‘Airline: The Pan Am Story.’ 

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