Politics and the Growth/Fall of Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) in Florida

Today we debut a non-political feature looking at the history of some aspect of Florida’s rich cultural and economic history. Ironically however, this feature has more politics than many of the planned articles do. We start with a favorite subject of mine- aviation, though I will save my preferred history of Eastern Airlines for another day, let’s talk about what was once considered the world’s most famous airline- Pan Am.

Having recently completed the book, Sky Gods, the Fall of Pan Am the subject was very much on my mind.

From 1927 until 1969 Pan American World Airways was the undisputed flag carrier  of the United States.  The airline, founded in Key West in 1927 with a flight to Havana, moved its headquarters to New York in 1930 and pioneered both Trans-Atlantic and Trans-Pacific flying. By the 1945, Pan American was the largest international airline in the world, flying to more cities outside its home country than any other.

Throughout its ascent Pan American maintained a major Florida presence. From that initial Key West flight to the late 1930s when Dinner Key in Miami became the world’s busiest International airport (It would be eclipsed eventually by London’s Croyden airfield and then London Heathrow which is still today the world’s busiest international airport) into the 1950s when Pan American pioneered direct flights into deep South America, Florida was a key to the airlines growth.

Pan American was protected for years by its political influence. Even though Howard Hughes had lobbied the Truman Administration to lift Pan American’s monopoly on international routes, his Transcontinental and Western Airlines (TWA ) was given only routes to Europe, while Northwest, a small carrier was given the right to compete with Pan American to Asia. The Eisenhower Administration protected Pan American as a national asset and Juan Trippe the founder and Chairman of Pan American was a known Republican.

In 1969, Pan Am as the airline was by now colloquially known suffered a shock when rival  the re-branded Howard Hughes led Trans World Airlines (TWA) was awarded by the outgoing Johnson administration new transpacific routes along with Continental Airlines.  Additionally, TWA was given more domestic service to help feed its international network and the ban on domestic flying by Pan Am was extended, meaning the airline had to rely on other carriers to fly passengers to its hubs, New York, Miami, Los Angeles and San Francisco to survive. Pan Am, a traditional conservative airline who had recently made former JFK aide Najeed Halaby CEO was stunned by the seemingly partisan decision of the administration. The truth is LBJ had no use for Halaby and even less use for Trippe and Pan Am. It was one of the outgoing gifts of the administration.

Around Pan Am headquarters in New York, optimism prevailed that Richard Nixon’s administration would reverse the route rewards.  But instead Nixon’s White House simply took the route rewards for Continental long known as a Democratic airline and gave them to American Airlines, a strongly Republican airline. Everything regarding TWA stood, and as we learned later Howard Hughes had been involved in underhanded dealings with Nixon’s brother to buy access to the then candidate Nixon. (All of this came out during the Watergate investigations)

TWA was rivaling Pan Am as America’s flag carrier, something which the airline had unofficial claim to since the 1930s. In fact in the 1970 when my father circled the globe visiting his family in India and taking in much of Europe and flying back via the Pacific he did so on TWA, not on Pan Am.

We pick up our look at Pan Am’s Florida network with the Summer 1971 timetable:

Miami

Nonstop service to:

Miami

Barranquilla

Guatemala City

Kingston

Managua

Montego Bay

Maracaibo

Merida

Nassau

Panama City

Port Au Prince

Port of Spain

San Juan

Santo Domingo

San Pedro Sula

St Thomas

St Criox

Tampa

Merida

Summer 1973

Miami

Barranquilla

Guatemala City

Kingston

Managua

Montego Bay

Maracaibo

Merida

Nassau

Panama City

Port Au Prince

Port of Spain

San Juan

Santo Domingo

San Pedro Sula

St Thomas

Tampa

Merida

By 1975 Pan Am was ailing. The cost of competition with TWA and American in addition to rising fuel prices and the conversion of much of the fleet to the gas guzzling four engine 747 put the airline on the brink of collapse. TWA, in a similar position with its large international network initiated merger talks. The idea of a unified American flag carrier circling the globe with critical mass appealed to many but it became obvious the possible merger would not pass through regulators. So Pan Am and TWA initiated a “route swap” which involved Pan Am abandoning service to Paris (TWA’s European hub), Vienna, Barcelona and North Africa as well as dropping all international service from Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia in exchange for TWA dropping service to Frankfurt (Pan Am’s European hub) and all points east of Bombay.

In an unrelated swap, American gave up all of the trans-pacific route awards it had received in 1969 from the Nixon Administration in exchange for Pan Am dropping all service to the Caribbean from New York. This particular route swap made Miami more important than ever in the Pan Am network.

By 1978, Pan Am was banking record profits but had been overtaken as the number one carrier to Europe by TWA and to South American by Braniff. In the Pacific, Northwest was closing in quickly on Pan Am’s number one position. In addition airline deregulation was taking place meaning Pan Am could fly anywhere it wanted domestically beginning in 1979.

The last Pan Am timetable before deregulation (Summer 1978) featured the following Florida routes:

Miami

Brasilia

Caracas

Guatemala City

Madrid

Panama City

Rio De Janiero

Port Au Prince

Port of Spain

Tampa

Merida

Mexico City

In late 1979 Pan Am inherited the domestic network of Miami based National Airlines whom it had bought for the inflated figure of $500 million. This purchase would send the airline into a spiral it never recovered from. Thanks to this merger which took place largely because the Carter administration would not consider allowing National to merge with Miami based Eastern (at the time the largest airline in the western world) even though Pan Am conscious of Eastern’s interest bid entirely too much for the airline.

In the Spring of 1980 the merged Pan Am and National served the following routes from Florida.

Fort Lauderdale

Houston

Los Angeles

Miami

New Orleans

Newark

New York (LaGuardia)

West Palm Beach

Fort Myers

Miami

Tampa

Jacksonville

Houston

Miami

Norfolk

Melbourne

New York (Kennedy)

Miami

Amsterdam

Caracas

Fort Lauderdale

Fort Myers

Frankfurt

Guatemala City

Jacksonville

London (Heathrow)

Los Angeles

Madrid

New Orleans

Newark

New York (LaGuardia & Kennedy)

Orlando

Panama City

Paris (Orly)

Rio De Janiero

Port Au Prince

Port of Spain

San Francisco

San Jose, CR

San Juan

Sarasota

Tampa

Washington (National)

West Palm Beach

Zurich

Orlando

Houston

Miami

New Orleans

Newark

New York (LaGuardia & Kennedy)

Washington (National)

West Palm Beach

Pensacola 

New Orleans

Sarasota/Bradenton

Miami

Newark

New York (Kennedy)

Tampa

Tampa

Fort Myers

Frankfurt

Houston

Los Angeles

Miami

Mexico City

New Orleans

New York (LaGuardia & Kennedy)

Sarasota

West Palm Beach

Washington (National)

West Palm Beach

Miami

New Orleans

New York (Kennedy)

Tampa

Washington (National)

The National merger was an unmitigated disaster. From serving exotic places Pan Am was suddenly serving places like Pensacola, Mobile, Norfolk, Las Vegas and San Diego. A lack of knowledge of the domestic market prevented Pan Am from ever making a real go on the routes. Yet somehow, they did alright on Florida to New York routes until Air Florida began trashing yields on these flights by initiating fare wars.

Pan Am’s service to Florida peaked in the summer of 1982 but beginning with the fall timetable that year, resources were pulled from Florida and shifted to New York. Nonstop service from Miami to Frankfurt and Paris were discontinued, while all international flying from Tampa was ended. Flights from Fort Lauderdale to Houston and Washington were cancelled and service from Orlando to Kansas City and Oklahoma City which had recently begun were cancelled. All service to Melbourne, Pensacola and Jacksonville were ended. The Miami hub was smaller than at any other time post National merger.

New service to the Caribbean from Miami offset some of the cuts but still far fewer flights in and out of Florida on the airline at this point.  Pan Am overtook TWA and was once again the top US airline to Europe and the Middle East.

In the Spring 1983 timetable this Florida pulldown was reflected:

Fort Lauderdale

Boston

Miami

New York (LaGuardia)

West Palm Beach

Fort Myers

Sarasota/Bradenton

Tampa

Miami

Antigua

Barbados

Dallas/Fort Worth

Caracas

Fort Lauderdale

Guatemala City

Houston

London (Heathrow)

Los Angeles

Mexico City

New Orleans

Newark

New York (LaGuardia & Kennedy)

Orlando

Philadelphia

Panama City

Rio De Janiero

Port Au Prince

Port of Spain

San Francisco

San Jose, CR

San Juan

Santiago

Tampa

Washington (National)

Orlando

Miami

New York (Kennedy)

Tampa

Sarasota/Bradenton

Fort Myers

New York (Kennedy)

Washington (National)

Tampa

Fort Myers

Kansas City

Miami

New Orleans

Newark

New York (Kennedy)

Washington (National & Dulles)

West Palm Beach

Fort Lauderdale

Newark

New York (Kennedy)

Washington (National)

In 1983 Pan Am started hourly “AirBridge” service between Miami and Orlando/Tampa. It flopped but would be tried again by USAir in the 1990s before Southwest came into the state and became the primary intra-state carrier from points other than Miami.

By 1985 all service to Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Sarasota and West Palm Beach had been cut. The Miami hub was rebuilt entirely with lots of new domestic routes but was still smaller than New York-JFK and European service beyond London had not been restored at this point.  Tampa to Mexico flights were resumed.

Fall 1985

Miami

Antigua

Atlanta

Barbados

Buenos Aires

Caracas

Charlotte

Chicago (O’Hare)

Dallas/Fort Worth

Detroit

Grand Turk

Guatemala City

Houston (Hobby)

Indianapolis

Kansas City

London (Heathrow)

Los Angeles

Maracaibo

Mexico City

Nashville

Newark

New York (LaGuardia & Kennedy)

Orlando

Panama City

Providenciales

Rio De Janiero

Port Au Prince

Port of Spain

St Croix

St Kitts

St Lucia

St Marteen

San Francisco

San Jose, CR

San Juan

Santiago

Tampa

Washington (National & Dulles)

Orlando

Miami

New York (Kennedy)

Washington (Dulles)

Tampa

Mexico City

Miami

New York (Kennedy)

Washington (Dulles)

Pan Am sold its Pacific routes to United in late 1985 netting $700 million but selling the most profitable part of the airline. The Los Angeles and San Francisco hubs were closed. The New York based management team immediately increased service to Europe, leading to a period when Pan Am served more European cities than all other US Airlines combined.  Nonstop service from Miami to Frankfurt and Paris which was cut in 1982 was restored.

Summer 1986

Miami

Atlanta

Barbados

Buenos Aires

Caracas

Charlotte

Chicago (O’Hare)

Cincinnati

Cleveland

Dallas/Fort Worth

Detroit

Frankfurt

Freeport

Grand Turk

Guatemala City

Houston (Hobby)

Indianapolis

Kansas City

London (Heathrow)

Los Angeles

Maracaibo

Mexico City

Nashville

New York (LaGuardia & Kennedy)

Orlando

Panama City

Providenciales

Paris (CDG)

Rio De Janiero

Port Au Prince

Port of Spain

St Croix

St Marteen

San Francisco

San Jose, CR

San Juan

Santiago

Tampa

Washington (National)

Orlando

Miami

New York (Kennedy)

Tampa

Mexico City

Miami

New York (Kennedy)

Pan Am was bleeding cash and in 1989 began shifting resources again towards Florida. Fort Lauderdale and Jacksonville returned to the network while the Miami hub was increased in size. The route authority from Tampa to Mexico City, Paris and Frankfurt was shifted to Orlando in DOT filings, signaling the drift away from Tampa as an international tourist/commercial center and towards Orlando. Pan Am never used the Paris-Orlando authority but flew Frankfurt-Orlando one summer and began Mexico City service in 1989.

photo (7)

Fort Lauderdale

New York (Kennedy)

Jacksonville

Miami

Miami

Antigua

Atlanta

Barbados

Boston

Buenos Aires

Caracas

Charlotte

Dallas/Fort Worth

Frankfurt

Freeport

Grand Cayman

Grand Turk

Guatemala City

Houston (Hobby)

Jacksonville

London (Heathrow)

Los Angeles

Maracaibo

Mexico City

Nassau

New Orleans

New York (LaGuardia & Kennedy)

Orlando

Paris (CDG)

Panama City

Providenciales

Philadelphia

Rio De Janiero

Port Au Prince

Port of Spain

Raleigh/Durham

St Croix

St Marteen

San Francisco

San Jose, CR

San Juan

Santiago

Tampa

Washington (National)

Orlando

Mexico City

Miami

New York (Kennedy)

Tampa

Miami

New York (Kennedy)

Pan Am was dying a slow, painful death which saw the sale of all flights to London Heathrow  to United Airlines (American soon claimed they would have bid more and promptly paid more for TWA’s London routes) the sale of the Internal German Services division to Lufthansa and the eventual sale of the Frankfurt hub and European/South Asian routes from New York JFK to Delta.  At the time of this next schedule, Miami had overtaken New York as the airline’s largest hub and the European routes had not yet been sold to Delta.

Summer 1991

Fort Lauderdale

Freeport

New York (Kennedy)

Jacksonville

Miami

Miami

Antigua

Atlanta

Baltimore

Barbados

Belize City

Boston

Buenos Aires

Caracas

Charlotte

Cleveland

Dallas/Fort Worth

Detroit

Frankfurt

Freeport

Grand Cayman

Grand Turk

Guatemala City

Hartford/Springfield

Houston (Hobby)

Jacksonville

London (Gatwick)

Los Angeles

Maracaibo

Managua

Mexico City

Nassau

New Orleans

Newark

New York (LaGuardia & Kennedy)

Orlando

Paris (CDG)

Panama City

Providenciales

Rio De Janiero

Port Au Prince

Port of Spain

Raleigh/Durham

St Croix

St Marteen

Sao Paulo

San Francisco

San Jose, CR

San Juan

San Pedro Sula

Santiago

Tampa

Washington (National)

Orlando

Mexico City

Miami

New York (Kennedy)

Tampa

Miami

New York (Kennedy)

Pan Am closed its doors on December 4, 1991 it’s last completed flight being a 727 flight from Barbados to Miami.

The bankrupt Pan Am made a comeback as a regional carrier in 1995. Florida based former Arvida CEO and Ambassador to Iceland (Republican appointee) Charles Cobb had bought the airlines assets and some of those of also defunct Eastern Airlines. The company was led by Martin Shugrue who had been one of the longest serving and loyalist Pan Am employees rising to Vice Chairman before leaving  the airline in 1989. Much like the original airline it maintained hubs in Miami (shifting to Fort Lauderdale in 1997) and New York-JFK but limited flying to domestic routes and the Caribbean. This Pan Am was based in Miami unlike its predecessor but New York-JFK was by far its largest base. It also maintained a large operation at Islip’s MacArthur Airport on Long Island, which has never been served by the original Pan Am.

This version of Pan Am issued its final timetable in December 1997:

Fort Lauderdale 

Boston

Hartford/Springfield

Islip

Newark

New York (Kennedy)

San Juan

Washington (Dulles)

Fort Myers

New York (Kennedy)

Miami

Chicago (Midway)

New York (Kennedy)

Santo Domingo

San Juan

Orlando

Islip

New York (Kennedy)

Tampa

Islip

New York (Kennedy)

West Palm Beach

Islip

This Pan Am went defunct in 1998 and was bought by  Guilford Transportation Industries who made the airline an unrecognizable entity serving second tier US markets and flying to alternate airports such as  Orlando-Sanford, Chicago-Gary and Portsmouth, NH. Thus we choose not to include this third Pan Am in the history since it was almost entirely unlike its predecessors.

3 comments

  1. Cobb also served in the Chiles administration in some capacity.

  2. […] Politics and the Growth/Fall of Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) in Florida […]

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