25 Years Ago: Pan Am, A Cultural Icon, Stops Flying

By Jonathan Spira on 3 December 2016
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Pan Am, the nation’s unofficial flag carrier and a cultural icon, ceased operations on Wednesday (December 4) after what could only be described as a tumultuous decade both for both the airline and the airline industry. It is the second major U.S. airline to cease operations this year.

Had Frequent Business Traveler existed in 1991, some 25 years ago, that could have been the lead paragraph of the top news story of the day.

I grew up flying Pan Am and was Platinum by the time I was 18, thanks to having spent summers in Austria as a youngster and then having attended university in Munich. The promotional card I swiped from the Pan Am office in Vienna promoting the Munich flights – “Tägich Nonstop München-New York“ – adorns my desk to this date along with a model of a Pan Am Boeing 747-200. Nearby is the airline’s final published schedule from October 27, 1991, a fraction of the size of a PAA schedule from a year earlier.

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The signs should have been unmistakable. The poorly-timed acquisition of National Airlines, just as deregulation was fueling domestic competition, followed by the sale of several key non-core assets to stem the flow of red ink, most notably the iconic Pan Am Building to Met Life in 1980, and the sale of its Intercontinental Hotels subsidiary to Grand Metropolitan the following year. The 1985 sale of its Pacific Division to United Airlines, however, showed how serious the situation really was.

The 1988 Lockerbie bombing was perhaps the straw that broke the camel’s back and things began to unravel at a fast pace.

Click here to continue to Page 2Pan Am’s Last Year

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