Pan American World Airways, commonly known as Pan Am, was the principal and largest international air carrier in the United States from 1927 until its collapse in 1991. Founded in 1927 as a scheduled air mail and passenger service operating between Key West, Florida and Havana, Cuba, the airline became a major company credited with many innovations that shaped the international airline industry, including the widespread use of jet aircraft, jumbo jets, and computerized reservation systems. It was also a founding member of the IATA, the global airline industry association. Identified by its blue globe logo, the use of the word “Clipper” in aircraft names and call signs, and the white pilot uniform caps, the airline was a cultural icon of the 20th century. In an era dominated by flag carriers that were wholly or majority government-owned, it was also the unofficial flag carrier of the United States. During most of the jet era, Pan Am’s flagship terminal was the Worldport located at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York.
Reduced demand for air travel following the 1973 oil crisis made the airline industry’s overcapacity problem worse, leaving Pan Am with its high overheads and fixed costs as a result of a large decentralized infrastructure in a vulnerable position. In addition, high jet fuel prices and the large number of older, less fuel-efficient narrowbodied airplanes in its fleet significantly increased the airline’s operating costs. In 1988, the terrorist bombing of Pan Am flight 103 above Lockerbie, Scotland, resulted in 270 fatalities. Pan Am’s iconic image had made it a repeated target for terrorists, resulting in many travelers avoiding the airline as they had begun to associate it with danger. Pan Am was forced to declare bankruptcy in January, 1991 and ceased operations in December 1991.