Pan American World Airways, or "Pan Am," was principal international air carrier of the United States for most of its lifetime—first flying mail between Key West, Florida, and Havana, Cuba, in 1927. By the 1950s, Pan Am offered "around the world" service and its brand was as familiar abroad as Coca-Cola.
In the Jet Age, Pan Am faced growing challenges as international travel grew and U.S. airlines deregulated in the late 1970s. Pan Am increasingly competed with airlines expanding into foreign markets from extensive domestic routes. Attempting to quickly create a domestic system, Pan Am acquired Miami-based National Airlines in 1980. Pan Am ended in bankruptcy in December 1991.
Delta Acquires Pan Am Transatlantic Routes
Delta began operating Pan Am's transatlantic routes on November 1, 1991, becoming overnight a major carrier across the Atlantic. Acquisitions included Pan Am's New York to Europe routes, hub operations at Frankfurt and New York-JFK, and Pan Am's Miami—London and Detroit—London routes. London operations were from Gatwick airport only; Pan Am had earlier sold its London-Heathrow access and transpacific routes to United Airlines.
These were historic routes. Pan Am was first with scheduled service across the Atlantic in 1939. Early routes to Germany and Western Europe dated to 1946 and American Overseas Airlines (AOA), the transatlantic division of American Airlines. Pan Am had purchased AOA from American on September 25, 1950, acquiring service to Amsterdam, Netherlands; Copenhagen, Denmark; Helsinki, Finland; and Berlin, Frankfurt and other cities in Germany.
Delta also acquired various related assets from Pan Am, including lease and purchase agreements for Airbus 310-200 aircraft and purchase of Pan Am Shuttle. The Shuttle offered frequent service between New York—Boston and New York—Washington, DC. Delta Shuttle operations started on September 1, 1991.