Pan Am V is coming

Pan Am 747-121. Most of its parts have been re...

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The latest reincarnation of Pan American Airways will hold a rededication ceremony on November 12, 2010 and start flying cargo to Monterrey, Mexico from Brownsville, Texas, where Pan Am had its Latin American Headquarters in the 1930s, says the airline.

When I saw the news on NPR, I immediately thought: “Are you serious? Another Pan Am?” It’s the fifth airline to be called Pan Am! Other than the name and the place of birth, it hasn’t much in common with the original… nor the four others before.

And how was the original? Pan Am (1927-1991) was, in my opinion, the greatest airline icon ever. Thinking of Pan Am immediately brings images of glamorous advertisements of the 1950s, futuristic visions of a Pan Am Space Clipper in 2001: A Space Odyssey, catchy jingles such as “You Can’t Beat The Experience”, and Frank Abagnale Jr. in Catch Me If You Can. I wish I had flown that Pan Am.

After the first one died amid heavy financial losses, there was a second Pan Am (1996-1998) that bought the rights for the name and flew A300s between 1996 and 1998 to New York-Kennedy, Los Angeles and Miami among others. It didn’t survive the acquisition of the airline division of Carnival and went bankrupt. Then, an unrelated company created a third Pan Am (1998-2004) that started flying 727-200 aircraft with winglets out of an airport I had never heard of until then (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) to alternative airports such as Gary (Chicago) and Sanford (Orlando). Operations were taken over by yet a fourth Pan Am (2004-2008), actually called Pan Am Clipper Connection. At that point, I wondered if Juan Trippe, founder of the original Pan Am, was turning in his grave.

This being said, I hope that this fifth incarnation, which, if we follow the logic, would be nicknamed Pan Am V, will be more successful than the four others. I hope that it will fight for its survival in this hostile airline industry and avoiding the same jabs its predecessors received. After all, it takes a lot more than a household name to stay in the air without any knockout.

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