Because more and more countries are ditching “flag carriers”, but why didn’t the US have a flag carrier?
Quite simply because it didn’t have to, they had Pan AM.
Pan American World Airways, originally founded as Pan American Airways and commonly known as Pan Am, was the principal and largest international air carrier and unofficial flag carrier of the United States from 1927 until its collapse on December 4, 1991. It was founded in 1927 as a scheduled air mail and passenger service operating between Key West, Florida and Havana, Cuba. The airline is credited for 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 International Air Transport Association(IATA), the global airline industry association. Identified by its blue globe logo (“The Blue Meatball”), the use of the word “Clipper” in its aircraft names and call signs, and the white uniform caps of its pilots, 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 overseas flag carrier of the United States.
It was a very widely known airline at the time, so the US had no reason to setup a rival and official flag carrier when Pan AM was effectively doing the job for it.
At its peak in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Pan Am advertised under the slogan, the “World’s Most Experienced Airline”. It carried 6.7 million passengers in 1966, and by 1968, its 150 jets flew to 86 countries on every continent except for Antarctica over a scheduled route network of 81,410 unduplicated miles (131,000 km). During that period the airline was profitable and its cash reserves totaled $1 billion.
It was also the launch airline of the very much iconic 747.
Pan Am was the launch customer of the Boeing 747, placing a $525 million order for 25 in April 1966. On January 15, 1970 First Lady Pat Nixon christened a Pan Am Boeing 747 Clipper Young America at Washington Dulles in the presence of Pan Am president Najeeb Halaby.
Now the trend is for countries not to have a flag carrier.
But in many cases, Stewart added, “flag carriers seem to exist purely for the sake of optics, as a means of showing the rest of the world that a country has a seat at all the right global hubs, flag splashed across the fin. Countries like Greece and Belgium have managed just fine in the years since they scrapped their flag carriers, and we’ll probably continue to see more countries do the same in the years to come.”
Like those aforementioned European countries, the United States has also done away with a single flag-carrying airline. Despite boasting names like American and United, none of the domestic U.S. carriers are true flag carriers — though that wasn’t always the case.
What Happened to the U.S. Flag Carrier
“Prior to World War II, the U.S. had a de facto international flag carrier in Pan American, which tried to retain that position postwar,” Perkins explained. “Instead, [the] U.S. government opted for competitive airlines.”
After the deregulation of airlines in 1978, which officially removed government control over fare prices and routes, competition between airlines increased. And while fares dropped, airlines multiplied, and routes expanded, the United States turned from a single national carrier to favor a number of domestic and regional airlines.
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