The Pan Am Series – Part VIII: The Pan Am Shuttle
5 October 2013 3 Comments
The Pan Am Shuttle was inaugurated on 1 October 1986 in direct competition with the legendary Eastern Shuttle that had been in operation since 30 April 1961. The Eastern Shuttle began with the Lockheed 1049 Constellation and operated between New York LaGuardia , Washington National and Boston Logan every two hours between 8 a.m. and 10 p.m. The service later became hourly from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The shuttle required no reservations, there were no seat assignments, no check in was required and no boarding passes were issued. In other words, a passenger simply went to the airport and boarded the aircraft. Tickets were purchased on board after takeoff and there were no drinks or meal service.
The Constellation was eventually replaced by the Lockheed Electra, which was replaced by the DC-9, which was replaced by the Boeing 727-200, pictured above at its LaGuardia gate (left).
One feature of the Eastern Shuttle was that every passenger was guaranteed a seat. If a flight was full, a back-up aircraft was ready to go. As legend has it, there was once a single passenger who arrived for a flight on time and as it was full, was accommodated by a back-up aircraft.
Eastern Airlines and the Eastern Shuttle were acquired by Texas Air Corporation in 1986. In June of 1989, the Eastern Shuttle was acquired by Donald Trump and operated as the Trump Shuttle. Henry Harteveldt was Director of Marketing for Trump Shuttle at the time. Below are his recollections of the operation:
“When we took over the Eastern Shuttle, Eastern had 14% market share. Within 6 months, we’d increased that to about 48%-49%. Eastern lost market share due to the airline’s labor problems. The day after we started to operate as Trump, we started to see market share — led by key corporate clients — return, because they saw management stability and, importantly, a commitment to operational reliability and maintenance/safety (Eastern never compromised on Maintenance/safety, but corporate clients, travel agents, and the public had their concerns). Pan Am was a sharp competitor, and did some excellent marketing (their “corporate jet” advertising campaign was smart and clever). After we’d been in operation for several months, what we learned was that about 40% of the market was ‘loyal’ to Trump, 40% to Pan Am, and the remaining 20% looked at their watches and went to the airline that had the first departure.”
Later, the USAir Group acquired 40% of the operation with an agreement to manage it and also an option to eventually acquire the entire entity. In April 1992, the Trump Shuttle ceased to exist when it was merged into a new corporation, Shuttle, Inc., and began operating as the USAir Shuttle. In 1997 US Airways purchased the remainder of Shuttle, Inc., and began operation of the US Airways Shuttle, that continues to today.
The story of the Pan Am Shuttle had its roots shortly after the US airlines were deregulated when, in 1980, the Frank Lorenzo-owned Texas Air Corporation formed start-up, non-union New York Air to compete with the Eastern Shuttle. The new airline used DC-9-30s and later MD-80s on the Boston-New York-Washington shuttle route and also offered popular in-flight snack bags called “The Flying Nosh”.
As part of the previously mentioned Texas Air Corporation acquisition of Eastern Airlines and the Eastern Shuttle in 1986, the government required as a condition of the purchase that Texas Air Corporation divest itself of the New York Air shuttle operation. Pan Am, in its attempt to gain a presence in the Washington–New York–Boston air corridor purchased it for $100 million. Pan Am also acquired Ransome Airlines (which later became the Pan Am Express). The purchase of the shuttle operation enabled Pan Am to offer a high-frequency service for business travelers in direct competition with the Eastern Air Lines Shuttle.
Pan Am’s shuttle operation was different and unique. First, it operated on the half-hour, rather than on the hour. It offered in-flight snacks and beverages and featured Samuel Adams Beer. Pan Am went on a marketing blitz when the service was introduced, and differentiated itself from Eastern’s product by emphasizing “Pan Am Service”, recalling the glory days of Pan Am’s world renowned in-flight service. Ticketing was not done on board, rather with ticketing machines located in its terminals at Washington National, New York LaGuardia and at Boston Logan. No reservations were required. The passenger simply showed up at the terminal, purchased the ticket at a ticketing machine, and boarded the aircraft. The passenger also had the option of checking baggage before boarding, although this had to be done at a regular check-in desk. One unique and highly touted feature was that the New York terminal would be the renovated and rejuvenated Marine Air Terminal from where the Boeing 314 flying boats once departed.
The aircraft used were Boeing 727-200s (pictured at the top of this story, right, photo by Andy Martin), acquired from the defunct Peoples Express and from Lufthansa and were in an all-economy configuration. Pan Am also offered a guaranteed seat. In one advertisement, called “No Shutouts”, it was proclaimed: “If a flight is full, out comes a second plane to pick up the slack. No bench warmers; everybody gets in the game.” In addition, as its first flight was at 6:30 a.m., beating Eastern’s first shuttle at 7 a.m., the Pan Am Shuttle called itself “The first choice”. Also, to attract the high-yield business traffic, the shuttle was called “The Corporate Jet” and advertisements promoted in-seat telephones for use by passengers to “make connections in high places”. And in one of the best deals of all, members of Pan Am’s WorldPass frequent flyer program earned 2000 miles for every sector flown on the shuttle. A passenger could accumulate a total of 8000 miles on a round trip between Washington and Boston!
Kelly Cusack was involved with Pan Am’s shuttle operation in New York from its inception. Below are excerpts from his story about his experiences that appears in Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of Its People, published by BlueWatePress:
“The Pan Am Shuttle was launched in the Fall of 1986 from the Marine Air Terminal which had been built by Pan Am in 1940 for Trans-Atlantic flying boat operations. An extension was added on to the original terminal allowing it to accommodate up to 5 jets and hourly service (on the half hour) to Boston and Washington, DC was offered from 6:30am to 8:30pm (Washington), 9:30pm (Boston).
“Pan Am’s goal was to compete with service and not price, offering leather seats and in-flight beverages and snacks. In order to allow customers to enjoy the in-flight perks Pan Am offered advance ticketing unlike the Eastern Shuttle that only ticketed in-flight. Another unique amenity of the Pan Am Shuttle was the Pan Am Water Shuttle, a ferry service from a pier at the Marine Air Terminal to Pier 11 serving Wall St in Manhattan. Because of the layout of LaGuardia Eastern could not match this service. The Water Shuttle reduced travel times significantly from LaGuardia to lower Manhattan during rush hours. Pan Am also introduced a “Business Center” in the modified Marine Air Terminal with fax and copier service. Within the terminal Pan Am offered a wide range of complimentary newspapers and magazines conveniently placed so customers could grab them as they dashed to catch a flight.”
The operation was staffed by New York-based personnel, although in an interesting twist, Pan Am staff from Honolulu also made up the work force. According to Cusack:
“The Pan Am Shuttle had an unusually high percentage of Hawaiian Employees working in Passenger Service. With the sale of the Pacific routes to United in March of 1986 there was a surplus of agents in Honolulu. These agents used their union “bumping” rights to secure positions at the Shuttle. There were 8 transfers from Honolulu. They shared a house and a car. They worked shifts for each other allowing each of them to get home to Hawaii about once a month for a week or more. They were lovely, warm people and their presence at the Shuttle was uniquely Pan Am.”
The Pan Am Shuttle was a wonderful operation that was very popular and profitable for Pan Am. Unfortunately, with the sale of Pan Am’s remaining European routes and Frankfurt hub to Delta, the Shuttle was part of the deal, and Delta took over operations on 1 September 1991.
Kelly Cusack’s story about the Pan Am Shuttle contains memories of his experiences with the operation as well as insight on its inception and some of the innovative marketing used to make it so successful. His is one of 71 stories by former Pan Amers in Pan American World Airways – Aviation History Through the Words of Its People.
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