Northwest Orient Airlines’ 747 inaugural service - 1970

The Queen of the Skies was made for routes like these

December 2017 marks the end of scheduled 747 service for Delta Air Lines, and with the final aircraft in its fleet making a farewell tour, it’s appropriate to take a look back at how merger partner Northwest Airlines began service with this type back in 1970.

Northwest Orient, as they were styling themselves, had placed orders for ten of the all-new Boeing 747-100 in 1966, not long after Pan Am had launched the type, and they started receiving their jets only a few months after Pan Am, as well. All ten were delivered in 1970-71, and Northwest topped up its order with five more 747-100B longer-range variants to be delivered in 1971.

By 1980 Northwest had started to swap in the newer, more-capable 747-200 (as well as a handful of all-cargo models), and would later go on to be the launch customer for the extended 747-400. The -400s would pass on to Delta when the companies merged, but the remaining -200s were quickly disposed of, as well as the all-cargo subfleet.

Northwest’s system map in Spring 1970 showed a mix of local-service flights across the upper Midwest and Mountain states, with trunkline services among many major Northeast and Great Lakes cities, plus new lines to Florida and California, and of course long-haul service across the Pacific. Minneapolis and Seattle were their main domestic bases, but they also had a significant presence at Chicago, and had even scored Chicago-Hawaii nonstop authority (in competition with United.) NWA was using several types of Boeing 707 and 727, and a dwindling number of Lockheed Electra prop-jets to fly the system.

Photo by  Ken Fielding  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Photo by Ken Fielding via Wikimedia Commons, CC 3.0 license

Northwest’s plan was to use the 747 to replace long-range 707s, giving them significantly more cargo and passenger capacity for revenue growth, as a “frequency-driven” model was not appropriate for the traffic demands of that era, not to mention less-capable air-traffic control and more-cramped airports. And by the late 1970s, 707s would be relegated to just flights from Tokyo to its Asian stations.

From the collection of my good friend, Arthur Na.

From the collection of my good friend, Arthur Na.

Eventually Northwest would place 747s on many domestic routes, so much so that in the early 1980s their radio jingle called them the “wide-cabin airline”. The phase-out of this remarkable aircraft is also a reminder that there used to be a time when even coach service had both comfortable legroom as well as seat width…

NW_timetable_cover_19700426.png

The first aircraft to enter service flew a very light schedule to help train flight crews; just out and back from Minneapolis headquarters to New York City. While the timetable called for a June 15 start date, in fact the first flights didn’t begin until June 22, 1970:

  • Flight 232 left Minneapolis 12:30 pm, arrived New York JFK 3:59 pm
  • Flight 221 left JFK 5:30 pm, arrived MSP 7:19 pm

At July 1, 1970 the pace for that first aircraft picked up, and three more joined the fleet. The aircraft routed in this sequence, taking four days to make a complete circuit, with lots of slack time in Minneapolis for training and familiarization:

Day one

  • Flight 203: Depart JFK 9:00 am, arrive MSP 10:47 am
  • Flight 232: Depart MSP 12:30 pm, arrive JFK 3:59 pm
  • Flight 221: Depart JFK 5:30 pm, arrive MSP 7:19 pm
  • Maintenance & training checks at Minneapolis

Day two

  • Flight 230: Depart MSP 6:15 pm, arrive JFK 9:38 pm

Day three

  • Flight 7: Depart JFK 10:00 am, stop at Chicago 11:17-12:20 pm, stop at Seattle 2:15-3:45 pm, arrive Tokyo 5:35 pm on day 4

Day four

  • Flight 4: Depart Tokyo 8:20 pm, stop at Seattle 12:50-2:40 pm earlier the same day, stop at Chicago 8:10-9:10 pm, arrive JFK 11:58 pm
Photo by  clipperarctic  via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

Photo by clipperarctic via Wikimedia Commons, CC 2.0 license

The Minneapolis-San Francisco-Honolulu-Tokyo route was added next, starting August 1 with every-other-day service, going to daily on September 1. The six aircraft in the fleet could then route like this:

Day one

  • Flight 9:  Depart Minneapolis 8:15 am, stop at San Francisco 9:50-11:00 am, stop at Honolulu 12:55-2:30 pm, arrive Tokyo 5:10 pm on day 2

Day two

  • Flight 4: Depart Tokyo 8:20 pm, stop at Seattle 12:50-2:40 pm earlier the same day, stop at Chicago 8:10-9:10 pm, arrive JFK 11:58 pm

Day three

  • Flight 203: Depart JFK 9:00 am, arrive MSP 10:47 am
  • Flight 232: Depart MSP 12:30 pm, arrive JFK 3:59 pm
  • Flight 221: Depart JFK 5:30 pm, arrive MSP 7:19 pm
  • Maintenance & training checks at Minneapolis

Day four

  • Flight 230: Depart MSP 6:15 pm, arrive JFK 9:38 pm

Day five

  • Flight 7: Depart JFK 10:00 am, stop at Chicago 11:17-12:20 pm, stop at Seattle 2:15-3:45 pm, arrive Tokyo 5:35 pm on day 6

Day six

  • Flight 10: Depart Tokyo 9:00 pm, stop at Honolulu 9:00-10:45 am earlier the same day, stop at San Francisco 6:20-7:20 pm, arrive MSP 12:35 am on day 1
NW 747 tour wing.png
The 747-200s and even a couple -100s were painted in the"bowling shoe" livery, which remains my favorite.

The 747-200s and even a couple -100s were painted in the"bowling shoe" livery, which remains my favorite.

Final Resting Places

Delta has preserved one 747-400 at their big museum in Atlanta, and the forward fuselage of Northwest’s first 747, N601US, is on display at the Smithsonian National Air & Space museum in Washington, DC.

 

Also see…

http://www.startribune.com/delta-s-747s-a-vestige-of-northwest-s-heyday-will-visit-minnesota-for-the-final-time/464645563/

 

Our airport guide to Minneapolis/St. Paul

Our article on Northwest Airlines’ “Mall of America” Asian flights

Our Northwest Airlines folder on Pinterest

United - Transpacific Inaugural April 1983

Executives at United’s headquarters just outside Chicago must have been beyond frustrated in the early 1980s. They were the biggest airline in the U.S., yet for twenty years had been rejected to start international services, time and again. And not having international experience meant they weren’t getting preferential status when new route authorities were opened; a classic catch-22. United had made a big filing with the US Civil Aeronautics Board in the late 1960s to start Asia service, but not only were they rejected, their duopoly with Pan Am to Hawaii was broken apart and they had to compete with Western and Continental on what had been their lucrative Los Angeles/San Francisco-Honolulu traffic!

Northwest Orient and Pan Am had Asia; Pan Am and TWA had Europe and the Mideast; Braniff and Pan Am had Latin America. Braniff, Delta, and even little Air Florida had received European routes in the late 1970s – and Braniff had been granted flights to Korea, Hong Kong, and Singapore! When both Braniff and Air Florida had gone out of business, none of the available authorities went to United.

Photo by Ralf Manteufel via Wikimedia Commons, GNU 1.2 license

Photo by Ralf Manteufel via Wikimedia Commons, GNU 1.2 license

The Japanese government in the 1970s and 1980s took a dim view of letting US carriers expand services to Tokyo any further; while Japan Air Lines still had the largest single-carrier market share across the Pacific, agreements after World War II allowed both Pan Am and Northwest Orient generous “fifth-freedom” rights to pick passengers and freight up in Japan and take them to other points in Asia, and this put JAL into serious competition on both sides of the island chain. While Japan also had similar rights beyond the USA, it was only used on one route to Brazil, so they did not consider the treaty to be well-balanced.

JAL wanted to fly to additional points in America, but was not keen on the prospect of giving NWA or Pan Am an even greater assortment of cities to fly to Tokyo from as a result of negotiations with the US government. Talks went on for years, until someone had the idea to suggest giving United Airlines a route to Japan. United would not have “fifth-freedom” rights … and United’s massive domestic operation could put NWA and Pan Am at a tactical disadvantage. Both elements appealed to the Japanese side, and it was agreed: United would get a Seattle-Tokyo slot, and JAL would get access to both Seattle and Chicago. And Northwest would go from having a monopoly on the Seattle run to having two strong competitors in one blow.

Once the US government agreed on Japan’s conditions, United lobbied hard to pick up landing rights at Hong Kong, where there was an unused daily frequency after Braniff’s collapse. Hong Kong’s government was agreeable, but United would have to fly there without stopping in Japan.

Normal.dotm 
 0 
 0 
 1 
 15 
 91 
 Northdale Middle School 
 1 
 1 
 111 
 12.0 
  
  
 
  
    
  
 0 
 false 
 
 
 18 pt 
 18 pt 
 0 
 0 
 
 false 
 false 
 false 
 
  
  
  
  
 
  
    
  
  
   
 
 /* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
	mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
	mso-style-noshow:yes;
	mso-style-parent:"";
	mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
	mso-para-margin:0in;
	mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
	mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
	font-size:12.0pt;
	font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
	mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
	mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}
 
  Photo by  clipperarctic  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by clipperarctic via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

United’s fleet of seventeen 747-100s, delivered from 1970-1972, would be stretched thin on services to Hawaii as well as the Tokyo flight, but the airline’s large and more-recently built fleet of DC-10-10s was the “lightweight” version – enough range to handle flights to Hawaii or from California to New York, but not nearly enough to make Japan, much less another four hours’ flying to Hong Kong.

Normal.dotm 
 0 
 0 
 1 
 14 
 80 
 Northdale Middle School 
 1 
 1 
 98 
 12.0 
  
  
 
  
    
  
 0 
 false 
 
 
 18 pt 
 18 pt 
 0 
 0 
 
 false 
 false 
 false 
 
  
  
  
  
 
  
    
  
  
   
 
 /* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
	mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
	mso-style-noshow:yes;
	mso-style-parent:"";
	mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
	mso-para-margin:0in;
	mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
	mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
	font-size:12.0pt;
	font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
	mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
	mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}
 
  Photo by  contri  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by contri via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The solution came from across the northern border: Vancouver-based carrier CP Air was willing to lease United three longer-range DC-10-30s, and this would be just enough to cover the schedule. Plus, United was quite familiar with the DC-10 so crew training for -30 version would be minimal.

On April 2, 1983, United started its Tokyo service with six weekly nonstops from Seattle/Tacoma, daily except Tuesdays, and on Tuesdays they offered a nonstop from Portland, Oregon, using the 747-100 on all flights. The aircraft would sit at Tokyo-Narita for about four hours before returning to the USA.  Both the outbound and return flights terminated at Chicago-O’Hare.

Click to enlarge this route map

Then on May 28, 1983, United began Seattle-Hong Kong nonstops with daily frequency, with both inbound and outbound flights terminating at New York-JFK. The DC-10-30 would arrive Hong Kong’s Kai Tak airport at 6:15 pm and not depart until 1:45 pm the next day – while HKG was happy to have United fly there, the one-runway airport had severe congestion and these were the best times United could get. But even if UA could get a later landing slot and a morning takeoff slot, they’d still need three aircraft to run the routing, and the arrivals and departures at Seattle worked well for connecting traffic from across United’s system, as they had a large operation at SEA in the 1980s.

Outside of a few flights to Toronto, Vancouver, Cancun/Cozumel, and the Bahamas, the Tokyo and Hong Kong routes from the Pacific Northwest would be all the prestige international flying United would do for the first half of the 1980s. But in 1985, UA’s management began quiet negotiations with Pan Am that would change the carrier’s fortunes…

 

Also see:

http://m.csmonitor.com/1983/0328/032837.html

and other weninchina resources - - -

Our Transpacific Flying folder on Pinterest

Our Tokyo-Narita airport guide

Our Hong Kong airport guide

Our Seattle/Tacoma airport guide

Our Portland airport guide

Our Chicago O’Hare airport guide

CAAC - Transpacific Inaugural 1981

Normal.dotm 
 0 
 0 
 1 
 16 
 94 
 Northdale Middle School 
 1 
 1 
 115 
 12.0 
  
  
 
  
    
  
 0 
 false 
 
 
 18 pt 
 18 pt 
 0 
 0 
 
 false 
 false 
 false 
 
  
  
  
  
 
  
    
  
  
   
 
 /* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
	mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
	mso-style-noshow:yes;
	mso-style-parent:"";
	mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
	mso-para-margin:0in;
	mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
	mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
	font-size:12.0pt;
	font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
	mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
	mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}
 
  Ilyushin-12 piston-engine airliner. Photo by  Allen Watkin  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Ilyushin-12 piston-engine airliner. Photo by Allen Watkin via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

China’s “frenemy” relationship with the Soviet Union in the 1960s-70s had begun with post-WWII ideological alignment and anti-American solidarity, but was increasingly strained by perceptions that Moscow was lining up with old antagonists in Delhi and Hanoi. Lack of access to Western technology and the loss of home-grown engineering talent meant that China was utterly dependent on Soviet-built transportation equipment: the CAAC airline fleet even in the 1970s was still largely made up of smaller piston-engined propeller planes, with a few 1950s-era turboprops and even fewer first-generation Tupolev and Ilyushin jets.

Normal.dotm 
 0 
 0 
 1 
 14 
 83 
 Northdale Middle School 
 1 
 1 
 101 
 12.0 
  
  
 
  
    
  
 0 
 false 
 
 
 18 pt 
 18 pt 
 0 
 0 
 
 false 
 false 
 false 
 
  
  
  
  
 
  
    
  
  
   
 
 /* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
	mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
	mso-style-noshow:yes;
	mso-style-parent:"";
	mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
	mso-para-margin:0in;
	mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
	mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
	font-size:12.0pt;
	font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
	mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
	mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}
 
  Antonov-24 turboprop. Photo by  GothPhil  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license  

Antonov-24 turboprop. Photo by GothPhil via Flickr, CC 2.0 license  

President Nixon’s overtures to the People’s Republic in 1972, plus British and European contacts, gave China’s leaders an opening to change the relationship with Moscow. By the end of that year orders had been placed for 707 long-range jets, and Trident mid-range jets (plus newer long-range Ilyushin-62 jets and Antonov-24 turboprops from Russia). By the mid-1970s, China had the foundations of long-range service in place to Japan, the Mideast, Africa, and Europe, and a reasonably contemporary fleet on its trunk services.

Normal.dotm 
 0 
 0 
 1 
 17 
 98 
 Northdale Middle School 
 1 
 1 
 120 
 12.0 
  
  
 
  
    
  
 0 
 false 
 
 
 18 pt 
 18 pt 
 0 
 0 
 
 false 
 false 
 false 
 
  
  
  
  
 
  
    
  
  
   
 
 /* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
	mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
	mso-style-noshow:yes;
	mso-style-parent:"";
	mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
	mso-para-margin:0in;
	mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
	mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
	font-size:12.0pt;
	font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
	mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
	mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}
 
  Boeing 707. Photo by  wiltshirespotter  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Boeing 707. Photo by wiltshirespotter via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Crossing the Pacific, however, had yet to be accomplished – other Asian economies were starting their remarkable growth period, and the US was increasingly opening its doors for business and migration. Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, and even Singapore had all started or expanded home-carrier air service to America by the mid-to-late-1970s with brand-new wide-body jets made by Boeing and Douglas. While China and the US were still slowly negotiating transportation agreements, the “Asian Tigers” were quickly passing Beijing by: a loss of “face” to be sure, but practically-speaking, a loss of economic power which China could ill-afford.

Normal.dotm 
 0 
 0 
 1 
 15 
 87 
 Northdale Middle School 
 1 
 1 
 106 
 12.0 
  
  
 
  
    
  
 0 
 false 
 
 
 18 pt 
 18 pt 
 0 
 0 
 
 false 
 false 
 false 
 
  
  
  
  
 
  
    
  
  
   
 
 /* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
	mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
	mso-style-noshow:yes;
	mso-style-parent:"";
	mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
	mso-para-margin:0in;
	mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
	mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
	font-size:12.0pt;
	font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
	mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
	mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}
 
    Photo by  Aero Icarus  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Aero Icarus via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

New management in 1978 at CAAC, the Chinese civil aviation service, finally kicked the bureaucracy into action, getting a treaty with the US finalized, and orders for the newest, long-range Boeing 747SP were in place by the end of the year.

CAAC received its 747s in early 1980 and began nonstops to Paris that spring, followed up with test flights to the US in the fall. Finally, with trained crews in place and support contracts with Pan Am finalized, the first scheduled service from Beijing through Shanghai to San Francisco and New York began on January 7, 1981.

By the time this April 1, 1982 timetable was issued, the service had been extended to Los Angeles, paralleling Pan Am’s route expansion. CAAC would retain this routing for several years, adding an additional weekly frequency to San Francisco but not making major changes until after mid-1985, when the national carrier would be broken up into several regional airlines. CAAC would keep its Beijing hub and most international routes, becoming today’s Air China. The Shanghai division would become today’s China Eastern.

Notice how few flights per week were actually operated in 1982! The Tokyo-Shanghai route was only flown 5 times per week, and there were only 3 nonstops per week on the Tokyo-Beijing route. Paris, London, Bangkok, and Manila were only reached once per week, and there were no flights to Singapore or Australia at this time.

On the domestic-services side, you can see that even on the principal routes CAAC ran very few flights: Beijing-Shanghai was only served 4 times per day; Beijing-Guangzhou not even at 3 times per day, and only 2 daily on the Shanghai-Guangzhou run, with other core routes at well less than daily frequency.

With each regional division controlling its own fleet and choice of routes from 1985 onward, they quickly started competing, building traffic with better service and lower fares, and ordering hundreds of new aircraft.

Normal.dotm 
 0 
 0 
 1 
 14 
 85 
 Northdale Middle School 
 1 
 1 
 104 
 12.0 
  
  
 
  
    
  
 0 
 false 
 
 
 18 pt 
 18 pt 
 0 
 0 
 
 false 
 false 
 false 
 
  
  
  
  
 
  
    
  
  
   
 
 /* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
	mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
	mso-style-noshow:yes;
	mso-style-parent:"";
	mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
	mso-para-margin:0in;
	mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
	mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
	font-size:12.0pt;
	font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
	mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
	mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}
 
  Photo by  Kiefer  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Kiefer via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Normal.dotm 
 0 
 0 
 1 
 17 
 99 
 Northdale Middle School 
 1 
 1 
 121 
 12.0 
  
  
 
  
    
  
 0 
 false 
 
 
 18 pt 
 18 pt 
 0 
 0 
 
 false 
 false 
 false 
 
  
  
  
  
 
  
    
  
  
   
 
 /* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
	mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
	mso-style-noshow:yes;
	mso-style-parent:"";
	mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
	mso-para-margin:0in;
	mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
	mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
	font-size:12.0pt;
	font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
	mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
	mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}
 
  Photo by  Woodys Aeroimages  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Woodys Aeroimages via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

The Beijing-Shanghai-San Francisco-New York core route was where both carriers’ crews and administrators earned Trans-pacific experience, and even now Air China’s Beijing-SFO/JFK and China Eastern’s Shanghai-SFO/JFK services are treated as flagship routes, with their newest equipment and in-flight services.

Also see:

http://www.nytimes.com/1981/01/08/us/scheduled-air-service-from-china-to-us-resumes.html

and other weninchina resources - - -

Our Transpacific Flying folder on Pinterest

Our Air China folder on Pinterest

Our China Eastern folder on Pinterest

 

Pan Am - 1981 Return to China

Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by the  San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive

Public domain image from Wikimedia Commons, uploaded by the San Diego Air and Space Museum Archive

Pan American World Airways reached China the first time with its “Clipper” flying boats in 1935, and played a key role in organizing domestic air service there in the tenuous pre-war period. But after the 1949 Revolution, American interests were kicked out of the country, and the Communists effectively walled off (pun intended) China from nearly all Western commerce and culture.

President Nixon’s overtures to the People’s Republic in 1972 started tenuous contacts, and in September of that year an order came for ten Boeing 707 jetliners to be operated by CAAC, the national air service. Those aircraft were used on routes to the Mideast, Africa, and Europe, however – it took until 1979 for there to be any agreement on transportation between China and the US, and the first transit was done by cargo ship.

Pan Am had to give up its flights to Taiwan (which was just fine by competitor Northwest Orient), and CAAC had to order, receive, and get trained on new Boeing 747s before service could commence. For CAAC, this started on January 7, 1981, and Pan Am’s service kicked off on January 28.

The first timetable Pan Am put out with the new flights was issued April 26, and is iconic in the #avgeek collecting community. The Great Wall at Badaling had just been restored for tourism, and while it’s clear this photo was taken in fall/winter, what is striking is the utter lack of vegetation – and crowds!

Normal.dotm 
 0 
 0 
 1 
 15 
 87 
 Northdale Middle School 
 1 
 1 
 106 
 12.0 
  
  
 
  
    
  
 0 
 false 
 
 
 18 pt 
 18 pt 
 0 
 0 
 
 false 
 false 
 false 
 
  
  
  
  
 
  
    
  
  
   
 
 /* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
	mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
	mso-style-noshow:yes;
	mso-style-parent:"";
	mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
	mso-para-margin:0in;
	mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
	mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
	font-size:12.0pt;
	font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
	mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
	mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}
 
  Photo by  Aero Icarus  via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Photo by Aero Icarus via Flickr, CC 2.0 license

Pan Am used the long-range 747SP, which was a customized short-body version of the famous aircraft that could fly the New York-Tokyo leg (or later, Los Angeles-Shanghai) without fuel stops. It was a fuel hog – a big problem when the oil crisis hit - but the best that Boeing could put in the sky with late-1970s technology, and as such it was given the highest prestige. (The standard-size 747-200 would soon offer similar performance with better payload and economics, making accountants and route planners at a number of airlines curse the day their bosses wrote checks to buy the “SP”… and was one of many factors that led to Pan Am’s downfall.)

In the 21st Century, we are used to seeing multiple frequencies per day between American and Chinese business centers, but in 1981 on Pan Am, you had a choice of just four weekly services:

  • A Saturday departure from New York JFK, leaving at 1:15 pm – arriving Tokyo Narita at 3:50 pm on Sunday, then Shanghai Hongqiao at 8:25 pm, and finally Beijing at 11:15 pm.
  • Wednesday and Sunday departures from San Francisco at 2:15 pm, getting into Tokyo at 4:55 on Thursday/Monday, and Beijing at 9:35pm. These two weekly runs did not continue to Shanghai.
  • From September, there was also a Wednesday 1:00 pm departure from Los Angeles, nonstop to Shanghai, arriving Thursday at 6:00 pm, and continuing to Beijing at 9:00 pm.

These scans from the April 26, 1981 schedule show the outbound services available from Beijing and Shanghai:

By no means were these services profitable in the first several years – flights were nowhere near full, as business and immigration connections between the US and China would take time to develop, and both countries were just beginning to come out of economic crises (albeit for different reasons). The 747SP, while paid for, would be an operational money pit for Pan Am well into the 1990s. While Pan Am would eventually get its Pacific services to profitability, their losses on core European services would see the company make another fatal decision when they sold the Pacific division to United Airlines in 1985 for $750 million.

Pan Am’s pioneering work to build relationships in China would ensure United’s success, and today they are the top US carrier across the Pacific, with a strong Star Alliance partner in Air China.

Normal.dotm 
 0 
 0 
 1 
 9 
 53 
 Northdale Middle School 
 1 
 1 
 65 
 12.0 
  
  
 
  
    
  
 0 
 false 
 
 
 18 pt 
 18 pt 
 0 
 0 
 
 false 
 false 
 false 
 
  
  
  
  
 
  
    
  
  
   
 
 /* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
	{mso-style-name:"Table Normal";
	mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
	mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
	mso-style-noshow:yes;
	mso-style-parent:"";
	mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
	mso-para-margin:0in;
	mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt;
	mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
	font-size:12.0pt;
	font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
	mso-fareast-font-family:"Times New Roman";
	mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
	mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria;
	mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}
 
  Photo by Steve Fitzgerald via Wikimedia Commons, GNU 1.2 license

Photo by Steve Fitzgerald via Wikimedia Commons, GNU 1.2 license