Published on September 21st, 2011 | by Mark Chesnut

Time Travel: Pan Am, and 6 Great Ways to Fly to Latin America


Pan Am, the ABC TV series scheduled to debut on September 25 in the United States, is set in the glamorous world of 1960s air travel, a time when women wore gloves and pilots ironed their ties. It’s unclear how much of a role Latin America travel will play in the series, but it should be fairly prominent; after all, Pan American World Airways cut its teeth in the Caribbean, Mexico and Central and South America before expanding around the globe.

As high-profile as Pan Am’s flights to Mexico, Central and South America may have been, this venerable airline was far from the only memorable way to fly to Latin America in decades past. Here are six more ways you could travel in style. 

In 1934, you could hop aboard the 776-foot Graf Zeppelin airship in Friedrichsafen, Germany, for a long, luxurious trip to South America. By 1934, the Zeppelin Company was offering scheduled service leaving Germany every Saturday evening and arriving in Pernambuco, Brazil, on Tuesday evening, and Rio de Janeiro, on Thursday morning. The service stopped immediately following the crash of the Hindenburg in 1937.  

In 1956, you could begin your Cuba-infused weekend while still on the plane, during promotional flights from Miami to Havana on Cubana de Aviación, billed as the “Cabaret in the Sky,” sipping on pink daiquiris and enjoying a live, in-flight song-and-dance show, complete with band and a showgirl from the Tropicana nightclub. 

In the 1970s, you could jet down to South America aboard a Braniff International Airways DC-8 splashed with color by world-famous artist Alexander Calder. On board, passengers practiced their Spanish and Portuguese while with playing cards that doubled as language flash cards. 

Not to be outdone by Braniff’s attention-getting livery, Ecuatoriana, which was Ecuador’s largest airline at the time, began splattering its own planes with attention-getting graphic designs. Yet another chance to fly inside a supposed work of art.

In the 1970s, Hughes Airwest, the attention-getting small airline named after Howard Hughes, would shuttle you down Mexico way aboard its banana-colored DC-9 aircraft, staffed by flight attendants garbed in equally fruity colors. 

Some style still flies. For decades, flight attendants with Avianca, Colombia‘s largest airline, have boarded their planes wearing stylish red ruanas — a modern interpretation of the red woolen cloak from the Colombian Andes. They still do to this day. 

Christina Ricci dressed to fly on the new Pan Am TV series.

Pan Am’s Latin American Connections

If you’re a Latin America travel enthusiast and plan to watch the new TV show called Pan Am, be on the lookout for any mentions of the airline’s strong Latin American links. In addition to its own long-standing service to Latin America, the airline founded what would become InterContinental Hotels & Resorts by opening its first property in Brazil, and co-founded Pan American-Grace Airways, usually called simply Panagra, as a joint venture with W.R. Grace & Co. in 1929. Passengers could enjoy drinks and socializing in the Fiesta Lounge on the airline’s El Interamericano service to Latin America, which was operated with DC-7 and later DC-8 aircraft. 

Pan Am also helped to grow other Latin American airlines. In 1929, Pan Am’s leader, Juan Trippe, took over the majority of Mexicana Airlines. And the airline co-founded the Venezuelan airline Avensa (in 1943), which continued to carry a Pan Am-inspired logo and livery, as did its subsidiary, Servivensa, long after Pan Am’s demise. 

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About the Author

The founder and editor of, Mark has more than 15 years of experience as a writer, editor and manager. He's worked with some of the biggest consumer, in-flight and travel trade publishers that cover Latin America.

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