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Today in Aviation: The First Trans-Atlantic Passenger Flight

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Today in Aviation: The First Trans-Atlantic Passenger Flight

Today in Aviation: The First Trans-Atlantic Passenger Flight
June 28
15:09 2020

MIAMI – Today in Aviation marks the 81st anniversary of the first regular trans-Atlantic passenger service. Pan Am’s Boeing 314 ‘Dixie Clipper’ left New York with 22 passengers on the southern route to Horta, Lisbon, and Marseilles. 

In 1939, the cost of the trip was US$375 for a one-way ticket or US$675 for a round trip. Southern Railway executive William J. Eck received a silver cigarette case for being the first paying passenger on the 20:50 minute route.

Also among the passengers were famous “first flighter” Clara Adams, who was on the first leg of a record-breaking, round-the-world flight; United States Lines president John M. Franklin; and Texaco chairman Torkild Rieber, who would be later ousted over his close business relations with Nazi Germany.

And thus began the era of the heavier-than-air trans-Atlantic passenger service. Later, on July 8, the Yankee Clipper would launch Pan Am service across the Atlantic on the northern route, carrying 17 passengers to England.

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On June 28, 1939, Pan American presented this sterling silver ticket holder to William J. Eck for being the first paying passenger to cross the Atlantic on the Boeing 314 Dixie Clipper. Photo: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

Precursor to The Trans-Atlantic Passenger Flight


Twelve years after Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic on the single-engine Spirit of St. Louis on May 20, 1939, Pan Am’s Boeing 314 Yankee Clipper departed Port Washington, New York for the first scheduled mail service across the Atlantic. 

According to clipperflyingboats.com, the Clipper carried 112,574 pieces of mail (mostly from stamp collectors), four dozen California marigolds for Britain’s Queen Mary, and 16 Pan Am employees under the command of Captain Arthur E. La Porte. 

The aircraft flew the southern route across the Atlantic, landing in Lisbon the next afternoon after a flight of approximately 27 hours (which included a stop at Horta in the Azores), and then flew to its final destination in Marseilles, France the next day.

News reel of Pan Am’s maiden NY-Marseilles trans-Atlantic flight.

The Boeing 314 Clipper 


The Boeing 314 Clipper was an American long-range flying boat produced by Boeing from 1938 to 1941. The type could carry 74 passengers onboard.

One of the largest aircraft of its time, the Clipper had a range of 3,500 miles, enough to cross the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. With a cost of US$550,000 (1936) per unit, it was powered by four Wright R-2600 Twin Cyclone radial engines.

For its wings, Boeing re-used the design from their earlier XB-15 bomber prototype. Twelve Clippers were built, nine of which served with Pan American World Airways.

Onboard dining on the Clipper. Photo: The Boeing Company via businessinsider.com.

Clipper Luxury Features


Pan Am’s Clippers were built for one-class luxury air travel, a necessity given the long duration of trans-Oceanic flights. One of the many features was the seats, which could be converted into 36 bunks for overnight accommodation.

Other luxury features of the Boeing 314 included a lounge and dining area, with the galleys crewed by chefs from four-star hotels. Men and women were provided with separate dressing rooms, and white-coated stewards served five and six-course meals with gleaming silver service.

With a cruising speed of 188 miles per hour (303 km/h) (typical flights at maximum gross weight were flown at 155 miles per hour (249 km/h)) in 1940, Pan Am’s schedule San Francisco to Honolulu was 19 hours.

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Pan Am cut-away drawing of the soon to fly Dixie Clipper before its maiden trans-Atlantic flight. Image: Pan Am via aviationbuzzword.com.

A flight taylored for the uber rich


The standard of luxury on Pan American’s Boeing 314 has been rarely matched on heavier-than-air transport; they were a form of super-rich travel, priced at $675 (equivalent to $12,000 in 2019) round trip from New York to Southampton.

Most of the flights were trans-Pacific, with a one-way ticket to Hong Kong from San Francisco, via the Hawaii, Guam, and Manila “stepping-stone” islands, posted at US$760 (US$14,000 at current price).

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About Author

Helwing Villamizar

Helwing Villamizar

AVSEC interpreter, visual artist and Online Editor at Airways Magazine. I am a grammar freak and an avid fan of aviation, motorcycles, sci-fi literature and film.

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