In less than one week the former Pan American Airways Unit Terminal Building, more commonly known as the Pan Am WorldPort, at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, taken over by Delta Air Lines in 1991, and now simply known as Terminal 3, will cease operations after 53 years. .
JFK’s iconic Terminal 3 has a long historic and storied history. Serving as a major global gateway to the United States with Pan American Airways from 1960 to 1991, and a significant international gateway for Delta Air Lines from 1991 until the 23rd of May 2013, it is uniquely designed. WorldPort was commissioned by Pan Am after the airline introduced the first transatlantic jet flights from New York’s Idlewild Airport, now JFK Airport, in 1958, with the Boeing 707-121. The airline wanted a terminal with a roof to keep passengers dry from the rain while boarding and deplaning their aircraft, the result was an elliptical design with a four acre roof, suspended over the aircraft and WorldPort ushered in the jet age.
When the Beatles arrived in United States, they arrived at Pan Am’s WorldPort. The first commercial Boeing 747 flight, Pan Am’s Clipper America, departed from WorldPort on the 21st of January 1970. The golden age of jet travel has long been associated with WorldPort and it is burned into global consciousness as the gateway to New York and the United States through its repeated appearances in movies and television shows … but with Delta Air Lines officially opening its new terminal, which has been added onto JFK’s Terminal 4, on the 24th of May 2013, the end is near.
As it stands now, on the 23rd of May 2013, around 10:30pm EST the last flight ever will board at JFK Terminal 3, from Gate 6, and at approximately 11:25pm EST the last aircraft will close its doors, and push back into the alley for the last time. Delta Flight 268, a Boeing 747-451, will taxi to intersection Kilo-Golf, onto Taxiway Alpha and JFK’s Terminal 3 will cease all operations.
Fifty three years of history will close and there will be no documentation of WorldPort’s final story. No final moments recorded, no independent images of the last moments and nary a mention before the festivities of the new JFK T4 is opened and a former airline paradise is literally paved over to make a parking lot.
For me, Terminal 3 is where I looked as a child when I dreamed of seeing the world. I spent part of my childhood in Terminal 2 looking across the ramp at Pan Am jets dreaming of going where they go. The few times my parents took me into WorldPort I would spend my time not looking out the windows at the planes, but looking at the departures and arrivals boards amazed at the far places this terminal could take me. I am not alone in these memories, I know many other traveler and airline folks who saw WorldPort as a place of wonder and amazement.
As a journalist and travel professional I have spanned the globe, stopping in many places that seemed like impossible fantasies while gazing around wide eyed inside WorldPort. I have visited many of these destinations departing or arriving from WorldPort, Moscow, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Paris, Beijing, Milan, and many other dots on the map. My last international Delta flights, to Paris and Moscow in March, departed and returned to Terminal 3. I spent time walking around the terminal taking it all in and saying goodbye … but …
… I had planned on documenting the last day of Terminal 3 for some time. I had emailed back and forth with Delta Air Lines a number of times and was almost always told that we’d talk about it more as the last day approached. I followed up two weeks ago and was told once again we’d talk about it later, then later came. The answer from Delta Air Lines is that all their corporate communications staff is tied up with the launch of the newly expanded Terminal 4 on the 24th of May and my request to document the last day at Terminal 3 was being declined.
Delta’s answer was that the Heritage Museum had determined what would be saved from Terminal 3 and brought to the museum in Atlanta and essentially there was no need to document the last day, a day that I am sure will be filled with emotion for many in the terminal.
For me, the desire to document the last day at Terminal 3 in its entirety has nothing to do with activism. I have already said goodbye to a place that has a deep personal and emotional connection to my life, I made sure of that in March. The desire to document the last at Terminal 3 comes from a sense of history, one rooted in journalism, a passion for airlines and a sense that we all to quickly forget the past if it does not align with a corporate message and it is not convenient.
So … on the evening of the 23rd of May a major chapter in airline history closes and it won’t be documented. That is a travesty.