A Historic Chapter In Aviation Closes & It Won’t Be Documented

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.


Happy Flying!




  1. I remember getting separated from my mother in T2 as a child (L1011 service down to FLL)…looking over at PA’s 747s out the window. My mother found me, in a panic.

    I went through T3 a few weeks ago and it is a sorry wreck … plastic-into-hose leak-sacks everywhere. Maintenance capex was halted perhaps 5 years ago. The sad old dame has reached the time to go.

    I also recall being able to park on the roof of T3. That ended back in September of 2001…but was a great feature.

  2. It’s truly the end of an era :(. It wasn’t that long ago (maybe 25 years) when I would drive up onto the rooftop parking lot of the Worldport and watch planes while listening to their movements on my multi-band radio. Corporate reaction doesn’t surprise me. Heaven forbid they mark the closing of one of the most celebrated passenger gateways of the 20th century, that might just cause people to realize how uninspiring and how unexciting their current building is.

  3. WorldPort is where my international travels started when I was 6-months old, no I don’t remember that trip, but I remember most of the follow-up trips. It’s been a long time since I’ve flown out of T3 since switching to United and flying from EWR or PHL, but for the few times since that I fly through JFK and pass by on the Skytrain, all my childhood memories come rushing back and it’s as if we share a silent secret between us and I smile, with a little sadness.

  4. As a current pilot flying out of T-3, I am looking forward to finally moving over to T-4. I understand your sentiment, however, it’s time for the building to go. Much like a pro athlete who has long overplayed their retirement, it is embarassing that T-3 can be someone’s first impression of this country, city, airport.

    on a different note, it is taxiway kilogolf (KG) which is the entrance/exit from the ramp to taxiway A. Not the intersection of K and G.

  5. The WorldPort’s problem, of course, is that, despite it’s obvious durability and secure place in aviation history, it’s always been architecturally overshadowed by it’s much showier young sibling, TWA’s Eero Saarinen designed Flight Center.

    While having proven far less practical (and having closed for good as a terminal in 2001) it’s hard not to look at TWA’s Flight Center and not be wowed. It’s a stunner, which, for all it’s utility, is not a reaction you get either inside or out of PanAm’s WorldPort.

    I’ve flown out of both, and it will be sad to lose this piece of history, though I can almost imagine the protected TWA terminal silently cackling to itself as the wrecking ball swings into its older sister.

  6. It’s too bad that companies really don’t honor their history anymore. They’re trying so hard to look forward that they’re stomping on what iconic history we have left.

  7. Anyone interested in helping to reverse PANYNJ and Delta’s plan to destroy Worldport at JFK…
    …Go to our website: http://www.savetheworldport.org
    Sign our petition!!!
    Like our Facebook page
    Buy and wear a Save the Worldport t-shirt
    Write letters
    Talk to PANYNJ at commission meetings!

    The lights may be out, but it’s not too late to keep up a good fight.
    Join us.

  8. The Beatle’s Pa Ammerican flight actually arrived at gate 19 in the old International Arrivals Building (IAB). All Pan Am intnational flights in the 60’s arrived at the IAB as there were no customs facilities in the Worldport back then. Oddly enough the old IAB eventaully became what is now known as Terminal 4.

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