All Airplane! jokes aside, the first round-trip flight from New York to Moscow was a huge step forward for US/ Soviet foreign relations.
Aeroflot and Pan Am were symbols of Soviet and American airline strongholds respectively. Both had previously operated exclusively for their country of origin, so the partnership between the two marked a remarkable change in the country’s foreign relations following the Stalin Era. “the two airlines had been Cold War rivals since the 1950s competing for routes and influence in developing countries of the newly decolonized world, but starting in 1968, they were transformed into business partners.”
The Soviet Tupolev-104: The first commercial jet in the world.
The emergence of this partnership signalled a detente in relations not just between Soviet and US leaders, but also the citizens who were running the airlines, “unlike the hotline that was designed to avert crises and little else, the air route encouraged a normalization of relations, which was the essence of détente. In the case of Aeroflot and Pan Am, such normalization took place not only at the diplomatic level, where the air route was negotiated, but was enacted by Soviet and American citizens who flew over the Iron Curtain as tourists, businessmen, and members of cultural and educational exchanges.”
Here is an example of a “short newsreel celebrating the new Tupolev-114, an enormous 4-engine turbo-prop passenger aircraft that Khrushchev himself took to the United States for his tour of the country in 1959. The newsreel shows the plane’s arrival in New York for the occasion of the Soviet Exhibition in that same year.
This video, featured on 17 Moments, highlights Pan Am’s trips to Europe as well as the advancement of their newest aircraft, the Jet Clipper.
“Pan Am and Aeroflot’s competitive partnership ended when the Soviet empire collapsed in December 1991, but not as might have been expected. That same month, the Pan Am empire also collapsed, after years of being unable to adapt to a rapidly changing airline industry that underwent deregulation. In contrast, Aeroflot re-emerged from the Soviet Union’s demise and the end of the Cold War as a decidedly leaner and commercially driven airline that competes today for passengers both domestically and on the world stage.”