“Surely you can’t be serious” ” I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley.”

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.”


Aeroflot and Pan Am

Aeroflot and Pan Am Images

The Jet Age is Here! Flying on a Pan Am Clipper (1958)

Aeroflot TU-114 Newsreel (1959)





46 Replies to ““Surely you can’t be serious” ” I am serious… and don’t call me Shirley.””

  1. This is really interesting. I assumed that the US and Russia had far fewer relations than Krushev coming to the US to visit. I also think it is interesting to see the development of commercial flights alongside the space race. This really highlights the growing global economy that emerged after the second World War. Even though Russia was in its communist building phase, they seemed to still rely on some kind of global involvement. great post!

  2. It is interesting how the competition of air travel went from gaining regional influence to making money. I like the point you made that coordination between both airlines and the transport of the other’s citizens helped normalize relations diplomatically and culturally. You also provide some nice images and video!

  3. This is a really interesting topic, one that I knew nothing about before reading! Your blog was very cleanly formatted, and the hyperlinking allowed for a easy read. I also really liked the title. The fall of the Pan Am empire is very interesting how it lined up with politics of the time, signaling the importance of the increasingly globalized world, making both politics and economics interdependent.

  4. Hi Sophia!

    I really liked this post. I think that you are absolutely correct when discussing the remarkable partnership between Aeroflot and PanAm. It’s interesting that they would find a partnership within the Cold War. Furthermore, I wonder why Pan Am could not adapt quickly enough to the growing ability of the airline industry?

  5. I love Airplane, but that’s not important right now. I thought your post was very informative, and I really enjoyed it. Pan Am’s fall has always interested me. I remember there was a TV show about Pan Am few years ago that I watched with my sister. I guess the thought of making money can really bring people together.

  6. I really liked this post! I found it interesting how this flight created such a buzz at the time, and I find it interesting how so many different aspects and sectors of society contributed to the detente.

  7. Really enjoyed your post about the emergence of airline industry and relations between the US and Soviet Union! The fact that this international flight, filled with tourists, businessmen, and members of cultural and educational exchanges operated through the iconic “iron curtain” is amazing and very impactful for US-Soviet relations as you stated. Great post!

  8. This is really interesting. I think most of us are familiar with the diplomatic side of detente but maybe less so with this. There seems to be an incongruity between Soviet ideology and having a big commercial airline in partnership with a big American commercial airline- but then again, there seem to be a lot of incongruities with the Soviets. Great job!

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