The 1960’s was an era of precarious relations between the United States and the Soviet Union. The decade started out with proxy clashes by the two superpowers, followed by near nuclear war, and various other close calls. However, this turbulent period of hostility started to change and move towards a detente between the two sworn enemies; this was, in part, due to Khruschev’s sweeping economic, cultural, and political reforms taking place in conjunction with De-Stalinization.
One often overlooked cultural “reform” that played a great role in “normalizing” relations between the U.S. and Soviet Union in the wake of earlier crises was the establishment of the Moscow to New York route by Aeroflot and Pan-American Airways. A concept that originally came to fruition under the De-Stalinizing USSR in 1958, the partnership between the Russian Aerospace company Aeroflot and U.S. based Pan-American took nearly a decade to materialize, as detailed below in a clipping from a FLIGHT international magazine in July 1968.
In 1966, the U.S. signed into effect the US-USSR Air Service Agreement that allowed for bilateral air service between the two countries; and on July 15 1968, the first inaugural flight from Moscow landed in New York at JFK Airport. For the first time since the dawn of the Cold War, an opportunity was presented to Americans and Soviets alike (albeit very limited) to experience the other side’s world in a direct manner. It opened up a broad new world of cultural exchange that could only come to fruition by way of radical political reform, which would have never happened without De-Stalinization (Harris). While not an economically beneficial venture, the significance of this “airline diplomacy” was worth all the costs incurred by Aeroflot and Pan AM.
The agreement between the airlines had a clause that allowed distribution of advertisement materials within the US and USSR- this became a weapon, in a sense, for the U.S. because it allowed PAN AM to distribute its famous beautiful and worldly calendars in the Soviet Union. This gave a glimpse to Soviet citizens of the glamorous and exotic fruits of capitalism that they had so long heard demonized by their Government (Baldwin). It could be argued that because of the Aeroflot and PanAM agreement and their advertising campaigns, this agreement helped influence culture and reshape the perception of the West in the Soviet Union and help de-demonize Soviets to the American people .
The bi-weekly service between the Moscow and New York continued until the 1980s when there was a cooling of relations between the US and USSR over Afghanistan, and ended in 1991 with the collapse of the USSR and Pan-American Airlines as well. Ultimately, the introduction of flights between New York and Moscow and the partnership between a Russian and American airline company, ushered in a new era of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and USSR while impacting and even inspiring reform of the cultural, political and economic landscapes of both nations.
Baldwin, J. P., & Kriendler, J. (2011). Pan American World Airways: Aviation history through the words of its people. Saint Augustine, FL: BluewaterPress.
Harris, S. (2015, August 31). Aeroflot and Pan Am. Retrieved April 09, 2018, from http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1968-2/aeroflot-and-pan-am/
International, F. (n.d.). MOSCOW-NEW YORK AT LAST. Retrieved April 09, 2018, from https://www.flightglobal.com/pdfarchive/view/1968/1968 – 1275.html
Pan Am Series – Part XLI: Flying to the USSR – 1. (2014, July 19). Retrieved April 09, 2018, from https://jpbtransconsulting.com/2014/07/19/pan-am-series-part-xli-flying-to-the-ussr-1/