A trip to Hawaii on a Pan Am clipper was a trip you never forgot. Most people could only dream of visiting Hawaii, let alone by air. The vast majority still traveled by ocean liner. But those fortunate few who flew experienced airborne luxury and comfort that became legendary.
Passenger numbers on a clipper depended on fuel needs and cargo–air mail and packages had priority. Usually only eight or nine passengers (sometimes fewer) flew on the long mainland-Hawaii hop. The clippers flew one trip a week in each direction.
"Her interior was like that of no other airplane," reported journalist H. R. Ekins. "Her lounge... would seat 16 persons comfortably, leaving plenty of space in which to walk about." The seaplane seemed to him "as roomy as the [airship] Hindenburg and as steady as a rock."
The main cabin also served as a dining room. "It was a conventional supper–grapefruit, celery and olives, soup, steak, vegetables, salad, ice cream, cake and coffee," wrote passenger Charles McKew Parr. "The captain acted as though we were his guests."
Passenger Harry Frantz found the berths "as comfortable as those of the best railway sleeping-car," but some found the upper ones too hot and the lower ones too cold. Many agreed with journalist Dorothy Kilgallen: "The ship is more smooth-sailing and comfortable than any train."
Cutaway drawing of an M-130 clipper
Transporting mail has always been a high priority for airlines. This envelope was carried across the Pacific on a Pan Am clipper.
In 1939 Pan Am introduced a new seaplane that dwarfed even the big Martin M-130 clipper. Designed for Pan Am routes across both the Atlantic and Pacific, the Boeing 314 set a new standard for luxury aloft that no other commercial airliner could equal.
Instead of wing-mounted floats, the Boeing 314 had a lower set of seawings to provide balance and buoyancy on the water.
The Boeing 314 was the largest airliner of its day. The cabin was nearly as wide as that of a Boeing 747 jumbo jet, introduced 30 years later. Still, it could carry only about 25 passengers on the long California-Hawaii hop.
The clipper's wing was so large that crewmembers could service the engines via walkways inside of it.
These images from a Pan Am brochure capture the romance of flying on a clipper to Hawaii. The only class was first class, and paradise awaited at the journey's end.
"Flying hotel" was an apt description. The clipper had an upper flight deck, a lower passenger cabin divided into five seating compartments, and a large lounge that converted into a dining room. It boasted separate men's and women's restrooms and changing rooms and even a cozy "bridal suite" in the rear.
Four pursers looked after passenger needs and converted the lounge into a dining room at mealtime. Meals were lavish affairs involving white linens, real silver, and authentic chinaware. Selected guests were invited to sit at the captain's table.
Sleeping quarters were less cramped than on earlier clippers. One person noted that "One can shed his clothing without doing backbends and wrestler's bridges."
The daughter of Hawaii's territorial governor christened the Honolulu Clipper, the second Boeing 314 assigned to the Pacific.
The interior of a Boeing 314 included features such as:
This cutaway model of a Boeing 314, built to show travelers what the plane was like, is in the America by Air gallery.
In early 1938, the Sikorsky S-42B Samoan Clipper exploded in flight, killing Captain Edwin Musick and his crew. Six months later while flying from Guam to Manila, the Martin 130 Hawaii Clipper vanished without a trace.
In two sudden blows, Pan Am lost its most honored and famous pilot, two crews, the six passengers on the Hawaii Clipper, and two of its five Pacific clippers. The tragedies reminded people that, even on clippers, flying could still be dangerous and deadly.