The terminal was built by Pan Am as a showcase for international jet travel and is particularly famous for its four acre (16,000 m²) "flying saucer" roof suspended far from the outside columns of the terminal by 32 sets of prestressed steel posts and cables. The terminal was designed to allow the parking of aircraft under the partial overhang. This sheltered passengers as they boarded the aircraft by stairs or by uncovered bridges. The building also has rooftop parking facilities (now closed for security reasons) and upon its expansion in 1972 was the world's largest airline terminal for several years. The American Institute of Architects (AIA) Guide to New York City called the terminal a "genuine architectural attempt to answer the problem of all-weather connections to the planes" but derided the overall concept as "compromised by an overabundance of distracting detail."
Pan Am built the terminal in 1960. It was designed by Ives, Turano & Gardner Associated Architects and Walter Prokosch of Tippets-Abbett-McCarthy-Stratton. The zodiac figures across the building's facade were made by sculptor Milton Hebald, though have been removed by the Port Authority During this period the building was known as the "Pan Am Terminal." In 1971 the terminal was expanded to accommodate the large Boeing 747 and renamed the "Pan Am Worldport."
Ownership of the Worldport changed hands when Pan Am declared bankruptcy in 1991. Delta Air Lines purchased the building, which is now known simply as "Terminal 3," and operates all of its long-haul flights out of JFK to Europe, Asia, Africa and South America from the building. In March of 2006, Delta's COO Jim Whitehurst announced that it would spend $10 million before the end of that year to renovate Terminal 2 and Terminal 3, including its public spaces, BusinessElite lounge and Crown Room Clubs In the July 2007 issue of Delta's Sky magazine, Delta Senior Vice President Joanne Smith remarked on the "distinctive" saucer roof in an article on new flooring, lighting and signage at this "historic airport."
The Worldport has appeared in several films. A Pan Am Boeing 747 and the Worldport briefly appear in the James Bond film Live and Let Die, and in the opening sequence of The Family Man in which the actor Nicolas Cage checks in at the Worldport for a Pan Am flight from New York to London. Doris Day also boarded a Pan Am flight out of the Worldport in the film That Touch of Mink.