Trippe was born in Sea Bright, New Jersey, on June 27, 1899, the great-great-grandson of Lieutenant John Trippe, captain of the USS Vixen. Because of his Spanish first name, people often assume that Trippe was of Cuban descent, but his family was actually Northern European in ancestry and settled in Maryland in 1664. He was, in fact, named after Juanita Terry, the Venezuelan wife of his great uncle. Trippe graduated from The Hill School in 1917. Attending Yale University as America entered World War I, he temporarily left Yale and, along with some of his Yale classmates, applied for flight training with the U.S. Navy. After completing training in June 1918, he was designated as a Naval Aviator and was commissioned as an Ensign in the U.S. Naval Reserve. However, the end of World War I precluded him from flying in combat. Demobilized from active duty, he returned to Yale University, graduating in 1921. While at Yale, he was a member of St. Anthony Hall and of the Skull and Bones society.
After graduation from Yale, Trippe began working on Wall Street, but soon became bored. In 1922 he raised money from his old Yale classmates, selling them stock in his new airline, which he called Long Island Airways, an air-taxi service for the rich and powerful. Once again tapping his wealthy friends from Yale, Trippe invested in an airline named Colonial Air Transport, which was awarded a new route and an airmail contract on October 7, 1925. Interested in operating to the Caribbean, Trippe created the Aviation Company of the Americas. Based in Florida, the company would evolve into the fledgling Pan Am, then known as Pan American Airways.
 Years at Pan AmMain article: Pan American World Airways
Juan Trippe was one of the last of the colorful group of innovators, pioneers, and visionaries (including William A. Patterson, Howard Hughes, Jack Frye, Robert F. Six, C.R. Smith, and Eddie Rickenbacker) who built the airline industry into what it is today
Pan Am's first flight took off on October 19, 1927, from Key West, Florida, to Havana, Cuba, in a hired Fairchild FC-2 floatplane being delivered to West Indian Aerial Express in the Dominican Republic. The return flight from Havana to Key West, in a Pan Am Fokker F.VII, took place October 29, being delayed from the 28th by rain.
Later, Trippe bought the China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC) to provide domestic air service in the Republic of China, and became a partner in Panagra. In the 1930s. Pan Am became the first airline to cross the Pacific Ocean with the famous Clipper flying boats.
Trippe served as the Chairman of the Board of Directors of the airline for all but about two years between the founding of the company and the Second World War. "Sonny" Whitney, a stockholder, managed to seize this position. He later regretted his action and allowed Trippe to retake it. Trippe failed to pardon Whitney for a long time. At one point, he even agreed to meet Whitney for lunch for a reconciliation but changed his mind and turned around shortly after departing from his office in the Chrysler Building.
Pan Am continued to expand worldwide throughout World War II, being one of the few airlines that was largely unaffected by the war.
Trippe is responsible for several innovations in the airline world. A firm believer in the idea of air travel for all, Trippe is credited as the father of the tourist class in the airline industry, and was the driving force behind Pan Am's formation of the InterContinental hotel group.
Trippe quickly recognized the opportunities presented by jet aircraft and ordered several Boeing 707 and Douglas DC-8 airplanes. Pan Am's first jet flight was operated in October, 1958 by a 707 out of Idlewild International Airport (now JFK) to Paris. The new jets allowed Pan Am to introduce lower fares and fly more passengers.
Originally, Trippe believed the 747 would ultimately be destined to haul cargo only and would be replaced by faster, supersonic aircraft which were then being developed. The supersonic airliners failed to materialize with the exception of the Concorde and Tupolev Tu-144 and the 747 became the iconic image of international travel. In 1965, Trippe received the Tony Jannus Award for his distinguished contributions to commercial aviation.
Trippe gave up presidency of the airline in 1968. He continued to attend meetings of the Board of Directors and maintained an office in the company's Park Avenue office building.
Mr. Trippe was inducted into the Junior Achievement U.S. Business Hall of Fame in 1990.