Flight attendants and a belief in the future
Over the course of a recent weekend, I binge-watched the tv series Pan Am, a show long forgotten by everyone else. It was fantastic. Before my surprised eyes a world full of belief in the future and beautiful women flickered past. A world in which people were convinced that “life is a party and everything is getting better and better.” No nagging thoughts about airplane fuel being bad for the environment, no tellings-off for those who want to smoke a cigg onboard; in fact if you’d forgotten your lighter there was help within reach. Astonishingly lovely creatures in uniform were right there with fire and spirits. Paradise, I’d like to think. The TV series Pan Am is one long revel in beauty, sex, frivolity, international romances, luxury and adventure. But upon digging a little deeper into the subject, you quickly find that reality, as usual, kills the illusion. Pan Am flew only long-haul flights and for many years their classic flight numbers, PA001 and PA002, went around the world in two directions, one east and the other west. “I flew it 97 times, the whole trip took 10-12 days and usually went from Los Angeles-Honolulu-Hong Kong-Bangkok-Delhi-Teheran-Rome-London-Los Angeles. We would stop for 24 hours in each city, then the next plane would arrive,” Sofie Krönklein, who started working as a flight attendant on Pan Am in 1957, explains.
Come fly with me
The BBC documentary, Come Fly With Me: The Story of Pan Am, tells how Pan Am jump started the jet age and shrunk the world. Pan Am’s founder, Juan Trippe, was a great visionary who grew a little insignificant airline that focused mainly on delivering mail and providing occasional passenger traffic between Florida and Cuba into what would be the world’s most successful airline. Pan Am created to a great extent the modern flight industry that made air travel into a service for the masses. It was also behind successful innovations like the jumbo jet and computerized booking systems. The company was highly recognizable with their emblem of a blue globe and use of the word “Clipper” in the name of the planes. Not to mention the pilots’ stylish white uniform caps. In the film 2001 – A Space Odyssey, it is naturally enough a Pan Am logo that graces the rocket that in the magical future flies passengers to a space station. Nothing unusual about that. In the sixties, if there were images of an airplane in a film, the choice was obvious. They slapped on a Pan Am logo and it was done.
A world of red lines
The airline’s route map, a visualization of the paths the company flew, was like seeing a map of the world consisting of red lines running between exotic and sexy destinations. Antarctica and the North Pole were – understandably – the only places on earth where a Pan Am machine didn’t regularly land. Flight attendants were heroes, pilots were idols, even the passengers were celebrities and treated as such. In Come Fly With Me: The Story of Pan Am, big names of the time like Robert Vaughan and fashion designer Mary Quant tell of the onboard luxury that made them frequent fliers on Pan Am. Have you ever wondered where the term “jet set” came from? It was actually what those who flew with and worked on Pan Am were called. Nothing else needs to be said. I’m not quite sure why I’m telling this. But the belief in the future and the optimism that the story of Pan Am breathes can be a gust of fresh air in times like these. The future was so bright that you had to wear shades. There you have it.