pan am - revisiting when air travel was posh

Perhaps, like us, you were intrigued by the prospect of watching the new network television series on ABC called "Pan Am" that plunges us back into the exciting days of the early jet age, when flight attendants, called stewardesses then, were beautiful and gracious and passengers dressed in finery to fly to distant destinations full of allure and excitement. The trip down memory lane did not disappoint. A review of the show naturally leads us to a nostalgic look at what air travel is (and was) and what we think about Hollywood's version. Come fly with us as we take a closer look.


For anyone of a certain age, you probably remember when flying on an airplane was a big deal. It was the beginning of an adventure, not something done as routinely as it is now. Back in the early 60s, the cost of a flight was much higher than it is now, and international flights were out of the reach of most average travelers. But along with the high prices came a certain cache, an understanding that if you could afford such a flight, it would be special from beginning to end. And part of the posh experience was the care and attention provided by the flight staff, particularly the stewardesses, whose job it was to cater to your needs.


Looking at how the "flight attendant" has evolved from those early days, we can't help but feel a tinge of regret. It is now often perceived as a burden when a passenger requests attention. If you need any help, most of the time you are made to feel like a troublemaker - if just to ask for an extra glass of water or try to see why your seat back doesn't actually work. Beautiful and gracious do not come up in most present day descriptions of flight attendants that we've run across, and for good reason.


The show Pan Am provides a fun behind-the-scene glimpse into that world of the Pan Am stewardesses in the early 60s. From weigh-ins to strict uniform dress codes (such as stockings that are "not too dark" and the necessity of a girdle), the job of the stewardess was taken quite seriously. What was challenging in the job requirements, however, was more than made up for by the glamor and excitement of being able to see the world. This is the premise that starts off the show, with Margot Robbie as a runaway bride who determines - on her wedding day - that what she really wants is a life of adventure and travel, not a husband. Her sister Kate, played by Kelli Garner, provides the opportunity and the means to feed that motive because she is already a Pan Am stewardess. The don't-wannabe bride is whisked away and on to her new life.


We certainly can appreciate the call to travel, can't we? We ourselves get that tingle of energy when looking at an opportunity to visit a foreign land. And when we're stuck at our desk, we sometimes dip into the wonders of the world that we can find on the Web. That the Internet didn't exist in the 60s made it harder to get a cure for wanderlust without actually taking that bon voyage.


The other thing that we enjoyed seeing was the way that travelers appeared and were cared for on a flight. Despite Colette (Karine Vanasse) having had a tryst with a man she didn't know was married, she manages her duties to the man and his wife and child with dignity when they show up onboard the flight. That sort of stiff upper-lip attitude may have vanished for good. We recall the notorious incident of a male JetBlue flight attendant who hurled obscenities over the plane's public address system, grabbed two beers and then escaped from the plane by inflating the emergency slide. One could hardly imagine, regardless of the circumstances, this being part of the Pan Am ladies' response repertoire.


The most telling difference between then and now, as we compare our recent air travels with those in the 60s, is not just the change in attitude of flight staff but also of passengers. While we know that air travel has become far more routine, so has rudeness, inconsiderate behavior, a sense that its "every man for himself" and a sort of irritated boredom with the whole process, which is treated more a necessary evil than a great call to adventure. Of course, this doesn't represent everyone or every instance, but it is far more pervasive than we would like. Perhaps seeing the world of flying on a jumbo jet through the eyes of those stewardesses, not yet jaded by the bother of it all, is a call to action for us as well. Perhaps civility can make a comeback. What do you think?


We'd love to hear about your best or worst air travel experience. Let us know and we'll send you one of our PoshPorts wine aprons to have for your very own!