“Flying” the Friendly Skies

I recently came across an advertisement for a company that sells an authentic “Pan Am experience” to anybody interested in flying the friendlier, 1960s-era skies. For a mere $297, you can board a perfectly recreated Pan Am 747 jumbo jet complete with spiral staircase, upper deck dining room, and stewardesses dressed in authentic uniforms. Think short skirts, pillbox hats and white gloves.

Sign me up!

Granted, you don’t actually leave the ground, but this is Hollywood, after all. Once you’re handed your first cocktail, it won’t even matter that you never exit the tarmac. Or more accurately, an unassuming warehouse somewhere in L.A. It’s all about illusion, baby.

It's the Pan Am Experience!
It’s the Pan Am Experience!

Air Hollywood has gone to great lengths to recreate the experience. When you check in, you receive a classic 1970s-style boarding pass and ticket jacket and are handed a glass of champagne while Frank Sinatra plays over the intercom. After the in-flight safety demonstration (let me guess – seat cushions may be used as flotation devices), you are served a four-course meal that includes foods such as shrimp cocktail, hand-carved Chateaubriand or roasted chicken with peppercorn sauce. Then you’ll enjoy a period movie while relaxing with a cocktail before “landing.”

I don’t know about you, but this sounds like a pretty fun way to spend an evening! Almost makes me want to plan a trip to Southern California just to do it.

Too bad I hate California.

But boy, does it illustrate how much air travel has changed over the years. All the fun is gone. Stewardesses are now “flight attendants,” and you can’t slap them on the ass or call them “honey” (at least not without serious repercussions). People are crammed together like sardines, and you’re lucky to get a tiny bag of pretzels. Hell, just getting on board the plane involves removing your shoes, tossing your three-ounce tube of toothpaste that might be harboring a bomb (how?!) into the trash, and submitting to a full-body X-ray in which the screener is likely to see more intimate parts of your body than your own spouse. I may never have gotten to experience the golden age of air travel, but I miss it anyway.

Maybe I’m just glorifying things. Flights were expensive and you had fewer choices back then. And the cabin was filled with the acrid haze of cigarette smoke. But you also had this…

Interior of a Pan Am 747, circa a hell of a long time ago.
Interior of a Pan Am 747, circa a hell of a long time ago.

What do you think? Do you miss the golden age of airline travel, or are you content with today’s no-frills flights? Would you sign up for the Pan Am Experience?

16 thoughts on ““Flying” the Friendly Skies

  1. I’ve thought for a while that as soon as we come up with the next phase of high-speed travel at a reasonable price point, the “old” (currently horrible) air travel method will get a posh refresh (back to the “good old days” perhaps), in the same way that you can now take a leisurely (and ever so posh) cruise across the ocean and have “an experience” in the process… versus the far less appealing conditions that sailing included when it was a more utilitarian experience.

    Which begs the question – why DON’T we have a better alternative to flight yet?!?


    1. I was wondering the same thing as I wrote this post. There’s a niche for everything these days; you’d think some start up airliner would intentionally cater to travelers craving (and willing to spend money on) this kind of experience.


  2. My spouse got to go to one of these type of events at the Air and Space a Museum in D.C. He loved it!

    Back in the day (70’s), my mom made us dress up to fly. It was considered a privilege and you were treated with respect. Now, you’re just treated like a criminal and packed in like cattle.


  3. Been there ,done that. We took a flight on American Airlines 747 first class in 1982-from Honolulu to LAX. The lounge up top was fabulous-a fully stocked bar , lounge chairs and even a real live piano! And we were the only ones up there! Definitely the way to fly -sadly it isnt that way anymore.


    1. I’m assuming by “we” you mean “your father and I,” because I have no recollection of that particular flight! I do, however, remember flying in the back of the military transport plane and eating a sandwich out of a paper bag. That was a different kind of experience.


      1. Yes, it was your dad and I, we left you with your grandmother in Hawaii-we flew to St Martin in the Caribbean and then to Nj for your Uncle Joes wedding.


  4. “What do you think? Do you miss the golden age of airline travel, or are you content with today’s no-frills flights?”

    OMG, Mark, yes….I soooooooo miss the golden age of airline travel, where they would actually serve you a MEAL with REAL silverware and something drink; even you flew a short 2 1/2 hour flight. Now, they serve you a can of coke and a bag of cookies or nuts. And I’m a little guy, but the seats on planes have shrunk because even for me, they are too small and narrow.

    The best flights I ever had were international, like when I flew to Japan. Now THAT was a great flight.


    1. I can hardly fathom real silverware and china. My best experience was flying first class from San Jose to Honolulu in 1992. They served us ice cream sundaes out of real glass bowls. Too bad I haven’t flown first class since!


  5. Granted I missed the 60’s but this sounds horrible. All that polyester for one thing. Ew. This has to be the most awful job on the planet for young women – simulation Pan Am stewardess…

    I will pray for them at my altar to Gloria Steinem.


  6. I remember, a long time ago, when a couple tried to board a plane wearing matching sweat suits. They wouldn’t let them board because they weren’t dressed appropriately. It made headlines in all the papers. It was a really big deal back then. Things have certainly changed.


    1. The same thing has happened in Corporate America. When I first moved up here for my new job, I wore slacks, a long-sleeve button-up shirt and tie every day. Now, I’m sporting jeans and Pink Floyd t-shirts. Times sure have changed!


  7. Considering I didnt know about the “golden age of flying” until this post I think I was doing just fine not knowing. But NOW I miss it! I want to head to California just to have that experience now! Thanks alot Mark! Havent you ever heard you cant miss what you never knew?


    1. “Havent you ever heard you cant miss what you never knew?”

      Nope. I never got the memo. Because I miss the hell out of the golden age of airline travel, even though I never experienced it myself!


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