Sunday, September 25, 2011

When flying was fun

Out of America’s TV factory comes the latest hot show, Pan Am, inspired by that long-ago time in aviation when flying was glamorous and people dressed up to get on a plane. Pan Am, just launched in the US, is a drama series set in the 1960s about aircrew members’ lives.
Retro themes are big right now and viewers are loving stories set in more confident times when Kennedy was in the Oval Office, America ruled the world and the future looked assured. Even if they were clueless about ending the Vietnam war.
Pan American Airlines was all over the globe back in the ‘60s, and flying deep down to the South Pacific even earlier than that. Here’s a New Zealand newspaper ad from the 1950s.
The words give you a taste of flying in the piston-engine age. The Boeing 707 was still a far-off, jet-fuelled dream when the Strato Clipper was the queen of the air – its “four giant engines” boasting a range of 4000 miles, “more than double the average non-stop flight”.
But even so its power wasn’t beefy enough to get you to Hawaii in one leap, so if you flew Pan Am across the Pacific and the United States to London, you had to island-hop with Fiji as the first stop. Crossing the world took at least five days and cost a lot of money; in that era long-distant travel usually meant going by sea.
Perks available in business class today were standard back then – “superb meals” with complimentary champagne, and “a choice of individual sleeping accommodation to the USA at no extra charge”. The Clipper even foreshadowed the 747 in having two decks connected by a spiral staircase.
The ‘stewardesses’ wore pale blue suits, white gloves and polite smiles. Captains were veterans of World War II. Passport control was casual. Security was a breeze.
No-one was x-raying your suitcase, taking your fingerprints or demanding you carry lip balm and eye drops in a plastic bag. It seems like a sweet dream to us now.
How impossible it would have been for Pan Am staffers of those days to imagine the day in 1988 when a jet in that familiar blue livery would lie smashed to pieces in a village called Lockerbie, brought down by a terrorist bomb.
Dear old Pan Am, founded in 1927, was an icon of the 20th century but, bankrupt and struggling, it was forced to close its doors in 1991.
Makes you realise it’s smart to enjoy life’s good things while they last.

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