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The Travel Detective on Pan Am: Was It Travel’s Glory Days?

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The Travel Detective took his first international flight as a child on a Pan Am 707. Now, he tunes into the new ABC drama to separate fact from fiction. Was Pan Am the pinnacle of flying or was international travel just as uncomfortable and inconvenient as it is today?

We’re in the era of Mad Men, which is another one of my favorite shows, and there’s now a lot of buzz about Pan Am. American television is trying to go retro–to show a younger generation the way things used to be.

Suddenly, everybody is talking about the glory days of Pan Am. In the good ol’ days, people dressed up to go on a plane, flight attendants wore white gloves, pilots had crisped uniforms and they actually served real food on the plane.  In fact, being the head of inflight catering was a job to which people aspired.

I started thinking about the good ol’ days of Pan Am and the good ol’ days of TWA; these were the two American flag carriers that were flying internationally. My very first flight was on a Pan Am 707 and my parents dressed me up. It was the first time I had to wear a jacket and tie other than to go to a birthday party. That flight did set some pretty high standards: silver coffee service and roast beef they carved “tableside.”

ABC's Pan AM at Comicon. Credit Loren Javier via Flickr Creative Commons

Back in the day, people really thought the best part of getting away was the actual journey, not just the destination. You thought about trips for weeks before you ever got on that plane. Not everybody could fly. Remember the term the jet set? It was a big deal to take a flight and be a jet setter.

Now, we don’t even think about it. People just jump on a Southwest plane and 40 minutes later they’re in Oakland or Burbank or whatever they need to be. Everybody is in flip flops and cut-offs too. Or worse, they’re getting on the plane carrying McDonald’s and stinking up the joint.

I get a kick out of watching this show to see the reaction of the people who weren’t even born when Pan Am was flying. It’s funny what they are being sold about air travel. Let’s face the facts about what air travel actually used to be. We flew in tiny 707′s. Air fares were excruciatingly high. Coach seats were just as uncomfortable. There is a reason why comedians like Alan King cracked jokes about airlines back then. It wasn’t that glorious. It wasn’t that glamorous. They did make a better attempt, at gourmet food, but they missed their mark for sure.

By Peter Greenberg for Peter Greenberg Worldwide Radio

Do you think air travel was better back in the days? Tell Peter your thoughts on the new Pan Am television series…

To read more of Peter’s blogs, visit the Travel Detective archives

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