Pam Ann on Pan Am – an introduction to the golden age of air travel

The Australian comedian and "international air hostess to the stars" on what to expect from BBC2's mile-high club...

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“Buckle Up, Adventure Calls!” Well, it did back in 1968… You wouldn’t hear that these days, especially on the low-cost airlines – they could never use that phrase to sell their airline (more like “Buckle Up Bitches, Easy Kiosk Calls!”)

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It’s time to put your speedy boarding nightmares behind you and prepare to board Pan Am Airlines – where climbing on to a Boeing meant style, class and glamour. Turn your clocks back to the 60s, sit back, relax and enjoy your in-flight entertainment. Pan Am is about to hit the small screen in a new drama series following the lives of air hostesses based at the airline’s flagship terminal, Worldport, in New York’s JFK airport.

The series is set to take off all over the world, showing a new generation of people just what it was like to fly in the “golden age” of air travel. A time when the air hostesses would greet you with a Rothmans cigarette on arrival, serve the finest beluga caviar out of swan ice sculptures, set Pan Am first-class sterling-silver etched cutlery – yes, sterling-silver etched cutlery – and carve a side of beef with a real 12-inch chef knife. A time when the air hostess welcomed you on board with a smile and meant it.

Security back in the 1960s was a mere hello and a pat on the back: “Enjoy your flight, sir.” Not like it is today. It’s much more than a pat on the back – it can sometimes feel like a form of rape. You’re met with officials yelling at you: “Take your shoes, jacket, belt, socks, trousers, shirt off… I SAID…” as you’re felt up through security for a keyring! 

Gone are the days when flying was stress-free and first class meant first class. Even economy passengers were treated with respect. Today, passengers are seen as the enemy. Many cabin crew these days have a rule – never make eye contact with passengers.

The glamour years of flying were only for the rich, and smart businessmen. The air hostess was seen and sold as a sex object. Now-defunct US carrier Braniff Airlines once had a campaign called the “Air Strip”, showing one of their air hostesses stripping down, with a male voiceover telling you: “When she meets you on the airplane she’ll be wearing this. When she brings you dinner she’ll be dressed like this. And after dinner, on those long flights, she’ll slip into something more comfortable.”

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MKiVCkE0dDw

National Airlines also used sex to sell flights to businessmen. National had a campaign called “Fly Me”, with an array of exotic girls half-naked in fields or running on the beach, saying: “I’m Maggie. Fly me to New York – you’ll love my two 747s to Kennedy. Fly Me.” What’s today’s version, hmmm? Ryanair selling calendars showing off their female crew in lingerie, sprawled over dirty jet engines. Ryanair are also threatening to show porn (well, hire out iPads) on all their flights. Bring back Maggie, please!

Pan Am air hostesses had to be single, wear girdles and nylons, have model looks and bodies, be of a certain weight and age, and speak many priority languages. Some of these girls are still flying today. You’ll meet them on American Airlines. These women are so old they need to use a food trolley to get from one end of the plane to another.

The Pan Am air hostess was seen as chic, smart and international – a breed of woman like no other. Men, children and even women would stop and stare in awe at the sight of a gaggle of immaculately clad, Tunis-blue Pan Am girls sashaying through the Worldport terminal building in unison. You don’t get men dropping their coffee cups at the sight of a bunch of rough, heavy-heeled, screaming Dale Farm air crew running through Stansted, now do you?

Today’s hero is Steven Slater of JetBlue notoriety. Remember the flight attendant who had a meltdown, told a passenger to p*** off, inflated the emergency slide, grabbed a couple of beers and went home, all in a day’s work?

Slater, in his defence, used to fly TWA, Pan Am’s competition back in the day. He once served chateaubriand en route to Karachi, made cocktails with umbrellas and lemon wedges touching down in Rio de Janeiro, smelt herbs and spices in Marrakesh, bought Indian silks in Delhi – and passengers actually asked him how his day was and which international destination he was flying to next.

Flying has changed for ever. No wonder Slater had a meltdown. He went from a Boeing 747-400 with wing tips to an A320 and had to resort to shaking a basket of crisps at seagull-like passengers – “Mine! Mine! Mine!” – and flying non-stop Pittsburgh-Seattle, Seattle-Pittsburgh, eight times a day… “Where did you go today, honey?” “NOWHERE!”

So don’t miss Pan Am – it’s stylish, expensive and takes you back to a time when you could say “Bomb!” on board a plane and have a good laugh about it.

How do I know all this? Because I am PAM ANN, international air hostess to the stars, still bringing the glamour to flying! Come see me live on stage in December in New York City at Joe’s Pub, or in London in April 2012, at The Bloomsbury Theatre.

You can download Pam Ann’s material from iTunes and watch clips of her here, here, here and here on YouTube.

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Pan Am begins on BBC2 tonight at 9pm