It’s been over twenty years since you could get on board a Pan Am plane to take one of its many flights around the globe, but its name still has a magic and resonance missing from modern airlines. During its heyday Pan Am became a byword for being more than an airline, representing an entire ethos of class and style as the chosen airline for the 60s jet set.
It’s this magic that the TV series Pan Am captured and brought to the twenty-first century. Looking back to the beginnings of the world of jet-powered international travel we now inhabit, it captures the spirit of the era in the same way as the fantastic Mad Men. While that series concerns itself purely with the advertising workers of Madison Avenue and their lives, Pan Am emulates the airline by travelling all over the planet in a search for interesting stories to tell.
We live in an age when cheap, fast and simple intercontinental travel is an accepted fact of life. At the dawn of the Jet Age shown in Pan Am, this was a radical change to the way the world worked. Before then, booking flights had been something only a tiny number of people could do, before the coming of the internet and online booking sites. The flights they took back then were slow and cramped, prop-engined planes made long-distance travel possible, but it took jet engines to make it convenient, quick and comfortable.
Pan Am was at the vanguard of this new style of flying. Holding one of their airline tickets was a way into a world of large new planes, full of open space and glamorously attired stewardesses who would happily ply you with free cocktails until you arrived at your destination. This was the time that saw a new term enter the global lexicon – the ‘jet set’, wealthy individuals from entertainment, business, politics and royalty taking advantage of this new freedom to travel. Pan Am ferried this elite crowd around the world in first class, while everyone up snapped up the seats in economy, hoping that a little of the jet set’s mystique might rub off on them on the way to their destination.
Pan Am the TV series is a peek into that new world and the way it changed people’s ways of looking at the world. Watch it, with the hope it will be commissioned for a second season and see how the world changed for good with the arrival of the jet engine.