Glamorous Crossing
February 12, 2015 4:13 AM   Subscribe

If passengers needed help entertaining themselves, magazines, cards, and games were available.

I remember seeing that one suspicious looking guy reading Life magazine while spying on Dr. Henry Jones, Jr., who I believe was taking a nap.
posted by valkane at 4:27 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

You never hear anyone described as having "derring-do" anymore. I miss derring-do.
posted by Metroid Baby at 5:07 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

The flight to Marseille, which included an overnight stay in Lisbon, could take up to 44 hours, while the return trip might run as along as 52 hours because of headwinds across the Atlantic. Tickets for the twice-a-week service were available for $375 one-way and $675 for a round trip. (In today’s money, that’s $6,242 one-way and $11,236 round trip.)

Surprisingly competitive with today's 1st Class fares. Unless you buy in kroner.
posted by Autumn Leaf at 5:50 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Some of my favorite all-female fantasies have taken place on Pam Am Clippers. ;>}
posted by Carol Anne at 5:59 AM on February 12, 2015 [2 favorites]

I still have a hard time believing there is no Pan Am.
posted by thelonius at 6:08 AM on February 12, 2015 [4 favorites]

I think I flew on Pan Am once or twice as a kid. Back then they gave out little wing pins on flights to kids (often along with being invited to tour the cockpit in the middle of the flight) and I can remember having a couple of Pan Am pins in the collection. By then it was just a regular airline, though; I missed the glamor days by a couple of decades.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:29 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Delta used to give out those wings, too. I was a fan.
posted by thelonius at 7:06 AM on February 12, 2015

I've read about seaplanes almost solely from British sources, so my mind keeps going "that's a flying boat, not a seaplane!" Wikipedia cleared up that it's a Briticism that I invariably picked up.

Fascinating piece, especially noting the decrease in travel time to Buenos Aires was only 2 days. I'm used to thinking of plane travel as being incredibly swift, instead of only a bit faster than a ship. On the other hand, two days is two days, and that is quite a bit of time.

Also, I was a fan of the Delta wings. I've found them around my mom's house from time to time.
posted by Hactar at 7:35 AM on February 12, 2015

I used to fly Pan Am regularly, back in the day- Flights 001 and 002 went around the world in opposite directions, and were a Big Deal in the 1960's and '70's. On one of my trips to Thailand, it was just as cheap to come back by continuing on, so I did. You could disembark anywhere along the route and remain there for up to six months, I think, then resume your trip when the flight came through again.

If I recall correctly, my route was something like TWA from Indianapolis--> Dallas--> Changing to Pan AM at San Francisco--> Honolulu--> Hong Kong--> Bangkok (debarking for a train to Udon Thani, and back a couple of weeks later)--> Delhi--> Beirut--> Istanbul--> Frankfurt--> London--> New York, where I got an Eastern flight back to Indianapolis. This was damned heady stuff for a 20 year old kid from Indiana.

None of the airlines I rode on my journey exist now. I feel old, now.

Right up until the end, the nautical theme echoed in ATC conversations, where PA flights had the callsign "Clipper" .

Another oddity from the nautical era, as Pilots progressed up the ladder from Flight Engineer, copilot, Captain, there was one further rung- Master of Ocean Flying Boats. The man who held this exalted rank was relieved of all flying duties, to sit back (I imagine) with a cigar and expound on his wisdom to the lesser gods of the cockpit.

I miss derring-do

Yeah, that was kind of great, wasn't it?
posted by pjern at 7:52 AM on February 12, 2015 [14 favorites]

When I was a kid, the airlines would hand out actual wings. I mean actual wings. Everyone remembers the friendly flight attendants walking down the aisle: "Would you like bird wings or bat wings? Bird wings or bat wings? Hello, wings for you today? Bird or bat?"

Of course, I was born too late to experience the glory days of air travel, when passengers could get wings from either a bald eagle or albatross. What kind of wings you chose said a lot about you. American writer Wallace Stegner, who once flew from California to China to hand-deliver the results of an international essay-writing contest, recalled this conversation above the Pacific:
Each man wore a pair of feathered wings across his chest. They encountered each other face-to-face in a passageway, where their wide wingspans forced them to walk sideways. Each took an immediate interest in the other's wings:

"Home is a notion that only nations of the homeless fully appreciate and only the uprooted comprehend," the first man said. "I believe that the spirit of man will carry us great distances. We are migratory in nature. Alone we crawl short distances; together we soar. I'm more of an albatross man. How do you feel?"

"There is no glue in friendship but mutual liking. It is therefore rare,” said the second man. "There is no winged creature more kindred to the leaders of man than that lone king of birds, the noble eagle. We fly high in order to survey exploitable resources far below us. That is our reason for returning to earth time and time again."

The two men looked each other over in silence for a brief moment, and then nodded. They continued on in opposite directions, scuttling sideways down the hall in their awkward crab walks.
That was in the 1940s, after the war ended. A fun fact to recount at parties is that the second man inspired the famous motivational poster with the caption "Leaders are like eagles."

For a brief period in the late 1950s, you could actually get Batman's wings on some Pan Am flights. This was when flying was still somewhat glamorous, but was becoming more and more accessible to the general public. Batman's wings, which were very large, struck a strange balance between pop-culture appeal and high-end decadence.

That was the first time an airline gave away bat wings. The fancy wings didn't last long after that. By the early 1960s, TWA began handing out ordinary bat wings. "Just like the Bat-Man!" they advertised, even though, of course, they were nothing at all like Batman; they were much smaller.

By the time I was flying, you could still get hawk wings in first class, but everyone else got either sparrow wings or bluebird wings. Once I got some hummingbird wings, which were supposed to be beautiful and trendy, I think, but really were just small and cheap-looking. By the late 1980s, pigeon wings were the norm.

When people say 9/11 changed everything, they aren't exaggerating. The airlines said it was "security concerns" that led to the cancellation of bird-wing handouts. But everyone knows that's not true. A malicious passenger crafting a makeshift wingbone dagger in the bathroom is utterly ludicrous. It was, however, the excuse they needed to start handing out insect wings.

For a few months, the airlines tried to pretend that it was a glamorous new idea. They experimented with butterfly wings, and then dragonfly wings, and then bumblebee wings. Even that was short-lived. By mid-2002, the industry had settled on grasshopper wings. Today, you can't even get those. Today, you can't even get anything, ever at all.
posted by compartment at 8:04 AM on February 12, 2015 [22 favorites]

There's something beautiful and romantic about flying boats.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 8:14 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

Go flag compartment's comment as "fantastic" - you KNOW you want to!
posted by IAmBroom at 8:33 AM on February 12, 2015

If you are interested in this subject, anthropologist Christine Yano's (yes, of "Hello Kitty is not a cat" fame) book Airborne Dreams is amazing. It looks (via lovingly detailed oral history) at how working as a flight attendant (stewardess at the time) for Pan Am was a path into class mobility and glamour for working-class Hawaiian Japanese women. She describes how former Pan Am employees still romanticize this experience and stay connected. Also great historical work on the glory days of Pan Am and the glamorization of air travel. Highly recommended, wonderful book.
posted by spitbull at 8:50 AM on February 12, 2015

In the early nineties I was up for a job on the MCI Pan Am account team. Right up until the airline went under. It was a very sad day for me, in so many ways.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:02 AM on February 12, 2015

I'm a bit surprised the article didn't mention the Pacific Clipper's unplanned circumnavigation.
posted by ckape at 10:12 AM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

I'm a bit surprised the article didn't mention the Pacific Clipper's unplanned circumnavigation.

Definitely! I was very surprised that she didn't mention that it got stuck on the wrong side of the Pacific after Pearl Harbor and its crew flew her back to America the long way round, which was an incredible feat of "derring-do." I wrote a series of articles about it last year and even though I’d known about it for years before that, even I didn’t realise just how incredible that journey had been before doing more detailed research for those. I think there’s been a Metafilter post about that flight as well, although my search-fu is failing me. I'll search again when I'm off the train.

Anyway, that minor surprise aside, this is a really good article - manages to capture both the glamour and the pioneering aspect of what Pan Am were up to back then (both in terms of route surveying and engineering)!

I think it's really easy to underestimate just how much of a challenge it was flying these routes back then (not least in navigation terms). Especially the first test flights on the Pacific routes. Essentially for those they'd have to send out a ship to find a potentially suitable island or Atoll, then the pilots would have to navigate to and find that ship/island/Atoll taking measurements and making notes on the way.

Even setting aside the difficulties of navigating across vast expanses of open sea (indeed at night they'd be taking navigational reading from the stars, like old seafarers - there was a little glass bubble on top of many of the flying boats to allow them to do this) there was the fact that you had to hope that the survey ship had correctly identified a patch of water to land in that wasn't full of coral, rocks or even just bad currents.

Any of those could (and did, sometimes fatally) shred through the bottom of the planes as they landed, a situation made worse by the fact that on those pioneer flights they were more-often-than-not flying what were effectively giant flying fuel bombs. Because Trippe was never a man to let aeronautical technology get in the way of finding new routes. He’d have older planes modified to have giant extra fuel tanks so they could go out and define routes well beyond their official range whilst the likes of Sikorsky, Martin and Boeing were still battling with his requirements and attempting to build the planes that would ultimately service them.

Indeed the absolute master of that kind of route finding was the Captain of the China Clipper mentioned in the article - Edwin C. Musick.

Sadly route-surveying would ultimately cost him and his crew their lives when the modified S-42 they were flying in an attempt to survey a route to New Zealand exploded in flight.

Which hints at something that’s worth remembering about Trippe, which perhaps gets skipped over a little bit in the article – that he was utterly ruthless as a businessman.

He would bid below cost on contracts if he knew it meant he could take out a competitor, bid (and win) contracts for services he didn’t know how to deliver and gamble on the smart people he employed to work out a way of doing it. He'd also beg and bully the likes of Sikorsky, Martin and Boeing into pushing seaplane technology forward and then promise them contracts (so they invested their own cash in development) and then go with a rival at the last minute having used that as leverage to get them to lower their price.

From memory, for example, Martin (now the "Martin" part of Lockheed Martin) almost went bust developing the M-156 Flying Boat because Trippe had promised him a big order if he’d work out how to build it, and then promptly turned round and handed the contract to Boeing once Martin had cracked a lot of the inherent issues of designing something that size to go that range. Martin ended up having to flog the entire design to the Soviets before the war in a desperate attempt to avoid going bust.

Ultimately that ruthlessness helped him build Pan Am into what it was though, and my god is it hard not to wish I’d been alive (and rich enough) to fly on a Clipper during their heyday!

Couple of other things that jump out to me:

She touches on the whole thing about their not being a direct trans-Atlantic route to Britain until relatively late before the war. The reasons for this weren’t technical – or at least not from the American side – the deal was that Pan Am would get permission to run one when there was a British plane that was capable of doing a transatlantic flight as well. Trippe hadn’t realised when he agreed that with the Government though that that there was far more drive from him and Pan Am to develop such a plane than than from British Imperial. It took him years of pleading, threats and the somewhat begrudging development of the truly bizarre British Short Empire before he got his route.

Finally, a couple more links. Check out Greg Bishop on Flickr for some wonderful photos from the era, and if you want a good read The man who made Pan Am is great, whilst China Clipper: The Age of the Great Boats is one of my favourite history books ever.

God I love the Clipper age. Thanks for triggering an afternoon of looking at cool photos ellieBOA!
posted by garius at 10:33 AM on February 12, 2015 [6 favorites]

Newsreel footage of 10-year-old Gore Vidal flying and landing a plane, c. 1935
(Context: His father, Eugene Luther Vidal, was Director of Air Commerce in Washington at the time, and the stunt was used as a way to promote the idea of air travel to the general public.)
posted by Atom Eyes at 10:41 AM on February 12, 2015 [3 favorites]

Found the Metafilter post, which is well worth a read.
posted by garius at 10:42 AM on February 12, 2015

I'd take a camp-cot sized berth over a modern airplane seat any day.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 2:50 PM on February 12, 2015 [1 favorite]

huh, this is timely because Midori just released its Pan Am themed series. I believe its japan only, sadly.
posted by rebent at 8:24 PM on February 12, 2015

One interesting thing about that round the world post is that a flight from the middle east to Congo is a flight from the danger zone (much of which was too risky for landing in) to somewhere where you were greeted with all modern conveniences.
posted by ambrosen at 5:26 AM on February 13, 2015

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