Our regular readers know that I love to publish nostalgic stories full of historical photos – and this issue features one of my favourites. It’s a look back at the glory days of Pan Am, one of the first major commercial airlines to capitalise on air travel becoming accessible to a newly affluent postwar generation in the 1960s and 70s. But while more people could afford to fly, it was still viewed as an exotic treat, and so had a much more glamorous allure than it does today. The airlines themselves leaned right in to the theatre of it all by making sure their cabin crew were groomed to impossibly glossy standards and Pan Am, as you’ll see from our fabulous pictures, led the way.
Of course, we are more progressive and enlightened in 2021, and naturally I’m appalled – appalled! – that it was acceptable to demand your female staff submit themselves to monthly weigh-ins, and force them to agree that airline passengers shouldn’t ever suffer the sight of a flight attendant once she’d reached the wizened old age of 35.
Don’t yell at me for saying that I love these tales. Outrageous, undoubtedly, but come on, pretty damn funny too. It does tickle me to think of things I’ve seen with my own eyes that, back then, no one questioned. The Pan Am story reminded me that people used to smoke on planes. Can’t you go to jail for that these days? But I remember as a kid, when my father was travelling for work a lot, he’d be fuming (pun intended) when he couldn’t book a seat in the smoking section. In fact, I’m pretty sure my siblings and I were passively smoking at least a packet a day, between the long car journeys, the snuggling on the sofa, the trips to the cinema, restaurants, all with my dad steaming through 80 a day. (He gave up years ago, to my utter relief.)
Road safety seemed to be something you made up as you went along, rather than this thing called ‘the law’. My parents would often load me and my brother into the open trailer of their little pick-up truck. ‘Wrap that rope around your wrists, kids, and hang on.’ Motor vehicle safety in those days meant packing as many neighbourhood kids as possible into the back seat – the more kids, the tighter the fit, hence no one could move. Sorry, did you say something about seatbelts? What are they?
We ate McDonald’s for dinner at least once a week. I was a scrawny kid. ‘You need the iron,’ my mum would say, because she was a progressive 70s mother who’d researched the nutritional excellence of a Big Mac. I used to light my own fireworks in our back garden and only once did all my fingertips catch alight, so that’s fine. I rode my pushbike around the streets for hours, no helmet, no safety pads. I can guarantee you my parents never knew where I was from 9am to 6pm on any Saturday from 1978 onwards. But weirdly there would be hell to pay if I wasn’t home by 6.01pm.
These days, I’m grateful for seatbelts and strict fire hazard rules, but it doesn’t stop me being amused – and quite proud, actually – that my generation is still alive.
A few things I’m coveting this week