Despite 40 years in the international travel industry, I was able to catch only the most fleeting glimpse of the fading “golden age” of aviation.
By the time mass travel to Mexico and the Caribbean had begun in the late 1960s, it was pretty much gone. But – while it endured – it was represented most illustriously by a legendary airline known to the world as “Pan Am” – Pan American World Airways.
At its peak in the late 1960s, Pan Am was one of the world’s largest air carriers, flying to as many as 86 countries on all six major continents. With a fleet of 226 aircraft and its distinctive blue globe logo (known as The Blue Meatball), Pan Am was known as “America’s airline to the world.”
By chance, I happened to be in a main departure lounge in Miami on December 4, 1991, when I noticed a flurry of activity and a rush to one of the big floor to ceiling windows. A Pan Am 747 was rolling up to the arrivals dock. It was the airline’s last aircraft to arrive at its Miami hub – the end of an era dating from 1927.
The atmosphere of elegance that once accompanied air travel was already on the wane when I began flying in the mid-1950s – on airlines like BOAC Super Constellations (British Overseas Airways Corporation – later British Airways), on American Airlines and Trans-Canada Airlines (TCA – later Air Canada). It was a time when elegant inflight meals were served on china, with distinctive silverware on tables draped in white linen. There were no signs of jeans or flip-flops, as is common today. People dressed in style for flying. Seating was spacious, and inflight service was pampering and attentive.
The romance of the golden age of flight was most glamorously represented by the era of the Pan Am Clippers – the 28 “flying boats” that operated between 1931 and 1946 on routes to South America, Europe and China. The airline was also the first to introduce “round the world” flights – the last great epic flying adventure before the jet age began to usher in mass travel.
Many people miss those bygone days when flying was still an enjoyable adventure. Others wonder what flying must have been like in the days before 28-inch seat pitches and disappearing inflight amenities.
Those travellers may want to know about a unique dining adventure that is rapidly becoming one of Los Angeles’ most popular and talked-about new restaurants – the Pan Am Experience.
The setting is itself an adventure. Air Hollywood is an aviation-themed film production studio in the North Valley area of LA, just off the Ronald Reagan Expressway. If you’ve watched an aircraft scene on television lately, it was likely produced on the set of Air Hollywood. The Pan Am Experience unfolds on a mocked-up B-747 during a “flight to nowhere,” as passengers relax in the original, comfortable first-class Pan Am seating of that lost era. A sumptuous, multi-course dinner is served in a refined style that transports guests back in time.
Former Pan Am “flight stewardess” Barbara Norberg was impressed with how authentically the Pan Am Experience was presented.
“I felt tears in my eyes,” she said. “It was so real.”
The B-747 fuselage used on the Air Hollywood set was rescued from an aircraft graveyard in the New Mexico desert. Upon stepping aboard, guests receive a replica ticket wallet baggage tag and boarding pass – all in Pan Am’s original graphics and logotype.
“The only thing missing,” Norberg says, “is the turbulence.”
The Pan Am Experience opened in 2014, but is only one of Air Hollywood’s expansive corporate offerings. Studios in both LA and Atlanta supply aviation sets and props for filmmakers. An aircraft parts and storage facility in Victorville, CA enables moviemakers to film air hangars and full airplane exteriors.
Fearless Flight, a separate Air Hollywood company, uses simulated flights to eliminate the fear of flying that causes an estimated 25% of the population to miss out on family vacations, business promotions and job opportunities. Open Sky for Autism, a complimentary Air Hollywood program, helps families living with autism and other developmental disabilities to acclimatize to air travel. K-9 Flight School takes service animals and their owners through the entire pre-flight experience, from check-in to boarding.
Air Hollywood is all about recapturing those golden but lost days of relaxing flight for everyone.