Imagine a time when air travel included white-gloved stewardesses (flight attendants, who?) serving caviar on board, giving bottles of champagne to fliers just for being nice, and gracing the cover of TIME.
In the modern world of exorbitant fees for checked bags and extra leg room, it’s nearly impossible to believe that a period like that ever existed, but ABC’s new show Pan Am—which debuts Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. and stars Christina Ricci—brings that 1960's Jet Age era of air travel to life. (Think of it as Mad Men, 30,000 feet in the air.)
Here, T+L gets on board with the show’s creator Jack Orman (of JAG and ER fame).
Q: What was your inspiration for the series?
A: “The name and logo of Pan Am. Sony had creative rights to them, and I realized they really wanted to present this idea of global travel to an audience, in a period setting. I knew what the logo represented iconically, and that once I got my head around the Jet Age and the idea that we were going to set this in 1963, everything else spun off of that.”
Q: Like in the pilot, where Pan Am flies Bay of Pigs prisoners back from Cuba…
A: “When researching, I found that the State Department and Pan Am had a very cozy relationship. They were an extension of the government in a lot of ways, and there must have been some level of communication between the Pentagon and Pan Am. The stewardesses were actually sworn in as second lieutenants for United States Air Force.”
Q: What was the most surprising Pan Am amenity you discovered when researching for the show?
A: “They had a lot more liberty to give away anything. And stewardesses could upgrade you on the plane, and you could buy your ticket on the plane. There was no security really whatsoever. If you were licensed to carry a gun, you could carry it on the plane.”
Q: What would you bring back from the 1960's Golden Age of Travel if you could?
A: “The lounges. It’s almost like being on a train, the idea that you have a first-class lounge where you can hang out and relax.”
Q: How do you think being a flight attendant has changed since the 1960's (besides the fact that they're not called "stewardesses" anymore!)?
A: “Stewardesses were considered part of the journey; it was as if they were hostesses. The mindset was different, and they dressed differently. They needed to speak multiple languages, had to be college educated, and be ambassadors of the United States. It was a coveted position for a woman at that time.”
Q: What was your most memorable flying experience? Why?
A: “My first time in first class. My wife and I went to London for our honeymoon, and on our way back at check in, the agent asked us if we had a good time, and we told her we were on our honeymoon. We didn’t realize it then, but they had upgraded us right there for free. The flight started with the warm hand towel, and it was really exciting to have big seats and a three-course meal. The hot fudge sundaes were particularly good.”
Brooke Porter is an associate editor at Travel + Leisure.