Flying on Pan Am
Mary Wells

My first Pan Am flight was in 1952 at the age of 3 flying from San Francisco to Manila, Philippines with my mother, brother and infant sister. My father was already in Baguio City, Philippines on his first tour of duty with the USIA/VOA. While I don't have many memories of that flight I do of later flights taken on Pan Am. For most of my life Pan Am was THE only airline to fly overseas.

My father was a Foreign Service officer working with the US Information Agency/VOA and we traveled to many places overseas. After a tour in the Philippines we returned to the US for 2 years then moved to Okinawa in 1956, returning to the US in 1959. We then flew home going east through the Hong Kong, Saigon, Bangkok, Beirut, Rome, London, and New York. Most, but not all our flights, were on Pan Am. I do believe my mother still has home movies of taking off from Hong Kong in 1959, the runway being out into the water.

I remember a pretty scary flight from Saigon to Beirut. We had to stop in Calcutta, India for refueling and deplaning and enplaning passengers. It was the monsoon season and we circled around for what seemed an interminable time. I managed to get airsick and fell asleep. When I awoke we were on the ground and the crew had allowed me to continue sleeping while everyone else had to deplane and stay in the terminal. It was pretty rough. I remember
seeing wings bouncing around and also not being able to see the end of the wings because of the heavy clouds. I sat on the plane during the stop and watched the cleaning crew go through the cabin. The story goes that my mother was so upset by the flight she was going to refuse to reboard. That is, until she saw the inside of Dum Dum Airport in Calcutta and thought better of her plan. We flew safely on to Beirut, thankfully, with my mother on board.

I believe there was a crew change on that particular flight. It was the first flight I can remember having a steward on board. He was funny, too. He announced that when the aircraft reached cruising altitude we would be given 'bread' sandwiches. He explained that bread sandwiches were 2 slices of bread with a slice of bread in between. I guess now it seems to be a pretty lame joke, but then it was funny.

I remember specifically the flights out of New Delhi were Pan Am flights 1 and 2. One going east and two going west. I remember my excitement leaving Delhi headed for Karachi, Teheran, then Beirut and on to Rome on our way back to the US in 1965. I believe this was also our first experience on a jet rather than a prop. I thought it was really neat to fly on a jet. But no longer did the flight attendants hand out chewing gum, coloring books, wings
or caps. I was disappointed by that change. I guess the jet age took some of the glamour out of air travel.

I remember my first flight on a Stratocruiser. I thought it was the best because of the downstairs lounge area. Not many passengers took advantage of this luxury but as children we thought it was great. Plus the lounge was surrounded by windows so you could see in nearly all directions. Like getting a panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean.

Pan Am used to give children crayons and coloring books and we would sit on the floor of the lounge and color. They also used to give us wings just like the stewardesses had (now flight attendants). And although I never remember getting one, I did know some little girls who also got flight caps. They used to hand out Chiclets peppermint gum, too. I think that was in a effort to stave off airsickness and keep everyone's stomach settled.

Even though I was very young, I do remember the flight over the Pacific was an overnighter with intermediate stops on Wake Island and Guam. I remember, too, the berths with little privacy curtains and a 'porthole' so we could see the stars. I remember thinking I could reach out and touch them. Obviously, this was before the jet age. I also remember the airport terminal in Guam was a Quonset hut, as was the one on Okinawa.

I can remember the flight attendants, too. They were always beautiful young women and single at the time. They were always helpful especially when my sister was a baby. They had bassinets in the bulkhead seats and that's where my sister slept. The flight attendants also heated baby food and formula for my mother to feed to my sister. And while she was busy with the baby, the stewardesses would look after my brother and I, as did other passengers. We were always treated very well on Pan Am. Back in those days, too, Pan Am used to give the passengers certificates for crossing the International Dateline. I don't know if my mother still has them or not.

I remember a flight, too, though not specifically where we were headed at the time, where the menu was supplied by Maxim's of Paris. And the food was great, served hot with real china and silverware. Perhaps that was only in first class. No matter, the choices were good and the food was fantastic. In the old days the government flew us first class. Only later, in the 60's I think, did they switch that to coach class for air travel and second class for sea travel.

It nearly broke my heart when Pan Am closed. I wish it would come back in all its glory someday. In the old days flying Pan Am was like sailing on the Queen Mary only sailing through the air instead of on the sea. There was just nothing like traveling aboard a Clipper.