Some Airline Nostalgia

This is Tuesday. I got home around noon on Saturday having been gone for a little more than three weeks. I’m not sure why, but this trip was a mixed bag—some things going right, other things going wrong.

Everything started out famously. If Hawaiian Airlines has unsold seats in First Class a few days from that flight’s departure, those of us ticketed to ride in the back of the plane are offered a chance to bid on one of the first class seats. So I flew off to Seattle three-plus weeks ago in a nice wide first class seat which cost me only an extra $201. Give them credit: it’s a good idea; you don’t have to play; and it generates additional revenue for the airline.

But times—and the First Class experience—sure have changed. Back in the 1960s and 70s, first class on many airlines was a special experience. But Pan American World Airways was something quite different . . . a cut above everyone else.

Shortly after take-off, a flight attendant would appear at you’re elbow and offer you a wide choice of beer, wine and top-of-the-line hard liquors.  Then, perhaps an hour later, she’s back, saying quietly in your ear, “If you’re ready for dinner, Mr. Loomis, your table is waiting upstairs.”

And, yes, there were tables on the upper level of those wonderful PanAm 747s, and if I remember correctly, there were two tables for four and another table that accommodated two people. And of course there were white linen tablecloths and every place was set with real china.

On the two occasions I can recall, the main course was a roast of beef, presented on a cutting board set on a small cart and, as you watched, the flight attendant would carve a generous slice for you. The beef was served with a green vegetable and mashed potatoes, over which—if you nodded at her glance—she would add a spoonful of drippings from the roast.

There was a selection of wines offered during the meal and after-dinner drinks could be taken at the table if the conversation was still going strong. If it wasn’t, you could head back downstairs to your actual seat.

I can hear her still: “We won’t be landing for another hour. May I get you another Johnny Walker Black, Mr. Loomis?”

Now that was first class!