I Miss PanAm!

Many years ago—it was sometime in the early 1960s—I worked with a man named Vic Cheena, who was something like the fifteenth person ever hired by Pan American. He was well into his 70s when I knew him and he had almost an endless number of fascinating stories about the start-up years of what will always be the finest airline in the history of commercial aviation.

When Cheena went to work for PanAm, the airline flew just one route: from Key West, Florida to Havana, Cuba, a distance of 90 miles! 

Back in those days, when people traveled, they were away for weeks, and they packed accordingly . . . plenty of clothes packed in big, heavy steamer trunks . . . refrigerator-sized leather containers that were shipped on steam ships.

At the time, the steamer trunks presented a problem for the fledgling airline. Because the planes were small and the trunks were both large and heavy, they couldn’t afford to transport both the passengers and their heavy steamer trunks. PanAm solved the problem by shipping the steamer trunks to Havana by boat a few days before the humans were scheduled to fly.

Everyone knew the Boeing 747 was a big airplane. But how big? Here’s a photo of a 747 parked next to and dwarfing a Boeing 707,  which was considered to be a very large airplane when it went into service in the late 1950s.                                                                                                                                                      

When I first arrived in Honolulu—that was back in 1962—only two domestic airlines—United Airlines and Pan American—brought visitors here from the U.S. mainland. Both airlines had an on-the-ground representative whose job was to represent their employer in any number of ways, but primarily to greet and photograph celebrities—usually movie stars—as they stepped off the plane. Ernie Albrecht was PanAm’s man in Honolulu and Chuck Novak was his counterpart with United.

Around the mid-60s, PanAm introduced the Boeing 747 into its Hawaii service. It was about that time that I began working for the mayor of Honolulu, which meant I was upgraded to First Class for the trip back to the West Coast.

First Class on PanAm’s 747 meant you were invited to sit at a table in the upper level where—trust me on this!—one of the flight attendants would wheel a small cart next to your seat on which was a perfectly cooked roast beef. And the lovely and poised young woman  would smile and say, “Would a slice this big be enough for you, Mr. Loomis?” And it would be served on real china.

And THAT was what First Class service on Pan American World Airways was like!