I Miss PanAmerican!

Many years ago—it was sometime in the early 1960s—I worked with a man named Vic Cheena, who was, as I recall, the fifteenth person ever hired by Pan American World Airways. 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 first went to work for PanAm as a rather young man, the airline was flying 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 in big, heavy steamer trunks.

At the time, this presented a problem for the fledgling airline. Because the planes were small and the steamer 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 human passengers were scheduled to fly.  

  Everyone knows 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,  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 on-the-ground representatives* 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 planes. 

Around the mid-60s, PanAm introduced the Boeing 747 into its Hawaii service. That was about the time I began working for the mayor of Honolulu, which meant I was upgraded to First Class when I traveled back to the West Coast on City business.

First Class on PanAm 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 the cart 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?” It was served on real china and the wine was complimentary!

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