The olden days of air travel were horridly primitive.

We didn’t have the TSA, delicious airline meals or pleasant flight attendants.
It’s all so much better now
Don’t believe it? Just watch these shocking videos.

Don’t laugh. That film was made only eight years before I was born so it’s not ancient history. It’s not that long ago, I tell ya.

Things have changed rapidly ever since, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. These aircraft came just a few years later.

Eventually, the Boeing 747 came along.


My wife, Jeanie, was a Pan Am flight attendant back then on the 747s. She has many stories to tell about her ’round the world flights (there were two daily, one in each direction, eight days each), flights into Viet Nam to take and bring home GIs, and just a few scares. Watching the video brought back many memories for her.  The uniform you see in the video is the one she wore when she flew with Pan Am to all of the places shown.

Just imagine having to travel today in the primitive squalor of the unlamented golden olden days!  Unpleasant flight attendants back then lacking adequate supervision and training? Uncomfortable, noisy and cramped old airplanes?  The Pan Am Boeing 747s on which Jeanie flew merely devoted the entire upper cabin to a bar! Scandalous! Accustomed to the pleasures of air travel today, no modern passenger would tolerate such meager comforts. That’s why we all so greatly enjoy air travel today. It’s a lot better and cheaper now — just like lives.

Ernest K. Gann

If you want to read about the early period, Ernest K. Gann’s Fate is the Hunter is a great place to start.  Gann (1910 – 1991), a marvelous writer, was one of the early pioneers. His story begins with the early air shows, proceeds to air mail in open-cockpit aircraft, then to the DC 2 and DC3 and finally to the first commercial jet aircraft.  His is a story well told of tremendous changes in a relatively short period.  Gann’s last FAA flight check ride was with my former flight instructor and best friend, Wade Cothran. Sadly, both are now long dead. Still history continues, sometimes for the better and sometimes not. A certified old fart, I probably don’t understand which is which or why.

The next wave?

Update:  Might this be the next advance in aviation?

About danmillerinpanama

I was graduated from Yale University in 1963 with a B.A. in economics and from the University of Virginia School of law, where I was the notes editor of the Virginia Law Review in 1966. Following four years of active duty with the Army JAG Corps, with two tours in Korea, I entered private practice in Washington, D.C. specializing in communications law. I retired in 1996 to sail with my wife, Jeanie, on our sailboat Namaste to and in the Caribbean. In 2002, we settled in the Republic of Panama and live in a very rural area up in the mountains. I have contributed to Pajamas Media and Pajamas Tatler. In addition to my own blog, Dan Miller in Panama, I an an editor of Warsclerotic and contribute to China Daily Mail when I have something to write about North Korea.
This entry was posted in Air travel, Culture, Ernest K. Gann, History, Luxury, Olden Days, travel and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

15 Responses to The olden days of air travel were horridly primitive.

  1. Lindenlee says:

    Hi Jim, I am a newbie to your blog. I was a Pan Am FA from 1969 to 1989, out of SFO and LA. Did many of those R & R flights in and out of Vietnam, helped evacuate when Saigon fell to the Communists. I wonder if I knew your wife (I only wore that uniform she is in for about 2 months after I got my wings).

    Those were the good days, for a wonderful company that was like family). Flying was civilized. I also knew Maureen O’Hara, who married Charlie Blair of Pan Am, and founded Antilles Airboats in the Virgin Islands, flew them many times going to bareboat in the Caribbean.

    I am thinking about a visit to Panama, the Boquete area, maybe retiring out of the US. Not sure how stable the USA is anymore. Would you be willing to talk for a few minutes? I do’t wish to impose on your time.

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  8. Freedom, by the way says:

    Comfort, convenience and style–yes, the airlines really believed in those things and so did the people flying. Now, we are treated like cattle, prodded through lines, inspected and forced into tiny, crowded seats where free movies and free snacks are nothing but a memory. Even 1st Class is not all that roomy these days.
    Did we have to give up all the joys in life for perceived “security”? Honestly, I think we have given up way too much.

  9. Brian says:

    Nice post. I poured a small glass of cheap Haitian rum bought on sale in Boquete and watched all three movies. This is also a great opportunity to thank you for the recommendation of Ernest K. Gann’s book a few weeks back. Trish ordered it, it arrived and I am halfway through. Just exactly to that part you described in great detail about those young men flying up the fjord in Greenland. Amazing. When I started flying airmail in 1977, Night Flight by Saint-Exupery was required reading, as was Gann’s book and one called Weather Flying. Read only the first one, learned the other two by osmosis. Two things stand out so far for me in Fate is the Hunter; The way he talks about stumbling around looking for airports and somehow the airports magically appear. All the while you know he was a fine pilot. The other thing thats strikes me is how he described how co-pilots are trained by many competent Captains over a period of years. My own experience was that of being trained by the abolute best over a period of weeks. It just was not enough. Thanks again.

    • Thanks, Brian. Gann is one of my favorite authors. You really should write and publish more about your flying days. I would very much enjoy reading about them.

      • Brian says:

        That is great encouragement. Thirty years as a freight dog, some good stories in there.
        The blog idea looks like fun, a few followers to bounce ideas around. Perhaps another pilgrimage to El Banco is in order.

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  11. Darn it, I knew you were smart, a lawyer, a good writer, and a good guy, but you married up, too. I considered myself very lucky when I was dating a Delta Flight Attendant but, Pan Am, my God, man, you really do have it all!!!

    My favorite flight is still my first, Midway-Laguardia on a Convair 880 in about 1961. Good times, my friend. (The food was better on the Broadway Limited, though) Thanks, I enjoyed this immensely.
    And yes, Ernest Gann is great fun to read.

    • Many thanks Neenergyobvserver,

      I did marry up and am very fortunate and also very proud of it. Jeanie is a better than great gal and a better than great friend. She tells me that she would like to have been an airline pilot, but back then that was not an option for mere women. Now it is.

      My first flight was from New Haven, Conn. to Washington, D.C. in, as I recall, 1959 or maybe 1960. It was on a DC3. Looking out the window soon after takeoff, I saw a rivet jiggling around happily on the wing. We landed at Islip, Long Island, the scheduled intermediate stop. A tire had to be changed before we took off again and we passengers spent an uneventful hour in the bar. The jukebox was playing “Goodby Cruel World.” For my first flight, that somehow seemed appropriate. A pilot friend, a senior TWA captain, joked later that he usually made the passengers do that sort of work while he and the copilot relaxed in the bar.

      I loved flying and eventually got my commercial, instrument and multi-engine ratings but thought it best in the mid 1980s to stop because I wasn’t getting enough hours to remain as current as I though appropriate. I miss flying.

      • Yep, Valerie said that, too. That’s one thing that is much better than the old days.

        I started on my Private and found that I couldn’t afford to do it at a reasonable pace, which I also believed meant wouldn’t be able to stay current enough. Persoally, I think that is one mark of a good pilot. I always loved flying, although commercial leaves me cold now. I will say though I came back to Lincoln from Minneapolis about a year ago, at night and it was quite like a overgrown King Air, and gorgeous looking out at the lights, I had forgotten how special night flight, especially at low level could be.

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