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Flying on Pan Am Used to Be Amazingly Luxurious, Kick the Hell Out of Modern Airlines
Flying on an airline nowadays is more like a chore than a luxury. But it wasn't always like this. Believe it or not, air travel felt like a special occasion for most of the 20th century. Step aside, JetBlue. Pan Am used to bring the best bang for your buck, luxurious flight experience the likes of which we will undoubtedly never see again.

Flying on Pan Am Used to Be Amazingly Luxurious, Kick the Hell Out of Modern Airlines

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For those of you born after the downfall of Pan Am as America's premier airline, the company can be seen like a blend between the quality flight experience of JetBlue combined with the scale of infrastructure like Delta or American Airlines, then multiplied in the luxury factor by a significant degree. Safe to say, it was the best of both worlds in the airliner space.

From 1927 to 1991, Pan Am was a titan in the airline industry, with its hands in everything from seaport-dwelling flying boats to some of the first Boeing 707 and 747 jetliners and a cameo in the most respected sci-fi film of all time. They did it all. But today, there aren't too many signifiers of just how important Pan Am was to global aviation left in the world.

Their famous branded building in New York City is now owned by MetLife Insurance. Their iconic airport terminals in London, Tokyo, Berlin, New York, Miami, and Los Angeles have long since been bought out by their corporate competitors. But there is one place that acts like a gateway back in time to when Pan Am was the most luxurious commercial airliner.

It's located on the third floor of one of the coolest museums anywhere in America, the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, New York. A facility dedicated to the achievements in air and space travel in and around the Long Island region of New York state. But on the museum's third floor, there exists a space dedicated to a different organization entirely. That would be the Pan Am Museum Foundation. So in a sense, it's a museum within a museum. How awesome is that?

With everything from scaled models of nearly every airplane in Pan Am's fleet from start to finish, genuine memorabilia from all eras in company history, and documentary footage with interviews from Pan Am pilots, stewardesses, and ground personnel, it's as immersive of a Pan Am experience as one could have without traveling back in time.

When walking up the spiraling staircase to the Pan Am Museum's home on the Cradle of Aviation's third floor, you're immediately greeted by a venerable sea of glass display cases filled with all the Pan Am regalia one could possibly look at in an afternoon. From the earliest Boeing 314 flying boat airliner to the Boeing 707 jetliner only a couple of decades later, to the gargantuan Boeing 747 with an exquisitely detailed interior cutaway, nearly every airframe to ever bear the Pan Am name has a special custom-made scaled model on display.

The bulk of the collection is largely located in the far right corner of the museum space. But befitting of an airplane of its size, the cutaway 747 has its own space on the floor's far left side. Alongside the cutaway are some cutouts of what a Pan Am pilot and stewardess would have looked like as you boarded your flight. Sure beats the drab uniforms most commercial airliners use these days. Somehow that iconic Pan Am light blue logo just makes everything pleasing to the eye.

This bright blue logo is a theme throughout almost every porcelain dinnerware set, shot glass, cigarette lighter, quilted napkin, tea kettle, presidential flight press kits for multiple U.S. heads of state, and even concept art of a never-produced Pan Am branded variant of the Concorde. There's the sense that Pan Am wanted to amaze and dazzle passengers with every single trip in its day.

The company was also first in line in the case Boeing's rival to Concorde, the Boeing 2707, was to be built. Sadly, this never happened. That said, if we're sad any Pam Am vehicle was never built in real life, it's the Orion III Space Clipper from Stanley Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey. The iconic space plane that transported astronauts and civilians alike to the movie's LEO space station, where the stewards wore magnetic shoes to maintain normal mobility in orbit.

When you compare the quality of all things Pan Am with the run-of-the-mill airliner services in flight over American airspace in 2022, there's a sense that modern air service has completely lost the plot when it comes to a genuinely tolerable, if not outright enjoyable flight experience.

Remember, Pan Am was at one point the largest commercial airliner by passenger volume and miles flown worldwide, and that was the case for decades. That must mean it wasn't just the ultra-wealthy and the traditional "Jet Set" lining the company's pockets. This level of quality was on offer at all levels in Pan Am. It's a practice that's all but lost thirty years later. These days, if you want quality air travel, you have to pay up the wazoo for it.

From a modern perspective, it's astonishing that the opposite was the case in the very distant past. Had it not been for the Pan Am Foundation Museum at the Cradle of Aviation, most young Long Islanders would have no idea at all. If you ask us, that's a bit of a shame. It seems people born past a certain year (we all know the one) have never had an enjoyable airline experience in their entire lives. 

Check back soon for more from our visit to the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Long Island, New York right here on autoevolution

 
 
 
 
 

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