Why have we (I) lost the Romance of Flying?

And no – this is NOT a Covid-19 post! This post is one I’ve come to write after watching the one and only season they made of ‘Pan Am’, set in 1963 following the lives of four Pan Am air stewardesses and a captain and first officer – a group that actually flew together. I mean, it’s a fictional series I should say from the outset, but I guess the ideas came from somewhere and it turns out one of the stewardesses is recruited to work for MI 6 so I’m not sure if that ever happened but hey, it makes for a good story.

The Pan Am Story

Pan Am was, for most of its life, America’s premiere airline, running from 1927 to 1991 when it went bust sadly, and I think it represents a different time in air travel, a time when there was a bit more romance to air travel. And this series, which only ran one season made in 2011, mixes the romance up with a bit of adventure and a bit of history. I can see why it only lasted a season, it must have been very expensive to produce, and it hasn’t a very modern take either which I feel like every successful series these days does. It was classed as a drama, but apart from a couple of episodes it didn’t deliver that much drama and it didn’t feel like it had much reality about it.

Which I guess is where the ‘romance’ comes in, and yes it’s a feature of the series but romance doesn’t just cover romantic relationships. It’s a word that means ‘a feeling of excitement and mystery associated with love’ according to random Google dictionary thing I just got when I googled its meaning, and a love of travel certainly evokes these feelings.

Imagine the Thrill!

There was something special about getting on a flight. About the destinations, about the whole experience. Pan Am – the series and the airline – ramp that up by presenting beautiful air stewardesses and handsome pilots (yes it’s not woke at all but they haven’t been in business for nearly 30 years now), and in the show I guess the planes are smaller because they were, but a crew of four was looking after long-haul flights. That’s unthinkable I would think today unless it was a smallish plane, even budget airlines have at least six to eight to look after say an Airbus 320.

And yet they did it on Pan Am with grace and flair, it was perhaps the world’s most glamorous airline and was known for its service. And if you see documentaries about the airline, compared to its American rivals it really does look like it was a cut above them. Even the top airlines of today – which I would have to say are Middle Eastern based, don’t portray the glamour that Pan Am seemed to possess. And this from an airline that in 1970 flew 11 million passengers to 86 different countries. EIGHTY-SIX countries in 1970. That’s really something when you think about it.

The Downfall…

What brought down Pan Am? Well, perhaps it all started with probably the most famous bombing of a passenger place, that would be the 1988 Lockerbie bombing of Pan Am which is attributed to the leader of Libya at the time, Colonel Ghaddafi. But for the last few decades of its operation, they were in financial trouble. It stemmed back to the oil crisis in the 1970s. Anyways, if you’re interesting check out this video I found on Youtube.

My Love Affair…

But now, let’s ‘scoot’ forward to 1999 and for me, I was taking to the skies by myself for the first time, and I can’t tell you how excited I was not only to be going around the world and travelling for seven months, but just to be on an international flight. My first since 1986, which was with my brother and parents.

I flew a selection of airlines, it was a ‘Star Alliance’ flight, they cover something like twenty or even more airlines. I started with Thai Airways, and I remember the service being good and enjoying the flight. I was not a very full flight – twenty years ago I think I would be right in saying they were a lot happier to run flights that were less than half full. In the last few years the bottom line has become a lot more important.

Since 1999, I started to enjoy flying less. Most of it was in my own mind, but I also I think with the advent of budget airlines and the way they have moved in, with packed flights and less space, the need to get as many seats on the plane as possible, the elimination of Business Class in some instances, flying is no longer as enjoyable as it used to be.

Passengers and Cabin Crew

I feel the passenger/cabin crew relationship is not what it used to be in terms of friendliness. I think the work is harder for the cabin crew, and so the result is they have less time to chat with passengers, and at the same time passengers are less satisfied with the experience, and indeed the security and the waiting. Security had to be upped, make no mistake, and now there are a bunch of machines to scan you through security and restrictions as to what you can travel with. It’s a necessary hassle but it makes the whole flying experience less relaxed unfortunately.

And dare I say, as great as it is that air travel is (well, pre 2020) accessible to more people than ever before, it means that airports are more crowded, and that it’s less, well, for want of a better word, ‘special’.

And all of this comes on the back of me now having 20 years of proper travelling experience behind me, which is always going to take some of the gloss off. But long-haul flights used to sound exciting to me, not something that was to be endured.

To Where from Here?

The plane stands ready!

To rediscover the ‘romance’ of travel is something I ache to do. Right now, I would love to travel but as I’ve said in previous posts, that seems a long way away for Australians. As in, 12 months at least for regular international travel. Perhaps this time spent on the ground, the fact that maybe not so many people will take to the skies for the next few years, the chance to dream and plan trips, will do enough to ignite the flame again. Who knows?

One thing I know is, a huge jetliner roaring down the runway at just a couple of hundred kilometres an hour suddenly lifting off will always seem like some sort of miracle to me. You feel the pull back towards earth as suddenly houses are matchboxes and matchboxes can’t be seen from your window seat. And that is always amazing. Thanks for reading today – May the Journey Never End!


6 thoughts on “Why have we (I) lost the Romance of Flying?

  1. I agree it’s not the same anymore. In fact, I have developed this fear of flying after a super turbulent flight! I really want to go back to the romance of flying…those early days…

    1. I also had a turbulent flight years ago which affected how I felt about flying. strange because I KNOW it’s part and parcel of the experience, and yet I’m affected. Thanks for popping by Renuka!

  2. BBQboy

    I totally agree with everything you said above Andy.
    I have memories of flying a UTA 747 from Paris to Lusaka, being served champagne and filet mignon while looking down at the red African earth below. Once, on an Air France 747, the stewardess came up to me and asked me if I’d like to sit on the upper deck. I said “sure!”. I had never sat on an upper deck. I ended up having a whole row to myself on the top deck of a 747.

    Now all the planes are the same twin-engine planes. Doesn’t matter if its an Airbus 320 or Boeing 777, they’re basically the same except for the size. Yesterday I heard British Airways retiring all their 747s. Most airlines have retired the Airbus 380, the other giant of the sky. Just not enough demand.

    Of course Pre-covid it was as you say: budget airlines squishing everyone in, making planes glorified buses.

    In the old days I loved the flying as much as the destination. That ended years ago…

    1. wow, the upper deck! I’ve never made it to the upper deck! What a dream! who knows, if the effects of covid spread us out more, it might recapture a bit of the romance by removing the extra passengers. who can say?

  3. Sigh… I remember my first overseas trip in 2004 – it was at the beginning of the budget travel revolution, but it was still special (and not only because of my own excitement). Nowadays the process is like getting on a bus, even if airlines like Emirates and Singapore make the seats nicer than those on Greyhound.

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