Pan Am Flight Attendants Describe Golden Age of Flying

By Christina Caron

Sep 23, 2011 3:27pm

Long before airline passengers navigated snaking security lines, bagged their own lunches and struggled to lift carry-on luggage overhead, there was Pan Am, considered the most glamorous airline in the world.

In advance of ABC’s new drama, “Pan Am,” debuting Sunday, Sept. 25, flight attendants who worked at the airline during its heyday spoke to ABC about their adventures. Part 1 of the documentary-style Web show featuring the former stewardesses was posted online today, with new updates to come every Friday.

Below, watch a clip from the 6-minute video.

Sheila Riley, who was a Pan Am flight attendant for more than two decades, described her experience as “probably the best 22 years of my life.”

To sum it up in one word, she said, “elegant.”

For Riley, “Being a Pan Am stewardess was a lifestyle, not a career.”

Former flight attendant Karin Fiedler said the experience shaped “everything” about her.

“The way you walk, the way you talk, what you eat, how you speak, how you put on your makeup and how you get out of bed, everything changes,” she said.

Pamela Taylor, a stewardess with Pan Am for 25 years, said flying during the “Pan Am era” (compared to the 21st century) was “the difference between heaven and hell.”

“Only 10 percent of the population flew in those days. Passengers often were very elegant, dressed beautifully,” she said.

“There were four things we definitely had to remember,” said Fiedler. “Do not talk about politics. Do not discuss religion. We had to serve the meat on the plate at 5 o’clock and you had to have fresh parsley. And that [was] not only in first class — in economy as well.”

Then there was the romance.

“On every famous man’s arm in the 1960′s there was a Pan Am flight attendant,” said Riley.

When men expressed interest, Fiedler said, there was one way to find out if he was truly eligible: just ask about his children.

“They will lie about their wife, they lie about everything, but when it comes to children, something happened inside and that was the end of that romance,” she said.

The stewardesses told ABC they had to be prepared for anything.

“Not only did I have to learn how to cook … fresh roast beef, five different ways — maybe right in the middle I may have to deliver a baby,” Fiedler said.

Being resourceful, the stewardesses said, was a job requirement.

“It’s a bit like children who go to boarding school, basically. You can put them down anywhere and they can cope,” Riley said.

But what the Pan Am stewardesses mention most about their time during the golden age of flying was the opportunity to become a citizen of the world.

For Pan Am flight attendant Holly Borowiak, “Being able to have access to so many ideas and so many varieties of culture, it was an education beyond anything I could have ever hoped for.”

The first episode of ABC’s “Pan Am” will air Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. ET, 9 p.m. CST.

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