“Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Ladies of Pan Am” by Julia Cooke. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. 266 pp. $28. Overview supplied by The Washington Submit.
Even earlier than the pandemic crippled the airline trade final 12 months, no matter sheen of romance worldwide air journey as soon as held had lengthy worn off. Blame the shrinking seats, the increasing charges, the endless safety strains. As swift and accessible – and albeit, miraculous – as flying had grow to be within the twenty first century, it was fully uncontroversial to seek out it depressing, too.
However after a 12 months of extreme restrictions on journey, it’s simple to overlook these small miseries. So a brand new guide trying again on the top of the jet age presents multiple scrumptious taste of escapism. Focusing largely on the Sixties, “Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of the Ladies of Pan Am” remembers a time when air journey was synonymous with luxurious and glamour – not only for passengers but in addition for the ladies employed to attend on them.
Julia Cooke, the daughter of a Pan Am government, builds “Come Fly the World” round interviews with 5 girls: Clare, Karen, Lynne, Hazel and Tori; 4 White, one Black; 4 American, one Norwegian. For some, working as a Pan Am stewardess was at all times the dream; for others, it was the backup plan that kicked in when their visions of a profession in biology or the Overseas Service light. For all of them, working for Pan Am was transformative.
Within the earliest days of business air journey, cabin attendants had been completely male, however by the Nineteen Fifties rising competitors amongst carriers modified that: “Every airline tried to persuade prospects that it had the very best degree of luxurious and repair, and the ladies who served a predominantly male clientele grew to become a selected promoting level,” Cooke writes. Pan Am – on the time, the one American airline to fly completely worldwide routes – had a selected status for sophistication to keep up. “We should add to (our excellence) ‘a brand new dimension’ – that’s, emphasis on what pleases folks. And I do know of nothing that pleases folks extra,” chief government Najeeb Halaby would later clarify, “than feminine folks.”
Pan Am’s recruiting technique centered on engaging stressed, formidable girls into its ranks. “How are you going to change a world you’ve by no means seen?” one job advert learn. What Pan Am promised was a type of training, and, in Cooke’s telling, it attracted girls who valued the identical. All through the Sixties, a full 10% of Pan Am stewardesses had attended graduate faculty – a surprising determine at a time when solely 6% to eight% of American girls even held a school diploma. However nonetheless, seems to be had been key.
Coaching included classes in grooming in addition to instruction in aviation historical past and emergency procedures. Would-be stewardesses had been taught in regards to the workings of brake spoilers, vortex turbines and ailerons; proven how you can put together Malayan hen curry; and quizzed on cocktail recipes.
As soon as put in as a Pan Am stewardess, a girl all of a sudden had entry to an infinite parade of latest experiences: dinner events in Monrovia, nights on the Phoenicia InterContinental lodge in Beirut, holidays within the Philippines, procuring in Paris. A Pan Am stewardess would possibly discover herself evading the KGB in Moscow and buying and selling recipe playing cards for piroshki together with her Aeroflot counterparts. Or calming a cabin stuffed with passengers as Ghanaian gunmen kidnapped Guinean ministers from a flight in Accra.
This life-style had a value. Pan Am performed month-to-month weigh-ins of its employees and required a girl to hunt her supervisor’s approval if she wished to alter her coiffure. Marriage or being pregnant had been nonnegotiable, career-ending circumstances – girls who launched into both typically hid them for so long as potential. Because the Sixties was the Nineteen Seventies, stewardesses started bringing grievances to the Equal Employment Alternative Fee and, ultimately, successful their circumstances. However these victories got here slowly.
It might be a mistake, nonetheless, to see the story of the ladies of Pan Am as merely a story of Sixties feminine empowerment. Essentially the most startling chapters of “Come Fly With Me” heart on Pan Am’s position in the course of the Vietnam Struggle, when the airline supplied to ferry troops from Saigon throughout Asia for leisure at a deep low cost to the federal government. Stewardesses grew to become nurses and counselors to injured and traumatized troopers, witnesses to occasions at direct odds with the U.S. authorities’s narrative about Vietnam. On the struggle’s finish, it was these slim, unflappable, worldly girls who had been liable for ferrying tons of of younger youngsters in a foreign country in the course of the controversial Operation Babylift. Theirs was excess of a front-row view of historical past. “The world is ready,” Pan Am’s need advertisements had promised. “See issues, do issues, be taught issues.” And they also did. It was, in any case, what they signed up for.
– Reviewed by Mythili G. Rao, who’s a journalist, audio producer and guide critic based mostly in London.