Wednesday, 28 October 2009

An ode to Pan Am

The words "appalling" and "airlines" are synonymous in the language (allegedly English) spoken in the US of A. It wasn't that way some time ago. Pan Am was synonymous with "wonderful", as long as it flew. It was THE airline in the US. Unfortunately it went bankrupt in 1991. But the brand is still powerful amongst a certain generation (not comprising readers of this blog !). Those with a taste for nostalgia, which prompted this post, click here .

No amount of vitriol can be considered excessive when it comes to US airlines. All of them are uniformly awful. Extreme masochism can be the only excuse for condemning somebody to a flight on an American airline. The worst airports in the world are all in the US. From the moment you enter to check in, to the time you get out at your destination, it is pure torture. Inside the US, you have no choice but to reconcile to extreme pain, but it beats me as to why anybody flies long haul in an US airline when other options exist. To read an eminent American's surprise that airlines can actually be pleasant elsewhere in the world, click here .

Pan Am wasn't like that. It could compete with the best in the world.  If you were to go the US, you chose Pan Am. Unfortunately 270 people chose Pan Am on that fateful flight in 1988 which was bombed over Lockerbie - a blow from which the airline itself never recovered. Its decline had started much earlier with the oil price shocks and increasing competition, but that terrorist act was a body blow. It shut shop in 1991, ending a glorious chapter in US aviation. Only to unleash the monsters that inhabit the US skies now.

I have no idea who owns the brand rights to Pan Am, but certainly to an older generation, it represents civilised flying. How about an entrepreneur reinventing the airline and launching a decent flying option in the US.  Standards have fallen so low there, that there surely must be a segment which is willing to pay higher prices to travel in a humane manner. Now, that's a thought. Any takers ? Maybe the thoughtful train can morph into a thoughtful plane ?

PS - I have just got down from a plane. One of the finest airlines in the world, in one of the finest airports in the world. I am thanking my stars,  that its a million miles away from the country where "terrorists" rule the sky.


  1. //I have just got down from a plane. One of the finest airlines in the world, in one of the finest airports in the world//

    I think I know :)

  2. //Maybe the thoughtful train can morph into a thoughtful plane ?

    en ellai ennu kekkaren ;)

  3. @Sri - Unfortunately only passing by Sri - Would love to get together sometime soon. On second thoughts, maybe I'll wait for the very important person to join you !!

  4. Oh,how we missed that :(

  5. kiwibloke28/10/09

    Ramesh while I agree that most of the American airlines and airports are bad (putting it mildly), you will be pleasantly surprised if you travel between obscure airports (like Dayton OH to Milwaukee WI) on the small planes (pencils with a center aisle and 1+2 config), the warmth and welcoming feeling you get is too good to be true. I guess it is a trait of the more welcoming and friendly midwest - there is an America beyond the North East corridor and the west coast. You find some really genuine warmth. Some of my best plane travels have been on these parts. However nothing beats the hospitality and the warmth of the Asian airlines, sometimes plasticky but overall great.

  6. About American Airlines... Domestic flights in India are better anyday!

    //finest airlines and finest airport// I guess... no I am damn sure where you are! My ex-boss' favourites too! :)

  7. Ramesh,

    I could imagine what Pan am would have been from your nice words. It should have been a great experience. Probably, the name dosent ring a bell and so i am probably not connecting.

    while quite out of context as many times, i think, i feel, that the journey is made memorable by the purpose or the underlying context rather than the luxury of flying. one of the few flight journey i really remember is the one i took to give my job interview in Mumbai - i did not even know how to tie the seat belt then. My mom saw me off at the chennai airport. my father had taken a train a day earlier and was waiting for me at Mumbai airport for me :-)

    whatz there in a round constrained cabin where your life itself is not certain. anything from terrorists to a bird can determine your fate.

  8. @AJCL :( Unfortunately so. Such is the curse of business travel. But I am coming for the next blogger's meet that you organise ....

    @athivas :( What to do ..

    @Kiwi - Absolutely right. Small town America is still grand. Remember our joint trip to Milwaukee ... Unfortunately to get there, we have to cross hellholes like Chicago or JFK.

    @Deepa - Yes, he's still in love with that place, although these days he's not going there much.

    @Sandhya - Pan Am closed shop before you were born :) :) - so I know you can't relate to it !

    Lovely story of your first flight. I'm sure we can all remember our first flights and how wide eyed we were.

  9. Ramesh - thanks

    last week - kalyan added 10 years to my age while booking train tickets. when asked why, he thought so. :-(

    Nice that you were right about my age right (a lil lesser but dont mind that at all :-))

  10. You bring up two (in my mind, separate) issues: poor airline service and horrible airports. The airlines' problems are complex and I don't see a way out. But the airport experience for domestic travel within the US is improving as far as I can tell. For one as kiwibloke says, smaller airports are easy to negotiate and even in the bigger ones, if you follow the drill - shoes off, laptop out, coins taken out of pockets... it is pretty smooth. But then poor mortals like me who travel in the "cattle class" hardly have the luxurious business and first class experiences to compare this against and so maybe I have no idea what I am talking about :-)

  11. You are right, I agree with you.
    Great post!

  12. Exkalibur66630/10/09

    The experience of airport security as written by J would be all the more interesting if your boarding pass had 'SSSS' printed on a corner... then you would have an interesting time.

  13. @J - Right - poor airline and poor airports are two different things as you point out. In the airlines case, its surely because customes have demanded only a cheap price and to hell with everythin else - they wouldn't mind standing and flying if that would give a cheap price. But its gone down so far that there must be a segment whihc would be willing to pay a normal economy price for a decent flying experience. On airports, nothing can excuse O'Hare (couldn't resist that !). My vote for the second worst airport in the world - JFK wins the contest hands down.

    @Dave - Xie Xie ni

    @Exkalibur - I have had that unfortunate experience half a dozen times. But this one I can sympathise with - with the threat to the skies, this sort of stuff is perhaps inevitable.

  14. very clever answer but still ...:) ok someday I would get to punch u in the biceps hehe :)

  15. @Sri - I have no biceps; so you can't much succeed :):) There's no spice in life if I can't pull your leg .....

  16. u have no biceps then punching would be very easy :)

  17. yes and I like getting pulled too ;)

  18. Wow, I would love to have that job! :D As you know, I just traveled around the globe and its been pleasant thanks to the lovely Jet Airways staff! I have been on an American airlines just once and they are totally out of touch with the rest of aviation industry.

  19. @thoughtful train - Hurray, we now have a thoughtful train and a thoughtful plane.


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