Simon Calder: Pan Am? Thank you ma'am, you're history
The man who pays his way
Simon Calder is Travel Editor at Large for The Independent, writing a weekly column, various articles and features as well as filming a weekly video diary. Every Sunday afternoon, Simon presents the UK's only radio travel phone-in programme called The LBC Travel Show with Simon Calder (97.3 FM). He is a regular guest on national TV, often seen on BBC Breakfast, Daybreak, ITV News and Sky News. He is often interviewed on BBC Radio, particularly for BBC Radio 4’s You & Yours programme and BBC Five Live.
Saturday 15 October 2011
Twenty years ago this week, the most glamorous airline in the world was suffering its death throes. No, not Dan-Air – that hapless Gatwick enterprise was sold to BA for £1 in 1992 – but Pan American World Airways.
In its last three desperate years, Pan Am suffered from poor management combined with the tragedy of the 1988 Lockerbie bombing, which killed 270 people and gave the world a lasting imprint of its logo lying shattered in a field in Scotland.
In a bid to survive, the airline sold off the family silver: the lucrative shuttle operation connecting New York with Washington DC and Boston, its flagship "Worldport" terminal at Kennedy airport and the prized routes to Heathrow.
By the end of October 1991, Pan Am was reduced to a Miami rump with no more trumps. Yet thanks to the wonders of television the airline has been resurrected: Pan Am, an everyday story of flying folk, starts screening on BBC2 next month.
People who watch the stylish airline drama may mourn the loss of the good old days when your ticket bought glamour as well as transportation.
In fact, they were the bad old days. In 1963, when the series is set, the cheapest fare between London and New York was £100 return – five weeks' wages for the average worker – and you had to book and pay for your flight three months in advance.
Today, if you could use some exotic booze in a bar in Manhattan, grab a flight on the last Delta departure tonight for £340, about three days' work for the average employee. Transatlantic travel has changed from being beyond the reach of most, to within the horizons of most.
The bankruptcy of Pan Am marked the beginning of the end of the era of style, sophistication and sky-high prices.
Less than four years later, easyJet was created. Cabin crew found themselves in the unfamiliiar position of having to dress in bright orange uniforms, the first consignment of which were bought in bulk from the branch of Benetton in Milton Keynes.
Instead of dispensing complimentary meals and drinks, the crew were obliged to sell cups of tea and sandwiches (and, these days, scratchcards).
Short-haul aviation has become a commodity, no more glamorous than getting on a bus. And now that the passenger is no longer obliged to subsidise immensely inefficient and wasteful airlines such as Pan Am, some flights are barely more expensive than the bus. For any traveller who believes the ends are more important than the means, these are the golden days of flying.
Legally, the role of cabin crew remains exactly as it always has been: they are there to keep you safe. The women and men in uniform are obliged to provide a safety briefing (and make sure passengers pay attention to it). In the event of an emergency, they are trained to help passengers escape the aircraft swiftly and safely. Everything else is froth.
The days of lacy white gloves and girdles (for the stewardesses, not the passengers or pilots) are long over. For democratic travel, these are the best of times – and the world is a better place.
The fraught art of guiding
The world is a better place for all the tour leaders and adventure guides who help us to appreciate fully the world's wonders in safety. They lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.
The Wanderlust World Guide Awards – in memory of the magazine's visionary co-founder, Paul Morrison — honour these outstanding men and women. The 2011 guiding gongs were handed out on Tuesday by Bill Bryson at the Royal Geographical Society in London.
The bronze award went to Kevin Albin, who spent 25 years as a police officer specialising in hostage negotiations, presumably ideal preparation for dealing with tourists.
Gaetano Barone leads Dragoman overland trips in South America. His boss, Charlie Hopkinson, cheered as Gaetano won the silver, but winced as he described a truck breakdown 4,000m up in the Andes (he mended it).
The winner, Bruno Dawsan from Sri Lanka (above), inadvertently broke the first rule of guiding: he turned up late. He had applied for a visa in August; it was granted only on Monday. The first available flight out was late, missing the London connection in Abu Dhabi – but Bruno turned up just in time to collect the gold.
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