A breezy account of Pan American World Airways in its glory days is smoothly interwoven with the engagingly complex stories of several longtime flight attendants.
Journalist and travel writer Cooke, the daughter of a former Pan Am executive, explores the global role of the airline in the 1960s and ’70s, before the company's decline and bankruptcy declaration in 1991. In this limber, well-researched book, the author touches on a handful of relevant characters, concentrating on three stewardesses, as they were then known, whose lives intersected during Operation Babylift at the end of the Vietnam War. Lynne was a biology major from upstate New York, Karen a former manager at a military service club in Germany, and Tori a young Norwegian woman with a gift for languages. All three were looking for adventure and a chance to see the world in an era when career options for women were severely limited, and they were selected for Pan Am during a period when only 3% to 5% of applicants were hired. Their lives in the air coincided with a time in which feminist impact in and out of the workplace was accelerating, and Cooke excels at placing their individual stories within this context without turning them into object lessons. She also examines, clearly but without a heavy hand, the close relationship between Pan Am and the U.S. government, particularly in regard to Pan Am's role in transporting military personnel to and from Vietnam and to various cities for rest and relaxation trips. Readers will be delighted with the author’s inclusion of many behind-the-scenes details, from the instructions stewardesses received to refrain from serving hijackers—remarkably common during this period—caffeinated beverages to a dress code that required girdles, white gloves, and slips (“grooming lessons took nearly as much time as first-aid training”).
An entertaining, insightful look into a gritty and glamorous era in air travel.