By Jon Nickel-D’Andrea
May 28, 2015
Just north of Burbank, CA in a sleepy little town called Pacoima stands Air Hollywood, a set full of airplane fuselages, cockpits, and one special hangar, the Pan Am Experience!
For the uninitiated, Pan Am was born in 1927 and since its fall in 1991, it has grown to have a following of aficionados and airplane buffs who yearn for a time when airplane travel truly was glamorous and fancy.
Air Hollywood started offering the Pan Am experience last year, and has been selling out tickets for every departure within about 15 minutes of their offering. Demand is high, and for good reason. Who wouldn’t want to go back to a time when your meat was carved at your seat, where the liquor flowed freely and the uniforms… oh, the uniforms.
We arrived at the check in 45 minutes before our scheduled departure time for the simple fact that we wanted to be first onboard the flight. As soon as you walk through the doors you’re transported back to a Pan Am checkin counter, where we got our own boarding pass in 70’s style.
You can choose from two services on this flight when you buy your tickets, the Main Deck and the Upper Deck dining room. We elected for the Upper Deck dining to give a different feel and to try something completely out of the ordinary. We figured we would try our luck at a table for four, and hope that the other couple sitting across from us weren’t total antisocial freaks! We got lucky and had an amazingly fun young couple that were just as big into traveling and miles/points as we are.
The amount of memorabilia on display is huge. There are cases upon cases of everything Pan Am. I’m convinced that if these people stopped coming to this event (which by the way, it doesn’t look like will ever happen), the owner of the space, Talaat, and the “captain” of the flight, Anthony, could open a Pan Am museum.
There are Pan Am phones, credit card machines, luggage tags, seats, uniforms, bags, documents, lighters, playing cards, headphones, and the list goes on and on. It’s as if the show Hoarders met Up in the Air.
Talaat confessed that this was not even half of the merchandise, that behind the stage there was a veritable treasure trove of hundreds more pieces of Pan Am merchandise that eventually would be on display. We also overheard that during a dinner service on our flight, they will use over 700 pieces of dinnerware! It’s a huge undertaking, one that they do exceptionally well.
We worked our way over to the Clipper Club to start the evening off with some Champagne. The bartender was absolutely amazing. She was friendly and knowledgable and was cracking jokes all night. Everyone working here truly made the event more enjoyable. We were in good “spirits” for sure thanks to the bartending team!
Pan Am Champagne
I had to make sure to tell her to go easy on the liquor to start… the drinks were strong (that’s usually a good thing) but I wanted to make sure to be sober enough to capture all the experience for everyone! Don’t worry though, the drinks flow freely in the Clipper Club and onboard. It’s as if the goal of the crew is to make sure your glass isn’t empty…
There are gate announcements throughout the boarding area as well, and the first one was for the “flight crew to approach the check-in desk,” at which point the flight attendants, who looked like a group from a Throwback Thursday post, glamorously walked into the boarding area as if they owned the place, which in that day, they really did.
We were invited to board and headed straight to the Upper Deck, where we were greeted by Betsy and handed another glass of champagne. The Upper Deck is a mix of 4-seat and 2-seat tables, of which we selected the 4 person table. I made sure to ask our checkin agent to put two cool people with us to make sure that we had a good flight experience.
Luckily we met two amazing people from the LA area who truly made the entire experience more awesome. Thanks Brooke and Mads!
We decided to leave our carryon bags on the Upper Deck and have a look around the Lower Deck. It’s amazing how what was once called business class is today’s economy seat, and what is the first class seat of then is now the equivalent of a business class seat. The difference being the leg room. Clipper Class (business) was more like an exit row, and the first class seats had so much space that you could walk fully around the people with no one bumping into
you. On the upper deck, the chairs were these egg type things that reminded me of something in an Austin Powers movie. These, however, came complete with seatbelts.
Asked to take our seats we were guided through the inflight safety demonstration. What made this a little more unique, of course, was that we are never leaving the ground. True to form, we were reminded that “in the case of turbulence, we’ve probably got an earthquake, so a seatbelt probably won’t help,” and “the oxygen masks haven’t deployed in over 30 years, so I wouldn’t count on that,” and of course “in the case of a water landing, which would never happen, here’s how to use a life vest. Our stewardesses won’t be showing you how to blow into the tubes, however,because that wouldn’t be very lady like”. The comedy of the event and the alcohol made this presentation that much better.
Just after the announcement the music started from Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, the Chairman of the Board Frank Sinatra. We were serenaded throughout the evening with hits as “Come Fly with Me” and “Fly Me to the Moon.” If you’d like to click on those links, feel free to play it in the background. It’s guaranteed to make this blog post that much more authentic.
Scorching and boiling Hot towels started the dinner service, and in true Pan Am form, its all about the show. Dry Ice gave the ooooh factor.
The pilot (Anthony, our aficionado) came around with a very stern look on his face and pulled one of the stews to the side. It appeared as if we had forgotten to be “tableclothed.” Big no no of course (huge faux pax). Promptly the table cloth was brought out, along with bread, and the menus for the evening.
First course was a Manhattan Mozzarella and Pesto sauce which was amazing. The other option was a shrimp cocktail which I’m told was equally as good.
Our dinner service was interrupted by the announcement of a fashion show, the first of three that evening. The girls really seemed to enjoy dressing up, and we were treated to styles of the 70’s, 80’s, and 90’s. Let me tell you that these girls really know how to work the runway!
Now onto the main course. Just ask yourself this… when was the last time that you had Chateaubriand carved at your seat on an airplane? For that matter, when was the last time that you ate Chateaubriand? On Pan Am, that’s the standard. Add in perfectly cooked veggies, and sauces to match, and you’ve got the makings for one amazing dinner.
We even got to see the “clipper dip” because it wouldn’t be lady like to bend over while reaching for things on the bottom rack…
Shortly after the dinner service we paused for a trivia game. Not just any trivia game, but a Pan Am trivia where your knowledge of the classic airline will be tested, and the questions run the gamut of its 60+ year history. Yours truly was in a three way tie for first place (9/10 correct, not bad!) and we had to go to a tiebreaker. Because we were all doing so well, they decided to give us all the top prize! That night’s winner got The Pan Am Wash Bag! Thanks Talaat!!!
We appreciate it!!!
For the first time in the flight history of the Pan Am experience, one of the passengers got a dismal 1/10 correct. Now, if we’re being honest, statistics should have at least helped her get 2/10 correct if she just was choosing randomly, and two of the questions were even true or false! With that said, she was awarded a Pan Am Luggage Tag and couldn’t have been happier.
No, I’m not going to give you the answers to the questions, you’ll have to go yourself and test your mettle. And before you think that you can pull out your cell phones to google an answer, remember that 1) Cell phones weren’t invented yet, 2) All electronic devices (which there would have been none) are not allowed in flight and 3) No wifi at 40 ft above sea level!
On to our second fashion show of the evening showcasing the glamorous 80’s!
Once the models stewardesses left the cabin the cheese and fruit course was to begin. Simply amazing selection and the quality was amazing. Couple that with the copious amounts of alcohol wonderful cabin service, and the night was really ramping up!
Now, what you don’t see in that last picture was this little brown cracker on the plate. I got hungry and devoured it. Poof, disappeared. I don’t know what that cracker was made out of, but I had to ask for more and more. It was so good that I actually stole them off of other people’s plates (sorry Brooke). With that said, I’m sure that it was a Costco cracker, but damn was it good.
Our last fashion show of the evening brought out the 90’s. Only a 2 year run for Pan Am, but the times were changing and so were the outfits.
Last but not least, the dessert tray came around. Betsy once again asked for my selection, either the fruit tart or the chocolate cake, and my simple answer was “Yes.” She took the hint and I got to try both. Again, simply amazing quality of food and variety of choices offered onboard. Kudos go out to the crew working behind in the galley to make it happen.
Amazingly the night was flying by and the windows on the outside were still showing the same blue sky and clouds… guess that’s LA movie magic for ya.
As our flight was ending, the pilot (who I assume was no longer flying the plane) came out to have a celebratory dance with one of the flight attendants. Something tells me (although I can not independently confirm nor deny this) that this actually happened as well in the 70’s, and quite frequently.
Air Hollywood devotes a lot of time and resources to two very good causes, the Open Sky for Autism program and the K9 Flight School. Open Sky is a free program designed to help families with autism to gain the confidence and comfort around all that is the travel experience. The K9 flight school offers dog owners the chance to take their dogs on a full simulated flight experience from TSA to the Boarding area to the flight itself, even experiencing turbulence!
I’m going to refrain from calling this a one-of-a-kind experience because I know that we would definitely see ourselves back here again. The atmosphere was amazing, the food and service were top notch, and being able to interact in a space where everyone is in a good mood, reliving what it was like 40 years ago on an airplane, is an experience that everyone should have. If you’re given the opportunity to experience this (or given this as a Christmas gift like I was, thanks awesome husband) don’t miss out! This is one flight you’ll not soon forget!