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Fri Jan 25, 2019, 12:13 PM

Flying on Pan-Am's Round the World Flights

In 1967 and 1968, I was stationed in Samsun, Turkey while serving in the USAF. Getting there and back was a very interesting thing. As we're facing airline delays right now, due to the government shutdown, I was thinking about those two flights.

The USAF was kind enough to book the flights for us. For me, I flew from Los Angeles to Turkey outbound, and reversed that trip on the way back. Between New York and Istanbul, I flew on Pan-Am's famous Flight 2, one of its Round-The-World flights. I didn't get to go all the way, of course, but it was that flight. It left early in the morning from JFK, so I flew on a red-eye flight from LAX to make it there in time to board the plane. That was a Pan-Am flight, as well, but not part of the RTW Flight 2.

Anyhow, that was the longest flight I had ever been on. Five hours from LAX to JFK, and then 14 hours on Flight 2, which had stops in London, Rome, and Belgrade, before making it to Istanbul. Since I was flying on military orders, I was in uniform. By the time I arrived in Istanbul, I was exhausted. I spent the night in the Istanbul Hilton, before flying the next morning to Samsun, on a Turkish Airlines plane.

On the trip back, 15 months later, I was on Pan-Am Flight 1, which repeated the same route, but westward. That time, the whole trip took almost 24 hours, including a long wait at JFK for my flight to California.

Pan American Airlines is no more, and I don't believe any airline still has round-the-world flights like Pan-Am Flights 1 and 2. The food was great, the passengers came from almost everywhere, and a guy in a USAF uniform was of interest to the other passengers, so the trip was interesting, if exhausting. I was just 20 years old, had never been out of the United States, and was not sure what to expect from that journey. It was fascinating, though.

Now, airline travel is different in many ways than it was in the mid 1960s. It's not nearly as friendly, not nearly as entertaining, and not nearly as exciting as those flights were for me at the time.

Given Trump's shutdown, which may not end before air travel comes to an abrupt halt for a while, I won't be flying soon. The world has changed enormously since 1967-8. Belgrade, which was the capital of Yugoslavia is in another country now. I remember having time to get off the plane and wander around in the terminal there. I learned later that I shouldn't have done that, since Yugoslavia was a puppet country of the USSR, and I was supposed to have stayed on the plane. A guy in a USAF dress uniform was an odd sight at that airport, I guess.

For those flights, I didn't even have a passport. Just my military ID and a set of orders. It took me 20 years before I returned to Europe.

Heady times, those were.

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Reply Flying on Pan-Am's Round the World Flights (Original post)
MineralMan Jan 25 OP
Brainstormy Jan 25 #1
MineralMan Jan 25 #3
Dennis Donovan Jan 25 #2
MineralMan Jan 25 #4
NurseJackie Jan 25 #5
MineralMan Jan 25 #6

Response to MineralMan (Original post)

Fri Jan 25, 2019, 12:17 PM

1. very interesting. Thanks, but

I truly can't even imagine the exhaustion of such flights. Every trip I've ever made just to Europe direct from Atlanta has left me a complete zombie for at least a day.

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Response to Brainstormy (Reply #1)

Fri Jan 25, 2019, 12:25 PM

3. It was exhausting, for sure, but I was just 20, so

it was also exciting enough to overcome that, mostly. I was the only USAF guy on the flight, and there was nobody in Istanbul to help me get from the airport to the Hotel. I finally got a cab, and I had converted some money into Turkish Lira before leaving so I could pay the driver. I had no freaking idea where I was, really. The driver understood the word "Hilton," and took his fare from the small sheaf of Turkish currency I had with me. I didn't understand a word he said.

I had a meal voucher for the hotel as part of the packet of papers I was given. What a surprise that turned out to be. I had dinner in the Hilton's full-out European-style restaurant, with a waiter standing near my chair the whole time. It was my first experience with top-flight dining, as well. The meal voucher was for the restaurant's prix fixe dinner, which was a five-course meal, with wines. What a thing to find after that long flight. The waiter didn't speak English, but did speak French, so my high-school French got a workout.

The next morning, I had to get back to the airport to catch the Turkish airlines flight to Samsun, on the Black Sea Coast. Fortunately, the concierge at the hotel got me set up with a cab. Only my youth got me through all of that. I'd be petrified to be in such a situation now. These days, i'd have done a lot more planning in advance for such a trip.

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Response to MineralMan (Original post)

Fri Jan 25, 2019, 12:23 PM

2. Juan was still in charge back then...

...at least until '68, and he ran a great airline. I used to work for AA in the 80's and, granted it was a different airline, it was post-de-reg and service changed to the worse, dramatically.

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Response to Dennis Donovan (Reply #2)

Fri Jan 25, 2019, 12:29 PM

4. Yes. That was the heyday of international air travel, I think.

I always wanted to do the entire RTW flight, with layovers in all the major cities, but never was able to afford to do it. That would have been a terrific three-week vacation, I think. I'll never get to do that, though. There were plenty of well-dressed passengers on those flights, though, who were doing just that, flying around the world and spending a couple of days in each big city. They all seemed to be having a great time.

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Response to MineralMan (Original post)

Fri Jan 25, 2019, 12:35 PM

5. ...

Now, airline travel is different in many ways than it was in the mid 1960s. It's not nearly as friendly, not nearly as entertaining, and not nearly as exciting as those flights were for me at the time.
And not nearly as expensive.

I remember when flying was a "dress-up" affair. People didn't wear sweatsuits, leggings, cut-offs, flip-flops, tank-tops. But... the entire experience was much more relaxed and stress-free (for me, anyway.)

I enjoyed Pan Am (and National and Eastern and TWA)

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Response to NurseJackie (Reply #5)

Fri Jan 25, 2019, 12:40 PM

6. Yes. In real dollars the flights I took would have been really costly.

Pretty much everyone on that plane was dressed up. Men in ties, women in dresses. The food service on the plane was really nice, actually, too. What was fascinating is how many people smoked on the plane back then. There was no separate smoking area, either.

Now, it's relatively cheap to fly, but not much fun. Still, it's the best way to get from one distant place to another, nevertheless.

I remember a number of people on that flight who talked with me. I was an odd duck, really, being a young guy in an Air Force uniform, so I had no shortage of people to talk to, all of whom seemed friendly and interested in why I was flying to Turkey. I couldn't tell them much, though, which I suppose was interesting in its own way.

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