Glamour, danger, liberation: in a Mad Men–era of commercial flight, Pan Am World Airways attracted the kind of young woman who wanted out, and wanted up
Required to have a college education, speak two languages, and possess the political savvy of a Foreign Service officer, a jet-age stewardess serving on iconic Pan Am between 1966 and 1975 also had to be between 5′3" and 5′9", between 105 and 140 pounds, and under 26 years of age at the time of hire.Cooke’s intimate storytelling weaves together the real-life stories of a memorable cast of characters, from small-town girl Lynne Totten, a science major who decided life in a lab was not for her, to Hazel Bowie, one of the relatively few Black stewardesses of the era, as they embraced the liberation of their new jet-set life. Cooke brings to light the story of Pan Am stewardesses’ role in the Vietnam War, as the airline added runs from Saigon to Hong Kong for planeloads of weary young soldiers straight from the battlefields, who were off for five days of R&R, and then flown back to war. Finally, with Operation Babylift—the dramatic evacuation of 2,000 children during the fall of Saigon—the book’s special cast of stewardesses unites to play an extraordinary role on the world stage.
APPLE BOOKS REVIEW
Whatever you think you know about the history of stewardesses is probably very, very wrong. Journalist Julia Cooke is here to set you straight with this energetic, exhaustively researched snapshot of the glamour and challenges of international air travel in the 1960s. She draws on the personal stories of flight attendants who rose through the ranks of Pan Am, exploring how they defied sexism, racism, and sometimes their own families to live life on their own terms. These women’s journeys included moonlit adventures in various world capitals—and more than a few perilous military and diplomatic maneuvers on behalf of the U.S. government. Set against the tumultuous backdrop of the Vietnam war and the civil-rights movement, Come Fly the World is a necessary historical record—and a profoundly joyful escape into the world.
Journalist Cooke (The Other Side of Paradise) recounts in this dramatic history the surprising role Pan Am stewardesses played in the Vietnam War. In the 1960s, Cooke writes, the "cabin of an international airplane was a sought-after workplace for young, unmarried, mostly white women," with uniforms created by fashion designers including Oleg Cassini and Don Loper helping to burnish the stewardess image. As America's only exclusively international airline, Pan Am sent its recruits (who had to be single and no older than 26) to a six-week training course where they were given lessons "in everything from deftly carving a rack of lamb to asserting authority during emergency procedures." In 1966, Pan Am began flying thousands of military personnel every month on "R&R shuttles" back and forth between Vietnam, Hong Kong, Honolulu, Tokyo, and other destinations. Cooke follows the careers of a handful of Pan Am stewardesses during the war years, culminating in their recruitment for Operation Babylift, a 1975 mission to evacuate thousands of orphans, many of them the biracial children of U.S. servicemen, from South Vietnam before it fell to the communists. Skillfully intertwining jet-age excitement with the tumultuous politics of the era, this is a unique and compassionate portrait of barrier-breaking women in the 1960s and '70s.