“Come Fly the World” Shows Courage in Pan Am Airlines Crews

My mother regretted the air travel she remembered from when she was young. Every time we flew, she told us about days gone by when you found a new outfit to fly in because it was an occasion. The show, the glamour, the service and the privilege of flying in the 60s and 70s. These are the times described in Julia Cooke’s “Come Fly the World”.

Come Fly the World by Julia Cooke

Pan American World Airways, or Pan Am, and the women who made up the gracious crews of the famous airline are the subject of Cooke’s book. I have only read and heard about Pan Am as the now defunct airline ended its operations before my time. Through firsthand accounts of several former flight attendants, Cooke was able to tell the story of decades of Pan Am’s history.

A poignant theme throughout the book is Pan Am’s involvement in the Vietnam War, a fact I was unaware of until now. During the war, Pan Am received a voluminous contract from the US government to transport soldiers to and from Saigon. Whether they left the war-torn country or were sent to face the horrors of battle, the men developed significant bonds with the aircrews.

In an emotional account, one soldier told a tearful flight attendant, “It’s really nice to see someone really care about what happens to us.” The women of these crews hardly knew whether they would ever see any of the soldiers again, or what would happen to them.

It was apparently common to be shot at by Vietnamese soldiers as they flew through the war zone, with some Pan Am planes bearing the scars of bullet holes. Pan Am’s involvement during the fall of Saigon is particularly interesting, as the scenes described almost mirror the images that emerged from Afghanistan in 2021.

The women of Pan Am, and the aviation industry as a whole, saw major changes in their field. Cooke discusses the evolution of what it meant to be a flight attendant over the decades of the jet age; including uniforms, marketing campaigns and leadership roles.

The book is full of information that I would never have considered or known and it was a real pleasure to read and learn. I may regret a time of travel that I never knew, but fortunately there are those who lived and worked in a time that someone my age can only imagine sharing their stories for others to compile. “Come Fly the World” gives a great insight into an industry and form of travel that I have always loved. Although it was slow at times and packed with information, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Jason Huggins is a librarian at Sterling Public Library.

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