So here is a very different type of trip report. Recently I have been clearing out a lot of things from my childhood, which has included finding a treasure trove of belongings I’d forgotten about, including from a journey I made in 1985 when I was a young kid.
I was an airline brat. I didn’t have any particular interest in aviation, but I was lucky to be extremely familiar with it.
This particular trip was not long after my dad and mum had divorced. My mum took a trip back to the UK and took me along too. We’d flown over from Australia on a Qantas 747SP to LAX before changing to a British Airways 747. Unfortunately I don’t really remember anything from those flights, I suspect some ‘may make you drowsy’ tablets could have been slipped into my drink!
I do however have keep sakes from the return, which have brought back all kinds of lovely memories that I decided to write down. For better or worse, I thought I’d share them on here as maybe they will jog other's memories. So if you fancy reading on, can I suggest you click below to get some boarding music in the background https://youtu.be/p-JBhdXlyQ8
NB: Please note many of the old photos in this trip report are not mine (you can tell mine, they're the really blurry ones).First sectorFlight:
Pan Am Clipper 121 Aircraft:
London Heathrow To:
Los Angeles When:
October 1985 (I can’t find the exact date)Class:
Cabin Class (Economy)Flight 121's listing in the timetable
My family had worked for Pan Am since the days of Stratocruisers and enjoyed the fantastic opportunity of working all around the world. Ultimately they settled in Melbourne (Australia), before leaving Pan Am when moving to Sydney. After dad and mum split up, mum ended up seeking part time work out of the industry for a bit, but still very much kept in touch with her former Pan Am colleagues.
So after checking in, we went to some Pan Am offices at Heathrow Terminal 3. I remember going up what seemed like a long flight of stairs between the check in and arrivals buildings (I maybe wrong). One of mum’s close friends had become management and he took us around various offices where people she knew worked with lots of, “oh where are living now?”. I remember being made I big fuss of, “that can’t be your boy, he’s got so big”. Pan Am Check In desk at LHR Terminal 3 circa early 80s
He then walked us through to our departure gate, which was on the distant pier. Along the way they quizzed me on which country airlines came from, I remember there being lots of TWA and Pan Am planes all lined up.
My mum’s friend pre boarded us, walking on board and telling the purser who he knew to look after us. Boarding Pass Wallet, pass long lost
The purser was a lovely lady and as I will describe later on, she did look after us.
At the time Pan Am was refurbishing their 747 fleet, which was described in the timetable that for some reason got kept as a souvenir. Timetable
I have no idea if our plane was a 747-100 or 747-200. It was however in the billboard livery, which I remember because I hadn’t seen it before. A sister of our plane at LHR a few months earlier in August 1985
Unfortunately I don't recall where we sat but here is the seat layout for Pan Am's 747 fleet at that time from the same timetable.747 and 747SP seat maps from this trip
It had never occurred to think about an aircraft interior before, but the purser and my mum talked about this plane having been refurbished. Bizarrely that led me to remember a lot of detail about it! I remember the seats were covered in a dark blue material, almost purple, with lots of little suns in a lighter blue. The galleys and toilet blocks were covered in a matching dark blue. Some seats had the same pattern, but in a dark orange/red sort of colour. It was all quite smart. Rhetorically, how weird is it that I should remember that? Pan Am 747 cabin
It's quite strange to imagine how much Business Class has changed, most airlines in 1985 had 8 across seating, Pan Am was rather luxurious at 6 across.Pan Am Clipper (Business) cabin c.1985
I remember a lot of cabin announcements about the “Worldpass" programme, where you could earn free flights. As my mum had lost her travel privileges I remember trying to convince her to join it! She told me there was no point as Pan Am weren’t going to fly to Australia anymore.
The crew gave me a Pierre Panda kids pack, which I remember had colouring in. I can’t remember anything else about it, but it must have kept me occupied for a little while.
When it came to meal time, the crew didn’t serve us saying to wait. A little while afterwards they came down with linen and plates of food from First Class saying loudly, “we’re so sorry your special meals got lost”. Of course there had never been any special meals, they were just looking after us. I think the meal was Chateaubriand, but might be wrong. However, I can tell you that meat melted in my mouth and I vividly remember it was not like the food I’d had before. It was fancy!
The purser came around during the movie and sat next to my mum for a chat. They talked about the impending Pacific network sale to United. The purser did not really know if she would go to United or stay with Pan Am. I remember the purser saying that, “Pan Am just won’t be Pan Am anymore”
. A real sense of sadness hung over their conversation, “can you imagine Mr Trippe selling the Pacific routes? All because of domestic routes"
. A genuine disapproval hung over the word ‘domestic’ when either of them said it.
I guess it was the end of Pan Am’s global legacy and in 1985 they still flew pretty much everywhere in the free world.Route map from October 1985
On a side note about airline mergers, when clearing out this year, I found these old “Pan Am goes National” stickers which came from somewhere.
I thought to message my mum and let me quote her reply, “Destroy them. That’s where it all went wrong. Foolish men who borrowed too much money. What for? Domestic routes, silly little domestic routes”
. That’s airline mergers for you, 38 years later and they're still bitter……..
Anyway, back to 1985. With all of the blinds down and a grown up movie playing I begun to get restless during their conversation. So the purser took me for a walk around the plane. She showed me the galleys, Clipper Class, First Class and took me up the spiral staircase. One odd detail I remember is that those classes had a different movie playing to economy, not that I can remember what either were.
On the Upper Deck she started asking me questions about what we were going to do in America. I told her go to Disneyland and San Diego Zoo. She then told me that you could have breakfast with Mickey and Mini Mouse plus at San Diego Zoo there were Polar Bears. I remember telling her that there used to be a restaurant in the upper deck! She said there used to be but that because planes were busier now they had to put in seats.
The purser then took me back to my seat and said in a little while she would take me to meet the Captain. Sure enough she did. I don’t think the visit was terribly long, but it was the first time I’d visited a cockpit in flight. I remember the vast array of overhead switches more than anything. The Captain said it was a simple plane to fly and the switches made it look harder than it was. “Flying this thing is no harder than driving a stick”, joked the purser - which I remember the captain got a little defensive about.Pan Am 747 cockpit
I think afterwards my mum might have slipped me a tablet, but woke me up to point out the Grand Canyon.
Following that my memory goes a little sketchy. I remember pushing a trolley with two huge suit cases and being in a long customs queue where every bag was being checked. I think the customs guy must have felt sorry for my mum as he just waved us on. Somehow I got the trolley through arrivals without killing anyone (I could only just see over the top) and found the pick up for Anaheim. California 1985
Here are a few pictures from our stop over.The purser was right, a polar bear at San Diego ZooDisney MonorailMickey MouseSecond sectorFlight:
Pan Am Clipper 815 Aircraft:
Los Angeles To:
October 1985 (I can’t find the exact date)Class:
Cabin Class (Economy)
I remember much less about this flight, because it left at almost 10pm. Flight 815's listing
When one of my grandparents in the UK had been gravely ill, my mum had returned about every week and often transited through LAX. So a few hellos were had with some of the ground staff, who didn’t realise she had left. Check in area LAX circa early 1980s
One guy took time to tell me that our flight was on a special plane. It was a newer 747, shorter than a normal one, but that it flew faster than other planes (apart from Concorde) and further too. This was a 747 Special Performance, like a hot rod he said! A sister ship of our 747-SP at LAX in 1985
On boarding I remember this plane seemed older some how, despite being newer. I guess Pan Am had stopped investing in the 747SP fleet as they were going to United. It seemed like something from the 1970s - which I suppose was literally true! It’s just to a kid in 1985, the 1970s were ancient history - right?
The seat pattern was identical, but in much brighter ‘flower power’ colours. The seat in front of me was yellow and looked kind of dirty. I didn’t like it..
This picture from the database is of a 747-100, but it’s pretty of similar (you can see the yellow further back).
This is a video link to the same cabin designhttps://youtu.be/pkQ2ObJEokQ?t=1057
I’ve got very limited other memories of this flight.
I remember speeding down the runway but I don't recall taking off, because I fell asleep. At some point during the night my mum must have gone for a stretch because a cabin attendant was sat with me. I just woke up, she smiled and I fell asleep again.
The next thing I remember is being woken up by the cabin being sprayed for bugs just before landing. This was standard procedure for Australia at that time.
Considering how unusual a Pan Am 747-SP flight was, it is a real shame that I can’t remember more. Alas I can’t. Pan Am 747SP landing in SydneyThe verdict:
I guess if anything, looking back, there seemed a camaraderie between Pan Am people. Regardless of whether people on this trip knew us well, in passing, or not at all - they all went out of their way because of a common connection. I can't say if most passengers had the same experience, probably not.
Anyway, being so young at the time I can’t be sure that I’ve remembered things right. I just thought that maybe by sharing this memory of mine, it might help prompt happy memories for others - or at least provide a glimpse into aviation's past.
In case you're wondering, no "Pan Am goes National" stickers were harmed!