What is it? This is a little hard to explain. First and foremost, the Pan Am Experience is an all-you-can-drink dining event that allows visitors to sample the glamour of the golden age of flight – if you agree, that is, that the “golden age of flight” was represented by the American airline in the 1970s. It is the brainchild of the aptly named Talaat Captan, founder and chief executive of Air Hollywood studios, who says he hopes “we can remind people of the days when flying was fun!”
You start by “checking in” and receiving historically accurate luggage tags and boarding passes, then it is pre-flight drinks in the Clipper Club, where you meet your fellow travellers amid a considerable amount of Pan Am memorabilia, before boarding an honest-to-God 747 Jumbo Jet. On board, most of the props are genuine artefacts from flights of yesteryear, or, at the very least, painstakingly made recreations.
And where are we going? There is no actual flying involved. The experience takes place on a massive sound stage in Los Angeles, in the United States. Not ideal if you are expecting to see the world, but great if you are a film buff. The stage is still routinely used and the on-board scenes in many motion pictures have been filmed here.
After your flight, you can peruse more memorabilia – including whole fuselages used in sets – and take a tour to see where movies such as Airplane! (1980) were filmed.
Flying is miserable, surely. Well yes, and don’t call me Shirley. Forty years ago, though, the experience was apparently way more luxe – even in economy. Expect big comfy seats, wide aisles, an upstairs lounge and many a full bar. Part of the fun is getting to know your fellow passengers – rather than resent them for hogging the armrest – sharing a drink and getting into character. It is like a renaissance fair but for rich people who prefer dry martinis to turkey legs.
OK, but airline food? Again, this is not a real plane. If it were, it is unlikely you’d be served shrimp cocktail and chateaubriand, with cakes and pies coming from a dessert cart sagging under an impressive selection. Then there is the drinking. While we are sure you would have a blast sober, like the real 70s, much of the focus seems to be on getting as loose as possible.
Should I bring a book? If you do, it will go unread. The Pan Am Experience is basically dinner theatre, with every flight featuring enough action to keep you entertained. The night we flew saw a fashion show of Pan Am uniforms from down the years and even an aeronautical trivia contest. You won’t be bored.
What will it cost me? The Pan Am Experience is not cheap. In fact, for the price of dinner you might be able to get an actual flight from LA to New York. Tickets are divided by class, with the cheapest running at US$475 for two, and a pair of tickets for the upper deck going for a whopping US$875. Other than the chairs themselves – the ones upstairs swivel – the main difference between the classes is that the upper deck comes with a caviar course.