The airplane speeds through the sky on its way to London as you dine on tender beef and caviar.
Afterward, you make your way to the lower lounge to socialize with other passengers aboard the plane while sipping on a refreshing drink. As the evening winds down, you head up to the main cabin, climb into your overhead compartment bed, and travel across the Atlantic Ocean safely tucked away under soft sheets.
This sounds more like a dream than reality for most people who have flown.
But for others, it is a distant memory. Former Pan Am flight attendant Bronwen Roberts used to fly on the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser in the late 1950s.
The aircraft was the epitome of luxury, seating up to 100 passengers for a vacation in the skies. With a cruising speed of just over 300 miles per hour, it was a great plane for transatlantic flights in the 1950s.
“I was so spoiled by flying these early years where the service was just so incredible,” Roberts said.
The extravagance began with the food that was served on board. French restaurant Maxim’s de Paris catered in-flight dining and offered a variety of upscale items including their famous beef entrée.
“The planes had their own ovens, and there was usually a beef tenderloin cooked on board and sliced in front of you,” Pan Am Museum Foundation historian John Luetich said.
Flight attendants could also indulge in the European fare, which Roberts admitted she did quite often. While she sampled everything from succulent lamb chops to pungent cheeses, one of her favorites was the caviar.
When passengers weren’t dining on French delicacies, they could head down a spiral staircase to the lower deck lounge. Flight attendants served cocktails, Luetich said, as people mingled with other flyers.
This style of flying is very unlike the flying of today, where passengers typically stay quiet and keep to themselves. In the lounge, however, flyers would chat and socialize, Roberts said.
After the evening meal, guests could sleep the evening away until they reached their destination. One of the special features of planes during this time was overhead beds. Instead of cramming luggage in the overhead compartments, passengers could pull down a bed and drift off to sleep above the plane seats.
Roberts never had the opportunity to sleep in one herself, but she was able to try it out in between flights.
“I tested them when we’re on the ground, and it was so spacious,” Roberts said. “Even a tall man could stretch out, and it was very comfortable.”
When the Stratocruiser was first launched in 1947, economy class had not yet been invented. As the idea of the economy class grew in popularity, comfort and luxury were pushed aside in favor of more seats and luggage storage.
Pan Am decommissioned the Stratocruiser in 1961 to make way for new planes such as the Boeing 707 and 737. Roberts transitioned to work on those planes, where she was a flight attendant for famous people such as Audrey Hepburn and Winston Churchill.
The 377 Stratocruiser is no longer used today, but its legacy as a luxury plane lives on. The Pan Am Museum Foundation has an exhibit about the plane in New York City filled with pictures and memorabilia.
Much has changed about flying today, Roberts said, which she describes as a night and day experience. Caviar has been traded out for stale pretzel packets and beef tenderloin has been switched to lukewarm microwave meals.
While she misses flying on planes such as the 377 Stratocruiser during the 1950s, Roberts is grateful to have experienced what she did.
“That was a wonderful time to fly,” Roberts said. “It’s like a wonderful memory.”