Air of Sophistication

By Mary Lou Bigelow

May 2016

Boeing means "aviation" to me. In 1959, after graduating from the University of Massachusetts, I joined Trans World Airlines (TWA) as an air hostess. My intro to flying was on TWA domestic on the Martin 404, and then the Lockheed Constellations -- 749, 1049G and 1649 -- but finally in 1961 I had my first love affair with a Boeing aircraft: the B-707.

I transferred to TWA's international division with flights from Idlewild to the European gateways. My first two flights were military (MATS) charters on the 1649, so I had the experience of a long flight across the Atlantic. What a fabulous transition it was to take the shorter, quieter trip on the B-707.

In 1962 I changed to Pan American World Airways (Pan Am), as I was anxious to see more of the world than Europe, and flew with that great airline until late in 1964. Again, it was the B-707 that took me on my 14-day schedule on Pan Am 'round-the-world flights 001/002 pattern from JFK as far as Hong Kong, with layovers in London, Istanbul or Karachi, New Delhi, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Teheran or Beirut, Paris and home -- my favorite trips.

We would see the same Pan Am business travelers over and over again. The number of passengers (200 approximately) were easy to handle for our cabin crew team of five. And serving in first class, with the wonderful circular lounge, seemed so luxurious to us as we treated our passengers to the finest of foods, wines and liqueurs on beautiful linen tablecloths and fine china. Our passengers became like extended family to us. We would not hesitate to accept a dinner invitation when passengers asked us. Our travelers in those days dressed and acted like ladies and gentlemen, not daring to step out of line -- as they knew the word would spread quickly to the other Pan Am crews of any ungentlemanly manner.

To this day, the 707 is "my" airplane. I stopped flying in 1964, but continued with Pan Am in reservations and ticketing and later lived in Afghanistan with my former training captain husband, John Bigelow, on Pan Am's Technical Assistance Program with Ariana Afghan Airlines for the B-727 from 1968 to 1974. Although Pan Am stopped flying Dec. 4, 1991, the Pan Am family continues to meet frequently for reunions around the globe. The Pan Am world was Boeing, and the two names -- Pan Am and Boeing -- will forever be intertwined in my world. Thank you, Boeing, with all my heart!

In this Pan Am Graduation photo, Bigelow is eighth from the left.

Courtesy of Mary Lou Bigelow