Airborne Luxury Beyond Compare

March 09, 2016

Perhaps no other airliner has such a storied past as Boeing’s incomparable Stratocruiser. Starting life as the B-29 bomber flown in World War II, the “Strat” actually emerged from the larger and more powerful C-97 cargo transport and aerial refueling tanker in 1947. With its wide cabin and novel lower deck lounge, this “Queen of the Skies” offered passenger comfort and amenities unheard of at the time.

Like many other legendary passenger aircraft, the Stratocruiser was launched by an order from Pan American World Airways, guided by its visionary leader, Juan Trippe, who ordered 21 airplanes. Envisioned as an 86-seat luxury transport, the Strat was powered by four 3,500-horsepower Pratt & Whitney “Wasp Major” radial engines, and had a range of nearly 3,000 miles – perfect for long overwater flights to exotic and distant lands. Purchase price for each airplane was $1.5 million dollars US.

As if super deluxe service aloft wasn’t enough, Pan Am passengers were offered three levels of luxurious “Blue Ribbon Service” onboard intercontinental flights. Standard fare was called “The President,” and included a seven-course meal by Maxim’s of Paris. Complimentary cocktails, wines, and liqueurs were served, and passengers were given stylish Pan Am overnight bags (now collectible classics). Ladies even received a bottle of Lanvin’s “Arpege” perfume. 

Next was the “President Special” which came with a $10-per-passenger surcharge. This gave you all the amenities of “The President” as well as Sleeperette Seats and champagne, and was limited to 47 passengers who were lavishly attended by five cabin attendants on flights from New York to London, Paris, and Rome. On flights from New York to Rio de Janeiro and Buenos Aires in South America, “El Presidente” service was available for $10 and $20 surcharges, respectively. 

Similar service was offered on flights from the U.S. west coast to Hawaii, the Orient, and Australia. With a cruising speed of 340 mph, long transoceanic flights could remain in the air for nearly ten hours. In an age before digital satellite TV and endless choices of inflight entertainment, passengers needed novel ways to pass the time, which is where the lower-deck lounge came into play. Complete with a separate bar and cushy couch-like seating, this cozy area was accessed by a spiral staircase – harbinger of the Boeing 747’s upper deck staircase some twenty years later.

In the accompanying two-page ad first run in Saturday Evening Post Magazine on October 20, 1952, , we see every single aspect of luxury airliner flight depicted, from the red carpet for boarding the airplane to mother and daughter enjoying breakfast in bed, sumptuous meals, drinks, perfume, and of course, the “Downstairs Club Lounge.” All this, at a time when only three-percent of the population of the United States had ever flown in an airliner!