There are two things that are almost guaranteed when I'm on a flight: 1) A fellow passenger will block the aisle trying to shove a “how is that regulation size?” carry-on in an overhead compartment. 2) It will feel like I have aged an entire year before the sea of people ahead of me exit the aircraft.

There are two things that are almost guaranteed when I'm on a flight: 1) A fellow passenger will block the aisle trying to shove a “how is that regulation size?” carry-on in an overhead compartment. 2) It will feel like I have aged an entire year before the sea of people ahead of me exit the aircraft.


On a recent trip, I watched a flight attendant watch a man who was having a difficult time fitting his luggage into its assigned space. She was standing next to him. She looked bored and a little sleepy and did not at any time during the struggle offer her assistance. Did I mention she was standing next to him?


I thought of these travel experiences as I watched the pilot episode of ABC's new period drama “Pan Am.” Set in the days when air travel was something people dressed up for, the series focuses on a group of Pan Am employees who proudly represent the jet age. The glamorous flight attendants wear white gloves and jaunty blue hats. They are welcoming, helpful and warm. Since this is air travel 1960s style, we learn that they are all under 30, lose their jobs once they get married, have to participate in weigh-ins and will be grounded if they fail to wear a girdle. In one scene, they walk or rather, strut through the terminal like supermodels. The camera then pans to a little girl staring at these beautiful, confident women. The scene is meant to underscore an earlier point made by the co-pilot, who says that these women are a “new breed” who are “taking flight.” It's not a subtle point, but the characters, particularly Maggie, played by Christina Ricci at her wry and witty best, are both likeable and relatable.


The flight attendants' passion for their jobs in “Pan Am” is matched by the enthusiasm of the show's pilots. The young captain is in love with the plane as much as he is with saying “This is your captain speaking.” He's also in love with flight attendant Bridget, (Annabelle Wallis) whose mysterious failure to appear for her shift sets the stage for the series' major plot.


“Pan Am” tries to balance its 1960s nostalgia with 1960s Cold War intrigue, but, again, the effort isn't subtle. A flashback scene where the crew is involved in the evacuation of Cuban exiles feels like the writers are shouting: “Hey! See the connection here? Air travel is historically important!” Still, the nostalgia of actual “friendly skies” helped along by great costumes and sets will only take the drama so far so it needs this larger context. Like all good stories, it also needs a crisis. The first episode delivers this, but it remains to be seen whether the female characters will develop enough psychological complexity to make them more than beautiful women seeking adventure.


“Pan Am” premieres on Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. EDT.


Melissa Crawley credits her love of all things small screen to her parents, who never used the line, "Or no TV!" as a punishment. Her book, “Mr. Sorkin Goes to Washington: Shaping the President on Television's 'The West Wing,’” was published in 2006. She has a PhD in media studies. To comment on Stay Tuned, email her at staytuned2011@hotmail.com or follow her on Twitter: @MelissaCrawley.