ConDuCting reseArCh
the “PAn Am WAY”
I feel compelled to say something about the processes of this research
project, primarily because in many ways my experiences speak directly to
the image and practices of Pan Am. This project has lived under a lucky
star since its inception in April 2005, when I read a small announcement
in a Honolulu newspaper about a fiftieth-anniversary luncheon being held
by former Pan Am “Nisei” stewardesses. I knew nothing about this group
of women. However, Pan Am was an entirely familiar name: the glamour
airline of world travelers; the carrier that promised a ticket to the moon;
the company whose name still graced a skyscraper in Honolulu; the airline
whose bag we mocked as a symbol of nerds; and the corporation whose pre-
cipitous fall from grace marked the passing of an era. Pan Am for me was
both the stuff of dreams and the mark of the Jet Age.
I missed the luncheon, but a couple of the organizers agreed to meet
me at a neighborhood Starbucks. That meeting was the true beginning of
this project, as the two former Pan Am stewardesses, now in their sixties,
spoke with me at length and with great enthusiasm. In their stories I found
tantalizing elements: romance (and less sex than one might imagine), race,
tears, melodrama, money, glamour, and the swinging 1960s. The combi-
nation was irresistible. The two put me in contact with other women like
them who met me at coffee shops and libraries and invited me into their
homes, and the corpus of interviews grew. The women posted news of my
research in the newsletter of the local branch of World Wings International,
the organization of retired Pan Am flight attendants, and soon e-mails and
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