There's a nostalgic charm about "Pan Am" and the fashionable, forward-thinking nature of the female flight crew, but the show's entertainment value goes beyond its foray into historical events and interpersonal relationships. Modern audiences can find some shock value in the cultural expectations of women in the 1960s, as frequently exemplified, and challenged, on the show.
Flirting With Customers a Must
Everyone expects Pan Am stewardesses to be friendly, but the airline's policy seems clear: if a guest takes it too far, the stewardess isn't supposed to say so. Instead, she must politely end the conversation or tolerate behavior that makes her feel uncomfortable. Spitfire stewardess Maggie Ryan (Christina Ricci) offers service with a smile, but always takes matters into her own hands when things go too far. When one passenger tries to take advantage of her physically, she stabs him with a fork. In contemporary times, a flight attendant or any other corporate employee would be expected to report instances of sexual harassment immediately to a supervisor.
Despite being the magazine cover girl for Pan Am, stewardess Laura Cameron (Margot Robbie) finds herself constantly scrutinized for violating the airline's stringent weight standards. It's clear that the male crew members (pilot and co-pilot) skip the weigh-in; they're often seen walking right past the glass doors come boarding time. Due to discrimination lawsuits, there are no weight requirements for contemporary flight attendants. In real life, many airlines would consider Maggie Ryan too short for the job -- she's only 5-foot-1, and most American airlines have a 5-foot-'2 requirement for flight attendants. (She could, however, work for SkyWest: They have a minimum height requirement of 5 feet.)
Married Ladies Need Not Apply
Married women could not work as Pan Am stewardesses. On "Pan Am," this makes life both liberating and complicated. The ladies are removed from the cultural expectation of getting married and settling down. However, if they do fall in love, they must marry in secret or end the relationship. In "We'll Always Have Paris" (Season 1, Episode 2), pilot Dean Lowrey (Mike Vogel) attempts to track down love interest Bridget Pierce (Annabelle Wallis). Bridget disappeared soon after Dean proposed. While he takes it personally, Kate (Kelli Garner) knows that Bridget was actually compromised on an undercover mission for the CIA. Once the 1970s rolled around, stewardesses could remain employed into their 30s, even if they were married or pregnant. This was not the case for the 1960s flight attendants featured on "Pan Am."
Standards of Promiscuity
On "Pan Am," stewardesses have relatively liberal lives compared with their grounded counterparts, sometimes seeking flings or relationships with other crew members, tourists, passengers and foreign nationals. While this points to the success of the women's liberation movement, the stewardesses are still held to a different standard than the men, who are permitted to be more open about their otherwise private conquests.
Racial Segregation and Interracial Relationships
Pan Am stewardess Laura Cameron is growing accustomed to breaking boundaries -- she ran out on her own wedding day and made her career move. Despite interest from first officer Ted Vanderway (Michael Mosley), Laura chooses not to enter another relationship or explore her own sexuality until she meets an African-American sailor played by Gaius Charles, and shares a kiss with him after he's attacked, presumably for walking with her ("Truth or Dare," Season 1, Episode 7). As interracial relationships become more common in contemporary society, the portrayed forbidden kiss is the most poignant "Pan Am" reminder of how much has changed in American society since the 1960s.