This is one of the first true reviews you’ll find of the Pan Am Experience at Air Hollywood, which is a must-do for airline geeks, Pan Am enthusiasts, airline employees, or people who just love flying in luxury.
The Pan Am Experience has quickly risen to fame as one of the best relics of aviation geekdom, initially launched as a limited, “let’s see whether there is a market for this,” to now a, “buy tickets before they sell out months in advance,” type of thing.
The concept was launched in 2014 by Anthony Toth and Talaat Captan, who come from very different backgrounds, but merged their brainpower together to let the Pan Am experience come to life, just short of being an actual, “in-air” experience.
Toth has been collecting Pan Am memorabilia since he was five years old and eventually collected enough swag to re-create the interior of a Pan Am 747 in his apartment. His collection moved with him and continued to grow after he relocated from the Midwest to California. Coincidentally, Talaat Captan, who is the CEO and Founder of Air Hollywood, helped Toth, “commercialize” the event. Air Hollywood specializes in providing airline and aviation-themed sets and props for major films.
The duo moved the collectibles over to Air Hollywood, in Pacoima, CA, and into a recreated 747 cabin. The 747 itself is just a shell cabin but is kitted out with three decks for the passengers.
This is perhaps the most challenging part of the Pan Am experience, simply due to its popularity. The event tends to sell out pretty far in advance, so it is best to have an idea of what dates you have in mind, how many people are in your party, and which type of, “seat” you wish to purchase.
It is also important to remember that tickets are meant to be purchased in pairs, so if you were planning to travel solo, be sure to invite a friend to come with you who would enjoy the experience. You can also book for groups larger than 2 individuals, but again, it has to be in pairs (so 2, 4, 6, 8 people, etc) and it also is subject to availability, given that the largest of the three cabins only holds up to 18 people in total (more on that below).
There are three options to choose from:
- First Class (Upper Deck) for $875 per pair, seating up to 14 passengers in total
- First Class (Main Deck) for $675 per pair, seating up to 18 passengers in total
- Business Class (Clipper Cabin) for $475 per pair, seating up to 16 passengers in total
It is important to know the product differences between the three options, but in summary, the main differences are that the Upper Deck is a bit more exclusive, yet social, as you’ll be seated at tables with swivel chairs, and you’ll get caviar, whereas the lower decks are better for couples (First Class sleeperette seats) as well as groups (Clipper Cabin has dining tables). Other than the caviar served on the Upper deck, the food and drinks are the same across the board.
I invited my friend Ben to join me on this and we ultimately opted for the First Class seats as we were the only ones traveling in our group.
One helpful way to know about when tickets are available is to join the mailing list for the Pan Am Experience on its website and you’ll get an email notification for when tickets become available at a future date.
Getting to Pacoima
The area surrounding Air Hollywood is very industrial and there is not much going on. If you live in LA, then this is less of an issue, but if you’re traveling to Southern California specifically for the Pan Am experience (or happen to be in the LA area) it is best to simply Uber to the location. If you consume alcoholic beverages, bear in mind that this is a 4 hour + event and there is a lot of socializing and boozing. You get access to the “lounge” before-hand which is open-bar, and the “flight” itself is also an open bar. So, it is probably a good idea to have a designated driver or just rely on using Uber, Lyft, Taxi, etc. 🙂
It is generally a good idea to wear formal outfits, given that the “theme” is early 1970’s, and while there isn’t an official dress code, per say, it is best to err on the side of caution and wear a blazer and a tie for men, and cocktail dress for women.
Once you arrive at Air Hollywood, you’ll be greeted by a replica of the silver, “L-A-X” sign outside of LAX airport. You’ll then enter into the First & Clipper class check-in desk, where you’ll receive your boarding pass, ticket jacket, and carry-on luggage tags.
One of my favorite parts of this experience was having the opportunity to peruse all the vintage Pan Am memorabilia that Anthony Toth has collected over the years. While I personally never had the fortune of flying Pan Am before it went belly-up in 1991, I absolutely loved all of the geeky stuff like the exotic IATA codes on luggage tags, the route maps, the advertisements, the seats, and other neat stuff, while sipping on a stiff Gin and Tonic.
Look at the luggage tags in the slideshow, and you’ll be amazed at how truly global Pan Am’s network was. At one point, they flew to Dakar, Bucharest, Brasilia, Santa Maria (Azores), Fairbanks, Johannesburg, N’djili (The Democratic Republic of the Congo), Rome, San Salvador, Stockholm, Yangon, Cotonou (Benin), Guam, Stuttgart, Entebbe, San Juan, Shannon, Douala. Just absurd.
You’ll notice that everything is Pan Am branded, from the cocktail stirrers to the napkins, the dishware, the attire worn by the cabin crews. It is remarkable how literally every detail is taken into account in terms of re-creating the replicas.
After some mingling and waiting for the rest of the passengers to arrive and check-in, we are all then summoned to board the “Clipper Juan T. Trippe” Boeing 747.
The nice thing about the Pan Am experience is that you’ll be allowed to be mobile for the first few minutes after boarding, meaning you are invited to take photos of the First Class on the Upper Deck, stairwell, Main Deck, Clipper Class and with the Cabin Crew, as if you were visiting a museum. It is something that I really appreciated as every aviation geek will want to check out the different nooks and crannies on-board a vintage plane.
The Upper Deck of the 747s in the 1970’s was largely utilized a social space or cocktail lounge. It was common for airlines to have piano bars on the second floor of the jumbo jets, rather than seats (or suites, as we are accustomed to nowadays!).
On the main deck, the cabin resembles a more traditional First and Business Class cabin. The seats and cabin decor have been uniquely restored to Pan Am’s original branding elements, which is super impressive. It is also worth taking photos of the crew, who are dressed as if they were starring in major films like Blow or Catch Me If You Can.
Once you take your seats, the crew performs the in-flight safety demonstration, which leads to much applause, laughter, and cheers as we settle in for our “flight.” Meanwhile, the libations continue to flow and menus are handed out for the flight. We first receive a hot towel service with dry ice, and a refill on our beverages of choice, along with packaged peanuts (no air rage here).
One of the signature cocktails is the Clipper Cocktail, which contains rum, vermouth, and grenadine. I opted for a martini instead, as I do not drink rum.
Then, the next surprise was the distribution of (fake) cigarettes. After all, this was the era in which smoking was still permitted onboard planes, so these were the faux kind used on production sets in Hollywood where you simply inhale and blow out smoke.
There was one thing that I wish had been done here, which was that it would have been neat to simulate a “take-off” as if we were actually leaving the ground to head up to 30,000 feet. This may have changed since we did the Pan Am experience, but it was indeed some feedback that I left (and was really the only critical one!)
The main event of the evening, of course, is the dinner. It is a five-course meal, consisting of a choice of appetizers, a protein, garden vegetables, fruit and cheese, and then dessert. You can request a special meal in advance, such as rotisserie chicken for non-red meat eaters, or pasta for vegetarians. I am sure that accommodations can also be made for vegan or gluten intolerant customers.
The menu is beautifully designed, with the artwork featuring the Clipper Ship, “Adelaide.” The menu stated that it was, “Pan American Cuisine by Maxim’s de Paris,” which is a French restaurant in Paris itself. I doubt the food was actually catered from there, but perhaps just designed off of items that may have been featured by the restaurant on Pan Am flights from back in the day.
As far as beverages are concerned, there were soft drinks, sparkling water, and juices. Alcoholic beverages included beer (Heineken and Amstel light), a full selection of spirits, and Eric Kent wines.
For the first course, there was bread served with a choice of seared prawns in cocktail sauce or heirloom tomatoes with buffalo mozzarella and pesto glaze.
While enjoying our appetizers, we were invited to partake in a Pan Am trivia quiz, and the winner would receive a prize. There were actually two quizzes: one was on actual Pan Am trivia, which I failed miserably, and the other was on IATA codes of cities that Pan Am served 😉 The winners would be announced shortly after dessert.
The appetizers were nice, but nothing extraordinary. We were eagerly waiting for the main course, which was Chateaubriand. It would be served from a cart, just like back in the 1970s.
The chateaubriand tenderloin was served with a demi-glaze sauce, seasoned roasted potatoes, and fresh garden carrots and asparagus. It also came with hollandaise sauce. It was tender, juicy, moist and delicious.
There is also the option to get the French cut chicken breast with Peppercorn sauce or vegetarian pasta.
After the main course, there was a cool fashion show put on for us by the cabin crew, which was pretty neat!
We then spent a lot of time interacting with other passengers as we digested our main meal. This was perhaps one of the best parts of the experience. We spoke with Talaat Captan, who invited us to tour some of the sets of Air Hollywood after the conclusion of the event. We also chatted with Anthony Toth, who doesn’t seem to ever get sick of doing events like this, despite having a full-time job with a major US airline. The social ambiance of the Pan Am experience is incredible just because you’ll meet people from all different backgrounds and geographies, and everyone has a personal or distant connection to Pan Am in some way, shape or form.
After we had some time to let the first three courses settle, we were ready for the final two. The fourth course featured a cheese and fruit platter with port wine.
By now, we were starting to feel full, but we had saved some room for dessert. The options included a Fruit Tarte or Chocolate Torte. Coffee and Tea was also available, as well as after-dinner drinks such as Bailey’s, Amaretto, Kahlua or a signature drink like an Irish coffee.
But that wasn’t all: the winners of the trivia contests were announced, and yours truly won the IATA codes contest! I was presented with a neat Pan Am passport holder as the prize.
The Pan Am Experience: Bottom Line
The Pan Am experience may seem pricey, but I thought it was totally worth it. Even though I never had the fortune of flying Pan Am growing up, I was always mesmerized by what people told me about the carrier. My parents flew Pan Am a few times and my grandmother once even took the around-the-world flight. It connected far-flung dots around the globe that no U.S. carrier can even light a candle to in modern times. Furthermore, the era in which Pan Am shone was the Jet Age, when flying was a status symbol of glamor and luxury.
I also think it is worth it just to pay homage to the creativity of Toth and Captan in working together to create this unique experience. I am also an avid collector of airline luggage tags, timetables, magazines, and other relics, so the collection in the museum spoke to me.
Finally, it is a really neat networking opportunity. Aviation draws people closer together and unites generations of travelers. The people who put the Pan Am experience to life are keenly aware of this and incorporate this magical touch into the set.
You’ll be made to feel like an Aviation Celebrity!