Pan Am and a Dose of Reality

Posted by - October 19, 2011 | Category: Contributing Author

Being in Asia for the past few months, I had no idea that Pan Am had debuted. Or that Christina Ricci had lost all that weight.  


pan-am-abc-tv-show_thumb.jpgPan Am is the highly stylized period drama about the iconic airline in its heyday. It’s glossy, idyllic settings make me nostalgic for yesteryear. The yesteryear of a few years ago that is, when airline reality shows were a lot more prevalent than they are today. So as a salute to Pam Am, let’s take a look at some of the airport reality shows that recently graced, and in some cases, shamed, the airwaves. 

But first, take a peek at Pan Am

Airport Reality Shows

Airport (1996 – 2008)


Debuting in 1996, Airport was the first reality show to focus on airport sky-jinks.  Lasting a very respectable 12 seasons, it was a huge success for the BBC.

It perfected the fly-on-the-wall genre by following staff and passengers at London’s Heathrow airport, somehow managing to turn such mundane events as missing a flight, buying duty-free, or finding Heathrow airport parking into watchable drama.  Have a gander at this clip of a stranded swan for example. Sublime.

BBC Airport UK series

Airline (UK: 1998 – 2006, US: 2004 — 2005)


The UK series featured Brittania Airways during the first season, then EasyJet in subsequent series, while the American version followed staff and passengers of Southwest Airlines.

Whether in the American heartland or across the pond, there is a common thread to both of these series – white trash. Take this delightful “I’ve got a bomb in me bag” charmer for instance. Priceless.

Fly Girls (2010)


Having its wings clipped short after 8 woefully long 30-minute episodes, Fly Girls was Virgin America’s attempt to break into the reality television game. It followed the sky-high shenanigans and ground level laments of 5 female flight attendants as they tramped their way around the US – literally. Heavily scripted and high on fluff, it caused Variety to remark it “…has all the authenticity of a perfume spot.“ 

The series aired in the United States on the CW network, known for such thought-provoking programming as Pussycat Dolls Present: and Farmer Wants a Wife.  Considering the types of shows that normally do well in America (yes, I’m talking to you Bachelorette), I’m surprised this one wasn’t up for an Emmy or two.

CelebAir (2008)


The ITV show CelebAir  followed the exploits of 11 “celebrities” (I have no idea who any of these people are) as they took on the duties of cabin crew and check-in counter staff for Monarch Airlines in the UK. In one memorable episode, two of the celebrities were sacked in a tense double elimination – they partied in Ibiza instead of crewing their return flight to London.

Sadly, CelebAir was cancelled after only one season.

Luton Airport (2005 – 2008)



Luton Airport lasted for 3 years, but it’s hard to find any info on this show besides its Wikipedia entry. No stills. No trailers. Neither fawning nor frowning reviews. Presumably there are average folks in extraordinary situations – like missing a flight, buying duty-free, or – wait for it — finding Luton airport parking. Now where have we seen that before?

Inside Gatwick (2011)

The latest player in the airport reality game is Inside Gatwick. (Click on the photo see the trailer on Sky’s website). Looks eerily similar to previous programs.  Makes me wonder what’s next for the UK television market.  Let me guess…Manchester Airport, with riveting scenes of passengers missing a flight or buying duty-free. If the formula works, why mess with it?  It’s got to be better than CelebAir.

What airport reality shows do you watch? And did I miss any that you’d like to see on here?

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56 comments - add one
  1. i didn’t know that Pan Am is now airing… me, too! i live in Asia so new TV shows airing here are delayed.

  2. Not so much about airports as plane travel, but have you seen Snakes on a Plane? B-grade at best but might appeal to your sense of humour…maybe? I laughed a lot.

  3. It really is rather interesting how popular airport shows have become.

    I have admittedly been watching Pan Am, as I am rather fond of the fictionalized historic adventure genre.

    I also admittedly watch 2 episodes of Fly Girls and the descriptor for that one was definitely ‘trash’. Somewhat embarrassed that I actually watched 2 episodes in their entirety, but I was like a deer caught in the headlights.

    Not quite an airport, but an airplane show I got into this past Spring was Dust Up on History Canada. Pretty cool industry, that we don’t typically think about. Am on the look out now for crop dusters whenever I am on the Prairies.

    ~ Emme

    1. Thanks Emme. I’ll have to keep an eye out for Dust Up — I have not heard of it before.

      Sadly I did not see Fly Girls either. I blinked and I missed it. 🙂

  4. I had no idea there were all these airport shows! Funny that most of them are in the UK! I have absolutely ZERO interest in Pan Am and the sexed up shows on TV these days but Airport actually looks interesting.

  5. I watched the first episode-and-a-half of Pan Am. It made me want to be a flight attendant. I can’t believe there are that many shows! I have only ever seen the one about Southwest. And, I used to LOVE it. Such trash!

  6. Wow! Quite the history lesson. We had no idea about the shows twists. Looks interesting.


    Nancy & Shawn

    1. I only like reality shows that aren’t romance-based. These ‘fly-on-the-wall’ type shows are much more interesting to me. No challenges, no rose ceremony, no evictions. Just people doing their thing. Gives you an insight into the lives of everyday folks.

  7. I love the new show, Pan-Am. It has such good character development, which is not typical for shows made in the US. And it reminds us what we lost in air travel over the years. On the other hand, I dislike reality shows in general – such a waste of time. Thankfully, I never heard of any of these that you mentioned.

  8. I have never heard of any of these except Pan Am, that blows my mind. I love to watch the Amazing Race, so some reality tv interests me. I was surprised there were so many British airline shows.

  9. A while back there was a reality show called LAX and it was kind of interesting to learn what people did there.

    Of course it wasn’t scandalous so it was soon cancelled.


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