What It Was Like to Fly in a Boeing 377 Stratocruiser
Breakfast in bed, followed by a spirited game of cards after descending a spiral staircase in a pressurised cabin, all while gliding through the clouds, seems like something out of a dream. But it materialised into reality onboard the Boeing 377 Stratocruiser, a defining moment in the golden age of commercial aviation.
As the Second World War came to an end, Boeing began working on creating a variant of its 367 models, adapting it for civilian transport. This model would have a length of 33 metres and a wingspan of 43 metres and could reach a range of 6760 kilometres and a cruising altitude of 9753 metres. The 377, named the Stratocruiser, took its first flight in 1947, catching the attention of the then-most important airline in the world, Pan Am.
Fascinated by the aircraft's performance and pressurised cabin, the first to have ever been introduced in the industry, Pan Am bought 20 units for 24.5 million dollars, setting a record as the largest transaction in commercial aviation then. Boeing manufactured 56 units of this model, with airlines like the Scandinavian SAS, the American United Airlines, American Overseas Airlines, and the British BOAC (predecessor to British Airways) deciding on the same aircraft.
However, Pan Am was the only one to reach peak luxury compared to its industry counterparts. The Stratocruiser's transoceanic flights accommodated 100 passengers on the upper deck and 14 on the lower deck, with 28 compartments with beds and bumpers for privacy.
These were located in the upper compartments with ample room for the occupying passengers. Breakfast in bed was also an option, along with bathrooms with separate dressing rooms for men and women.
Decadence from Maxim's
The galley comprised eight conventional ovens and prepared meals on the flights, all designed by Maxim's de Paris. Roquefort and caviar with a glass of champagne were acceptable starters, followed by beef tenderloins in the Burgundian style, cut into thin slices as they would tableside in modern restaurants, all accompanied by wines of the first line.
Cognac and coffee would then be served to end the decadent meal.
Lounge with a Manhattan or a Martini
At the bottom of the spiral staircase, one would find themselves in the lower deck, furnished with a spectacular lounge for socialising, reading, or playing cards. Of course, the lavish ambience was supported by a steady supply of cocktails like Manhattans and Martinis.
An era ends
In the following years, airlines reserved the luxury for those willing to pay a premium, creating a divide that would soon lead to economy class, making air travel accessible for many.
The Stratocruiser, however, didn't survive the years after a dozen accidents caused by its engines. Boeing retired the aircraft in 1963, burying the luxurious flights and elegant flying hotels that many dreamed of experiencing one day.