There is a romanticism about the Jet Age. The pinnacle of opulence; cigarettes and cocktails, curtains and thick-pile carpets enticed, enraptured and offered an experience only before seen on transport like the Titanic; the ‘who’s who’ of society waving at the aircraft door to onlookers desperate to get a glimpse of what it must be like to fly on a jet airline. It’s a bygone era, and one that can’t ever be replicated again. The act of scheduling in time to wave off the next flight at the nearby airport is no longer a priority in the calendar of life - people are indifferent to the charms, legacy and technical achievement of the jet airline because it has become a sanitised, everyman experience.
You can fly for as little as £20 these days, and it’s as safe, reliable and uneventful as it has ever been. Yet thinking (or rather reading... we’re not quite old enough to remember!) back to the point in human existence when the jet age arrived reveals a feverish excitement across the developed world. It was an aspiration to be a pilot or air crew; flaunted in films like Catch Me If You Can, where being part of a cabin-crew was a sensation. The act of travelling in style on these polished metal tubes brought with it a social status far beyond anything a new car or set of drapes could reward; to be a world traveller was the pinnacle of braggadocio. People wanted to travel the world, see the sights, and to be seen seeing the sights. Stepping through the curved metal hatch into a new environment never before witnessed by your own eyes, exotic and full of exploration and newness was enticing, endearing and romantic. The celebrity of it all was like nothing that had come before; red carpets rolled out, with gigantic boat-like cars swishing up to the bottom steps of a Concorde; it was surely the ultimate show of success.
Yet with each mile covered in altitudes previously reserved for the Gods, for each squeal of a tyre on tarmac announcing the arrival of more bulging eyed socialites, there were as many bulging eyed onlookers, designers and officials as, like the rapidly falling notes of trumpet fanfare announcing the advent of commercial jet-powered flight, the new jet-liners started falling from the heavens. The de Havilland Comet was a fatefully flawed design before it even took to the sky, but stands inadvertently as testament to the perils of rapidly advancing technology far outperforming the pace of understanding and consequence.
It’s all a bit Classy
First Class; as a noun it covers a group of people or things that are set apart from the rest. As an adjective it covers the very best quality or highest grade. As an adverb, it means the best experience. All of these descriptors can adequately describe what a First Class area is, when it comes to transport. It separates a group of people into an exclusive, higher quality, more enjoyable area of the plane, bus, boat or whatever mode of transport one’s heart desires. It signifies success, elitism, indulgence and excess. To fly First Class is to enjoy the very best in comfort, opulence, service and status. The economy travellers are typically forced to wander through First Class to get to their cramped, underventilated, uncomfortable perch for the next few hours, so that they can be exposed to what they could be enjoying, if only they were more successful, more wealthy or more frivolous with their money. As a concept, it was nothing new when the jet age arrived - just look to the luxury liners of the seas. Titanic offered the most potently visible division of classes by separating them by deck height; the richest and most important were at the top, whilst the poorest and least important were at the bottom. The same can be true of the jet-liner - the most important are at the front, with the least at the back, but in contrast to the Titanic, that is counter-intuitive for it has been proven through science and crash investigation that the least safest place to be on an aircraft is at the front. Human nature doesn’t care for that - they just want to be seen to be the first; first to get on the plane, first to arrive (literally, in three-dimensional space), first to get off the plane and first to get their canapes and champagne. As an added insult to those of us who travel in economy, we are made to traipse back through First Class at the end of our long flight; to gaze upon the reclining beds, privacy dividers, remnants of plated meals and drained champagne glasses as we attempt to unfurl our frozen spines and put as much space between ourselves and the child who has kicked the back of our seat for the last 8 hours as possible.
But why does First Class travel, as a concept, exist? It could be one of three things, to keep it simple. Firstly it could be a little thrill of the extraordinary - a treat, a way of experiencing something that, on any other day, would be totally outrageously inaccessible. Or secondly it could be that it’s just the way it’s always been, and that a lesser quality of experience is just unthinkable. Finally there’s the more divisive - the doing of the thing to get admiration from others. We hold ourselves to different standards depending on our position in life, our age, wealth or employment. We find enjoyment in certain things that others find completely banal. In the pondering of why we, as humans, find it necessary to create these societal divisions, we start to think of what causes us to cast aspersions on people who enjoy, or covet certain things. It opens a can of worms so inordinately vast that it’s quite hard to pin down why the concept of First Class is important. We are quick to judge. One might place importance on things that, to onlookers, might seem overly elitist - an exotic car, for example - yet the actual reason for that person owning or enjoying that thing isn’t to garner the admiration from onlookers, it’s purely to enjoy the human experience of it regardless of who covets or admonishes. It might not be a reflection of your wealth - that exotic car might come at the expense of a smaller house or consume all of your disposable income, but the thrill of actually doing that thing outweighs the cost of doing it. First Class, in any of the transportation methods, could be seen from any of these human experience angles. Equality is not typically a word which is fitting to use to describe the world around us, so it’s not too much of a stretch to understand why there’s a similar separation of wealth within the microcosm of a plane.
The introduction of First Class on the jetliners was inevitable, once they had become, in public opinion, safe. The concept was proven and thus segregation began. It was three years after the Comet first left the ground with paying customers that First Class was introduced. It could be argued that all jets of that era were already pretty swish, but there’s always more that can be offered for those willing to pay more for that exclusivity.
We must look through the prism of the 50s to try and understand what people might have thought about the concept of luxurious jet flight. No Google. No camera phones, no televisions. No ability to research the risks. No ability to watch YouTube and see for yourself what it would be like. There were only painted adverts, newspaper articles, the occasional photograph and word of mouth as means to know what that human experience of flying on a jet plane was like. And even then, each of those outlets would be tainted positively. It meant that some could only dream, theorise what it would be like to fly on a jet aeroplane. I wonder what they are eating right now? What does it feel like to travel at such speed? What does takeoff feel like? What kind of champagne is served? The onlooker would romanticise the experience of jet flight, not from a position of jealousy but from a position of the lust for more human experience; I wish it was me; I can only dream of doing that. We, in this age of instant access information, cannot comprehend what that would have been like - because, even if we aren’t fortunate enough to experience it for ourselves, we can watch a vlog, we can watch a livestream, we can take a virtual tour. We can travel all over the world via film, documentary, Google Earth, video calls, and a hundred other apps, forms of technologies and ways to connect. We have lost many an opportunity to marvel, to ponder, to wonder; perhaps that is why our focus has shifted to outer space - because it is the only part of ‘unknown’ that we may one day know. Now, while we still glamourise daring pilots and slick, high-tech aircraft, there are astronauts and billionaires venturing into the vast unknown, once more beyond our reach.
We have captured the distilled essence of First Class within the Pacific 55; the most beloved, thus far, of our Pacific collection. The richly textured dial is almost silken, encapsulated within the tri-finish custom tone gold-plated case. Elegant, refined and yet unabashedly opulent, it’s our celebration of the dawn of luxury travel.