The golden rays of a fresh sunrise gleam off the tail fin of a Pan Am 707 jet as the exuberant melody of Around the World rings in our ears. It's 1963 and the dawn of a new day at the New York International Airport-it won't be rechristened as John F. Kennedy International until later this year-and it's the morning of the new Pan Am Clipper Majestic's maiden flight. Her passengers, dressed to the nines with men in suits and hats and women wearing the latest fashions, wait eagerly to board one of the first commercial jet flights from New York to London. The sense of anticipation and the excitement of a new adventure are palpable.
We first meet the women of the Majestic's flight crew as they go through inspection. It's Laura Cameron's first flight as a Pan Am stewardess-a rare and select group of women who came to represent America's premier commercial airline. Laura, who has found herself the unlikely cover model of the latest issue of LIFE Magazine, is clearly feeling some first day jitters. Colette Valois, another member of the Majestic's crew, is there to save her from a very tough uniform examination. On their way to the aircraft they run into Laura's sister, Kate, who's also a stewardess assigned to the Majestic and she seems to have some mixed feelings about having a family member in her flight crew. Once on board, the ladies meet their young Captain, Dean Lowrey, who's preparing for his first flight in the left seat. The ladies find it hard to avoid the constant attempts at flirting from First Officer-don't call him a "co-pilot"-Ted Vanderway. The crew's nearly assembled and the passengers have begun to board, but there's one person missing...
Maggie Ryan wakes up to a phone ringing in her messy apartment. Bridget Pierce, who was supposed to be the Purser for the Majestic, is a no-show and Pan Am wants Maggie to take the job. Eager to get back in the air, Maggie agrees and rushes out the door. A quick wardrobe change in a taxi and a helicopter flight from midtown later, Maggie is boarding just in time for takeoff.
Colette starts the day thinking she may have found real romance with a regular passenger, until he boards the Majestic with his wife and son. We flash back to a beautiful hotel in Rome where a series of stolen glances and furtive looks gave way to a romantic rendezvous in a private room. Now Colette's in the extremely awkward position of taking care of her lover's family, showing his little boy the cockpit and even making polite conversation with his wife! The guy obviously wants to continue the affair, but Colette isn't interested and we can't blame her. We're not even quite sure who to feel bad for when, at the end of the flight, the man's wife asks Colette to keep the picture her son drew to remind her not to sleep with married men!
We flash back to Laura's wedding day, which is strange at first because we know she's not married. it's Pan Am policy that stewardesses be single. She looks gorgeous in her wedding dress while her overbearing mother nitpicks and criticizes Kate. Their mother doesn't approve of Kate's life as a Pan Am stewardess and wishes openly that she was more like her sister. But while Kate and Mrs. Cameron go have it out in the hall, Laura can't help but look longingly at the travel brochures and the Eiffel Tower snow globe in her sister's bag. She realizes there's a whole world out there, a whole other life, that she is about to give up. Kate and their mother return to find Laura on the floor having a panic attack. While mom goes to warn the guests that it's going to be a moment longer, Kate tells her sister that it's time to take control of her life and make up her own mind. The next thing we know, the two sisters are stealing daddy's car and running off to see the world, with Laura determined to become a Pan Am stewardess herself.
Kate Cameron is determined to accomplish something even greater. A couple of months ago in Rome, she was approached by an agent working for U.S. Intelligence and today's flight is her first assignment! She's got to swap the passport of a Russian passenger with an expired duplicate. This guy is seriously shady and there are some tense moments where Kate almost gets caught. It's only when the man recognizes Laura from her LIFE Magazine cover that Kate has a chance to make the switch. We're as surprised as she is when later, in her hotel room in London, the man is waiting for her! But he's not a Russian spy, he's a British one, and he'll be one of her main contacts. She just passed her first test! She also finds out it was no coincidence that she met her recruiter in Rome. She came highly recommended from their last contact at Pan Am, Bridget Pierce!
Dean spends his entire first flight as Captain worrying. He's not concerned about flying the plane-he's got that under control despite Ted's constant ribbing-but he is worried about Bridget, his missing Purser and the woman he loves. Flashing back to Cuba, we see Dean as First Officer on another Pan Am flight, begging the Captain to wait for Bridget. They're evacuating the last prisoners from the Bay of Pigs, with Castro's army gathering around the plane. Bridget arrives just in time with the last group of refugees, and Dean proposes right there on the runway! It's epic and romantic and we agree with Dean when he tells her to say ‘yes' because "it would make a great story." But Bridget doesn't say ‘yes,' at least not yet, and Dean gives her his wings for safekeeping.
When word comes through that Bridget resigned from the London office, Ted suspects that means she has finally said ‘yes' to Dean. With the biggest smile in the world on his face, Dean calls Bridget from his hotel room in London, but becomes even more concerned when he finds out the number's been disconnected. He takes a cab to her flat, but finds it empty. Well, almost empty. His wings are lying on a table, left there for him to find. Heartbroken, he joins Ted at a local pub where the stewardesses are also having their "debriefing." Despite his woeful attempts at wooing these women, Ted shares some keen insight with Dean. It's a new day and these are a new kind of woman. As Dean gets a little wisdom from an unlikely source, a somber Bridget looks on from outside before disappearing into a cab.
Welcome to the Jet Age everyone. Buckle up, it's going to be an adventure!