“Pan Am Karen” Tries To Scam First Class Upgrade, Smoke Onboard

If you think “Karens” are a recent phenomenon when it comes to air travel in the USA, think again. A pair of vintage PanAm training videos staring “Pan Am Karen” provide us a great reminder that there have always been problematic passengers onboard.

“Pan Am Karen” Sets Her Sights On Upgrading And Smoking Onboard

First, let me say I love these videos. They were made around the time I was born (which makes me feel so old), but nicely capture that pushy, annoying passengers who do not want to play by the rules have always been with us.

The first “Karen” video involves a woman who visits a friend in the non-smoking section and lights up. She is advised by the flight attendant to extinguish her cigarettes and initially refuses. A heated argument ensues. Pan Am shows two ways a flight attendant can handle it, representing a harsh, stern approach and second in a way that cajoles the customer into compliance. Both result in the cigarette being extinguished, but one approach alienates the passengers and the other does not.

A second video involves Karen trying to score an upgrade to first class…on a complimentary basis. Basing her claim on being a Pan Am frequent flyer, Karen very matter-of-factly tells the FA she must have an upgrade so she can work, also blaming a travel agent for misinforming her that the cabin would only be half full. Again, two possible flight attendant reactions are shown, with the message being that these sorts of situations can be defused by offering the passenger a drink and attempting to find her a different seat where the adjacent seat will remain open.


I do try to shy away from using the term “Karen” because I know too many nice Karens. That said, it’s a concise way to describe a proeblmatic passenger and the passenger above strikes me as an incredibly pushy and annoying woman who fits the label.

Sure, the video is a bit cringeworthy, but I like both of them – flight attendants in the USA would not be nearly as diplomatic today. And thanks to View From the Wing for sharing the smoking video yesterday (which led me to the upgrade video).