14th May, 2014

Looking back on The Beatles' flight to the USA on PAA Flight 101

© 1964 UPI

To coincide with the announcement of our new exhibition that will be arriving at the Beatles Story in October 2014, The British Invasion: How 1960s beat groups conquered America, We spoke to Jill Kellogg, a flight attendant on the famous flight that took the fab four to the USA on 7th February 1964.

The exhibition will include several sections: ‘Roots and influences of The GRAMMY Awards’, ‘The 1964 music invasion: The Mersey sound’, ‘The sound of London and taking America by storm’. There will also be a selection of interviews with GRAMMY Award-winning artists.

February 2014 marked a number of 50th anniversary dates relating back to some of the most important dates during The Beatles' time together. Perhaps the most important date revisited in February was the anniversary of start of The Beatles' invasion on the USA. The start of their invasion came when The Beatles landed at JFK Airport in New York City and were greeted by over 5,000 fans.

Jill Kellogg, a flight attendant on the famous flight spoke to us extensively about the flight:

"London, February 7th 1964, the crew boarded the crew bus at the Kensington Palace Hotel. All in order and nothing unusual. This was the second leg of my very first trip: New York to London and then back to New York. About 15 minutes on route to the airport, the First Officer stood up facing the Flight Service Crew; “guess who we have on board today?” He had on a Beatle mask. Lots of “ohs, mys, yikes,” etc., etc., went through the lot of the young women. “Who are the Beatles”, I asked. Dumb question, I guess!

Having been in a restrictive educational and boarding environment for a few years, I was not ‘in tune’ with current rock and roll pop songs or most popular music. Well, I thought, they are probably a passing fancy and no need to get excited about this one. However, there were two additional stewardesses from standby on the crew bus; some indication of a busy flight.

London Airport proved to be a madhouse. Thousands of fans all over the place. Almost as if we, the crew, were the celebrities about to board.  In checking out the aircraft we also found the First Class configuration was not 20 seats, but 40 and I was already scheduled to work first class. “Oh boy”, I thought. As soon as the “Fab Four” (which they were later named) came out of the terminal to board the aircraft, the fans went wild…and wild was a good way to describe the next eight hours! 

The passengers in economy, by this time, (they had already boarded) knew about the celebrities they would be travelling with and were just as excited as the fans outside. The large configuration of seats was due to the celebrity entourage which consisted of ABC, BBC and NBC news media, The Beatles with wives and/or girlfriends, and Brian Epstein, their manager.

Twenty minutes into the flight, the bedlam began. Ringo, Paul and George were in the aisles talking to others of their group, taking pictures of everyone, many of the crew and in general, just totally enjoying the excitement of their first trip to the USA to be on the Ed Sullivan show. Although they were quite young, they were all very mannerly and polite and pleasant to serve. Their excitement was infectious.

Back then, all of First Class meals were served from carts. The meals consisted of 7 courses, which meant 7 separate serving carts;  drinks and beverages, hors d’oeuvres, soup, main entrée, dessert, cheese and fruit, and finally coffee and aperitif. With that many passengers in First Class, it took all of the flight from London to JFK to serve the meal!

There was absolutely no time to speak more than one or two sentences to any of George, Ringo, John or Paul. It was mostly, “we will be serving the meal with our cart service in a few minutes, so would you kindly take your seats, otherwise, we won’t be able to get the carts through with you in the aisles”. Or, “ok gentlemen, we are coming through, please, please sit down!”

As we taxied to our gate, I could see thousands of fans awaiting us….5,000-15,000, I am not good at judging numbers, but it was a giant sea of people! Hardly many heads visible, but many hands and arms waving, handkerchiefs,  (it’s like, do you know how to count the number of sheep in a field? Count the legs and divide by four!). 

Opening the cabin door, the crew could not hear one another speak, the screams and yells from the masses outside were overwhelming. I think it was then that I realized this group of four young men was more than a passing fancy….it was truly the beginning of The Beatles' Invasion.  And, it was an incredible way to begin a new career as a stewardess with Pan Am. Needless to say, I did become a fan and my enthusiasm has been passed on to my children!"

The British Invasion: How 1960s beat groups conquered America will officially open on 16th October 2014



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