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Passengers, Flight Attendants Air Their Thoughts

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It had always been my dream as a little girl to be an airline attendant. After one year of college, I was accepted by Continental Airlines to attend their flight school in Los Angeles. It was a six-week course about airplanes, emergency procedures, first aid, CPR, etiquette, makeup, hair and most of all not being overweight. Out of 40 women, only 20 graduated from flight school. Airlines at that time prided themselves on the flight attendants because we were the best advertisement for Continental. We wore designer summer and winter uniforms. It gave us all a feeling of pride to know that we were not just a number with the company but we were a name. I only had two people get mad and upset with me the entire two years. I refused to serve them any more liquor because they were both drunk. The captain came out and reminded them that I had the authority to close off the bar.
I had four emergency landings during my two years. The one that sticks out in my mind about how wonderful passengers were back then happened over the Rocky Mountains. We were one hour away from landing, and we had served spaghetti for the dinner entree. The captain came over the loud speaker and told everyone to strap on their seat belts. Turbulence was just ahead of us. Within two minutes, we hit a wind shear and the aircraft fell 1,000 feet. Food and flight attendants were headed for the ceiling of the aircraft. Passengers grabbed flight attendants and held on to us until the aircraft was able to regain altitude. Every person on that aircraft was wearing spaghetti, wine and salad. The interior of the plane looked like we had a food fight. Not one passenger complained about the wind shear or their soiled clothing. We broke out the liquor and beer and offered free drinks since dinner was on the ceiling. All dry-cleaning charges were picked up by Continental, and letters from passengers came to our supervisors congratulating the airline for hiring such competent and professional staff.
I flew some of the same routes for a period of a few months, so I got to know my passengers. I announced on my last flight that I was getting married. Much to my surprise a few wedding gifts were sent to Continental that were forwarded on to me. The next surprise was four of my passengers showed up for my wedding in Denver. We treated people with respect, and that was one reason we had a successful airline. It saddens me today to see how the airlines treat their passengers and employees. We have lost our human decency all for the sake of the mighty buck. I hate airports and flying now because it reminds me of how our country has become so greedy. Treat people the way you would like to be treated, and this old world would not be in the fix it is in today.
– Barbara Pannabecker, a 65-year-old grandmother
In my time — as well as during the glory days of aviation, only one of 200 hand-picked applicants was considered to be hired as a flight attendant. We endured written and psychological testing and multiple interviews just to be considered for acceptance into the comprehensive training to become the first-line representative of the air line — a flight attendant.
For me as a female during the 1950s, being accepted by the airline and having graduated from that intense, multifaceted training, I equated it to having won the lottery or being named Miss America — a respected, sought-after and admired profession.
I feel certain the middle-aged man who suffered a massive coronary while seeing his daughter and grandchild off on my Fort Worth flight would never have thought me to be just a “flying cocktail waitress” as he lay unconscious on the concourse floor of Amond Carter Field while I attempted to save his life.
Due to that unforgettable incident and for the second time in the history of Delta Air Lines, I, a flight attendant, was awarded Delta Airline’s “Passenger Service Award” — rarely given to flight crews. We were expected to perform these acts as a matter of course.
— Mimi Newton Boney, Delta Airlines former flight attendant
I have a few interesting tales pertaining to my career as a flight attendant. I flew for TWA from 1969 to 1979. These were “the good old years” in the friendly skies. I was first based in New York and flew quite a few Chicago commuter runs. Back in those days, we would pour coffee from quite heavy steel pots. It was pretty routine to rest the coffee pot on the top of the aisle seat while holding a tray with the other hand for the passenger to place there coffee cup on it to be filled and offer cream and sugar. One morning on a very busy flight, I was doing my usual service and while offering “cream and sugar” to the window seated passenger. I could hear the aisle passenger saying “Stop it, stop it.” Poor little bald man. I had my coffee pot resting on the top of his head instead of the top of the chair cushion.
I was working a trip one Christmas Eve that was grounded due to a snow storm. We were stranded in St. Louis and had seven unaccompanied children on board. My flying partner and I decided that we would take responsibility for these children and try to make it a memorable Christmas Eve. We took them with us to our layover hotel, and I took the four boys and my flying partner took the three girls. We arranged for rollaway beds to be delivered to our rooms and proceeded to call each of the children’s parents. It was especially funny to hear the response from one of the little boy’s Dad. He said “That a boy, the first time you go off on your own you spend the night with a stewardess!” We got a good laugh out of that one. Then we ordered cheeseburgers and ice cream for all the children and had a huge pillow fight before trying to get some sleep. The next morning we ate pancakes and headed back to the airport taking off before 10 a.m. and delivering the children safely to their happy parents. Imagine even suggesting that today?
Next is a story about live lobster races in the aisle of the airplane:
After flying out of New York for a year I was transferred to Los Angeles. I flew a lot of L.A.-to-Boston runs. While in Boston, I would purchase live lobsters to bring home for dinner. For entertainment in first class we would take our lobsters out of the transport boxes, mark them and take bets on which one would win. Getting the lobsters so “lively” usually made the meat tough but it was very entertaining for the passengers.
Next is a story about dance contests we had on board:
It was not uncommon to have long delays on the runway in La Guardia Airport and Chicago O’Hare. We would always break out the complimentary liquor and, depending on the mood of the passengers, we would sometimes have dance contests in the aisles. It was so funny to watch people with their head phones on dancing away, and we would hold our hands over different dancers while the passengers that were observing would clap and cheer for the best ones. The winners would get free bottles of champagne until we had depleted the supply.
Those were definitely the good old days. We ended every flight with sore faces from laughing so hard.
— Sheri Myer
In 1964, I was 26 years old and a flight attendant for Eastern Airlines, based in Miami, Fla. At that time, there were 1,700 flight attendants throughout the Eastern system, and I was one of four picked to work on the 1964 presidential campaign airplane with Henry E. Miller of the Goldwater-Miller ticket. We four female attendants and one male steward were picked in mid-August and worked the campaign right up to Election Day. If I remember correctly, there were approximately 137 seats on the plane. The candidate and his family and other campaign big money contributors sat in the first-class section. In the rear section, every newspaper and television reporter in our nation was on board at one time or the other. The likes of Sander Van Oker and Walter Cronkite were there and young men at that time. Our route covered every state from Miami to California to Montana to Washington, D.C., and all points in between. As flight attendants, we worked very long hours, met some very interesting people and saw some great sites in our beautiful country. I regretted that Goldwater did not win the election. If he had, we all had visions of visiting the White House on a regular basis. This is a memory of my life that I shall cherish as part of my family history.
— Joy Hrobak
Many years ago one of our granddaughters, Brooke, now 29 years old, had visited us at Houston for Christmas and had been granted her Santa Claus wish for a parakeet. We were waiting for her return flight to Lubbock at the Hobby Airport lounge. The ticket agent informed her that she and her family could make the flight, but the bird could not. Our efforts to console her with “We’ll get another pet in Lubbock” met with wails of “No, no, I want this one” and inconsolable crying. When the pilot who happened to be passing by stopped to inquire what the problem was, and the story was related to him, he said “No problem; it will ride with me in the cockpit.” The problem was solved with thank-yous from a grateful family.
Returning from a business trip to Rio de Janeiro, my husband and I informed the attendant staff the we did not wish to be disturbed for what used to be called “meals” as we intended to catch some shut eye. After takeoff, I put on my sleep mask and he tied a bandana over his eyes, and reclining our seats, we spent a peaceful night. Early in the morning I awoke to find the male attendant trying to prevent a little rotund and elderly lady from exiting her seat behind my husband, with the exhortation of “You can’t get up (to the bathroom) yet, as this gentleman has a head injury.” Needless to say I wakened my husband and we put our seats upright allowing the nice lady to make her trip.
On a trip to New Zealand and Australia, after retirement, my husband had acquired some airline miles entitling him to upgrade to two first-class seats. Making the trip with us was my older sister, Mary, so we made a deal that on different legs of the rather long journey the three of us would take turns using the first-class seats. Mary took the first leg in the regular seats, and husband and I the first-class ones. He however, possessing an Irish gift for “talking the birds out of the trees,” told the flight attendant that since there were empty seats in first class it seemed a shame that Mary was “down below.” Lo and behold, that male attendant when down and brought Mary up to join us. Not only that, but the attendant gifted us with an extra bottle of wine as we left the plane. On the other parts of the trip Mary and I, being more timid and not having the gift of gab, did not rescue my husband and he has never let us forget it!
This does not involve a flight attendant but still make me laugh. On a trip to New Zealand we had a layover in Hawaii and upon resuming the trip about midnight, we managed to fall asleep. When the pilot announced “Ladies and gentlemen, prepare for landing soon at Auckland,” I, being a light sleeper, beat everyone else to the restroom, washed face, combed hair, applied lipstick etc. Upon coming back into the passenger area I thought “What is wrong with these people as no one else was stirring.” Then I looked at my watch. We were 45 minutes out of Hawaii and I had dreamed the pilot’s voice. Seemed so real.
— Barbara Madden
Way back in 1946, I worked as a hostess for TWA, which is no longer in business. In those days, we were called “hostess” and in later years the title was changed to “stewardess” and finally to “flight attendant” when men were hired also. I flew in a twin-engine 21-passenger Douglas DC-3. Many of the flights were not booked to capacity, which provided an opportunity for me to sit and chat with passengers.
The cabin was not pressurized or air-conditioned and until we were airborne the cabin could become uncomfortably warm until the cool upper air flowed through the vents. (It sounds rather primitive compared with today’s aircraft.) Before take-off I distributed small boxes of chewing gum to the passengers to ease air pressure in the ears. No alcohol was allowed. Until my training class, TWA required that the hostesses be trained nurses.
My first flight was in July, flying from Kansas City to Albuquerque, N.M. The hot sun created many updrafts and down drafts and almost immediately I became air sick, and it lasted until we landed in Albuquerque. Those poor passengers were somewhat neglected.
On one flight an elderly woman asked me to point out the next air pocket we came to because she had never seen one. On another flight an elderly man was quite talkative and later wrote to me. He even had his wife knit some gloves for me. (Sadly no fur coats or diamonds.)
TWA required their hostesses to be single, so finally I willingly traded my job for a wonderful husband and we have been happily married for 60 years.
— Winifred Holmes
One January, my 3 p.m. return flight out of Toronto on American Airlines was canceled due to winter storms in Chicago, my transfer point back to Austin. I caught a later flight and arrived in Chicago around 8 p.m. Though the storms had passed, flight schedules were a mess, and O’Hare was jammed with passengers waiting around and trying to rebook their flights. I finally boarded a flight to Austin around 10 p.m. As we waited to get under way, it was announced that because of the delays, the pilot and co-pilot were past their allowed time on duty. A new crew was flying in and was expected to be aboard our plane in about an hour. We all groaned in unison. The flight was packed, everyone was late and frustrated, and we would be lucky to even take off before 11:30 p.m.
As we sat on the plane, I noticed one flight attendant going up the aisle talking to passengers. She offered pillows and blankets, but mostly she just listened and let people vent their travel miseries of the day. Everyone was more than a bit frazzled, and her actions defused the tension. By the time the new pilots arrived, people were actually smiling a bit and chatting with their neighbors. Once we finally took off and settled into the flight, I stopped the flight attendant and told her what I had seen her do. I asked for her name so I could write a letter to the airline commending her actions. She was so pleased and thanked me profusely, when it was she who deserved the thanks. She asked me what I liked to drink, and a short time later a free bottle of wine magically appeared at my seat. I wrote that letter, and I hope it made a difference for her like she did for the rest of us.
— Bruce MacKenzie
In my attempt to help the planes keep flying, I do as much traveling as I can and have a couple flight attendant stories, neither of which reflects positively on certain passengers. Both happened when I’d gotten a free upgrade on domestic flights, both a couple years ago and both, I hope, not reflective of the general first-class passenger clientele.
On one, the flight attendant, halfway through the flight, came and hunkered down next to my seat, pointed her finger at me and said, “I want to tell you that you are the first person today to say please and thank you to me.” I was appalled and asked whether that was standard operating procedure up in first class and she said yes, that first-class passengers often (I hope not often and that’s it’s only occasionally!) feel entitled to the better service and don’t feel obliged to be polite. I thought that was a horrible comment and felt sorry if that was the sort of dismissive behavior she encountered all too often.
On another I was on the right-hand side of the aisle and the meal service choices had begun on that side of the plane on that flight, which meant that the men in the front row on the left side no longer had any choice of meal; they just got whatever was left. One of the men was furious (probably a paying first-class passenger, which I wasn’t) and berating the flight attendant in a loud voice. I signaled to her and suggested she offer the man my meal as I really didn’t care which I had. She was so thankful that she could defuse his anger and get him to quiet down, that she offered me a bottle of champagne! (pre-9/11 and the subsequent liquid restrictions). I said thanks but no thanks as I’m not a champagne drinker. Nevertheless when I got off the flight, she insisted I take a bottle, which I then gave to my brother whom I was on my way to visit.
I’ve run into some dour flight attendants, but most are cheerful and helpful and I can understand why some would find it hard to crack a smile if their days go anything like the days those two women were experiencing.
— Judy Roesset
I am a retired flight attendant. I started my career in the early ’70s and worked for two different airlines.
We always served hot meals with the beverage of choice back in our old days. Now things have changed.
The best memory of my career was to be selected as one of the crew on the TWA charter flight for President Ronald Reagan to Japan in 1989. He was kind enough to sign his name on my naturalization paper. (I came from Japan in 1969 and became a U.S. citizen in 1977). He was wearing his warm-up clothes on the flight, and he greeted and spoke with us. He asked us to call him Mr. Reagan, not President Reagan. He was very humble.
We had more than 100 military families on our 747 jet to Tokyo. He was a kind and generous man.
I also met former President Jimmy Carter. I was working at the gate, not knowing he was going to be our flight, but I noticed some unusually activity around the gate. They were Secret Service people.
I still love to travel, and I see things from both side now. My career as a flight attendant has been very rewarding.
— Masako Cromack
My husband and I sat on the last row of business class on an overseas flight. Not long before our descent, a passenger from the back came through the curtain, aiming for the bathroom. Our attendant, who had made pleasant conversation throughout the trip, moved over and intercepted him.
“Sorry, sir. This toilet is busy right now, and is reserved for our business-class customers.” The man became agitated and started rattling off something in a language we couldn’t follow. She shook her head, and pointed toward the back. “We have six other toilets for your use.”
In a flash, he urinated on her leg and shoes.
It had happened so quickly that none of us moved. While we were all recovering, another attendant came forward and said the man asked for a complaint form, stating that she had been abusive to him and had humiliated him by yelling insults at him.
And for this job flight attendants took an almost 50 percent pay cut last year?
— Terri LeClercq
I have transformed as a traveler. Two years ago, I was a road warrior traveling to three continents in a month while pregnant. Stockholm then Las Vegas then Tokyo then California then back to Las Vegas then on to Boston in the month of January 2007. Today, I am the mother of a 1-year old and my days of solo travel and international business class flights are long gone. I flew so many miles with American that I am one of their elite members for life yet there are some flights I still can’t bring myself to take on American.
My entire family and my husband and I are originally from Boston. The majority of our family still lives there and my son, Alex, and I travel back nearly every month. If you asked me before I had a child if I wanted to take an American flight connecting through DFW to Boston, I would have said yes and figured out how many miles I could earn. If you ask me to travel to Boston with a 1-year old, I will tell you to take JetBlue nonstop every time. I had a particularly great experience on my last trip back in October. I was by myself with my son (my husband had to fly home on Monday, and I chose to stay a bit longer to visit with my family). It was a four-hour flight and luckily they let me bring my car seat on even though I hadn’t purchased a seat for him. My son decided to scream for a good 15 minutes on the way up. Normally, a drink of water or milk works or a snack of banana. Anything that has him chew and pop his ears. This day, it wasn’t happening. A woman two rows back came and asked me if she wanted me to take him for a few minutes and play with him. Did she really think I would give my son over to a complete stranger on a plane? At any rate, he stopped and we played for a while but on a four-hour flight, things get boring, Alex starts to get restless and I wonder if it’s happy hour somewhere in world. We can only read so many books and play with so many things.
We took a walk up to the front of the cabin to pass some time and met the two nicest flight attendants ever. They didn’t tell us to return to our seats. Instead they played with us and talked and kept me sane for an hour while my son laughed and smiled and high-fived them. And though my son never slept for the four-hour flight, my break and great conversation with the flight attendants made it so much more bearable. When we got off the plane, the JetBlue captain actually helped me pop open my stroller. What a great airline!
— Carolyn Lowe
For most of my adult life, I have been truly terrified of flying, so much so that I have had to take medication for a trip. So, as usual, when we were waiting for the doors to close on my trip to Seattle, I was gripping the armrest white-knuckle style with the usual look of abject terror on my blood-drained face. The flight attendant noticed. She asked me if I was OK.
“No,” I replied. “I have fear, real fear, of flying. Or, I guess you could say, fear of crashing.”
She gave me a hard stare and turned around. Great, I thought, humiliation on top of terror. However, she returned very shortly with a man’s wallet. She opened it to a photo of two young children and asked me to look at them.
“Cute,” I observed. “Yours?”
“No,” she explained patiently. “These are the captain’s children. This man is going to do everything in his power to get home safely. He has had years of preparation and training. His goal is to make this trip safely, deliver his passengers and get home to his children.” Again with the stare to make sure I comprehended all she was trying to convey, but this time with a comforting pat on my arm.
I learned a great deal that day. First, as a teacher, I realized how profound a lesson on a personal level can be. Next, I was able to finally let go of my irrational fear and relax. I won’t say that excessively turbulent flights don’t conjure those old frights, but I will never forget the professionalism and genuine kindness of that flight attendant who took notice of me and then took the time to completely change my attitude about flying.
— Marie Peterek
During the tech bust of 2001, my husband took a job in Portland, Ore. I would fly out every two weeks to see him usually on (one airline). One time though the schedule or costs were better on another airline. I ordered red wine during the flight but my cab arrived icy cold. I asked the flight attendant if they had anything room temp and mentioned that the other airline usually comped me a glass of wine from first class since they seemed never to have any on their carts. He came back with a wonderful glass. A few minutes later he returned with an unopened bottle wrapped in a bag complete with a bow. I never flew flew the other airline to Portland again!
— Teri Sarver
My company requires travel in coach. At the end of a long business trip in Europe I was returning home on my birthday. As I reached my seat on the plane, I pondered the dubious pleasure of being cramped for many hours on the flight back through Dallas. I decided to use miles to upgrade as a present to myself. As I headed back through the plane I met a flight attendant, curious why I was going the wrong way. I told her about my plan and that I was going to go back out to the counter to arrange it. When I reached the counter, the gate agent immediately and peremptorily dismissed the request, telling me business class was full. I knew there were many empty seats, but I was tired so I accepted my fate and returned to the plane with my original boarding pass. The flight attendant greeted me again. With a wry smile I told her (as we stood in the mostly empty business class), “Business class is full.” She looked surprised and I said “It wasn’t worth fighting. I’ll be fine.” Back I went to coach and settled in for the long haul, just happy to be heading home. The instant the doors closed on the plane, the flight attendant came to my seat and said “Mr. Trudeau, I’m happy to say you have just been upgraded to business class. Happy birthday!” It was a memorable flight.
— Jim Trudeau
I’m a flight attendant for a major airline where long days and uneventful flights are thankfully common. I love my job, but sometimes we have to look for ways to make our long flights fun. There are two sure-fire practical jokes we play on unsuspecting passengers and other flight attendants that give us a few laughs.
On the 737-300, there are two lavatories located at the back of the aircraft. For some unknown reason, Boeing placed a small mirror on the wall right outside the lavatory at head level. Two flight attendant jumpseats are there also, so we see everyone who comes in and out of the lavatory.
Many times the lavatories are occupied when another passenger walks up and tries to enter. Of course, the passenger can’t enter because the door is locked.
One day, I was on a flight when a teenage girl walked up to use the lavatory, which was occupied. Knowing teenagers are very self-conscious and would be mortified if someone were to see them going to the bathroom, I decided she’d be a good candidate for a little teasing. Plus, she looked like she had a sense of humor.
I said loudly to the other flight attendant sitting with me, “You want to check the lav? They’ve been in there awhile and are probably about finished.”
The flight attendant gets up, heads straight for the mirror on the side of the lav and stares into it as if it were a two-way mirror. He turns to the girl and says, “Don’t worry, it looks like they are about done.”
She just stared at him with this incredulous look on her face trying to figure out if he was serious or not. I couldn’t hold it any longer and started laughing. A smile crept over her face and she started laughing, too.
— Amy Nunley
I was a flight attendant for Eastern Air Lines from 1965 to 1969. The first three years I was based in Atlanta and the last one in Washington, D.C. We always said that the most glamorous part of the job was walking through the airport with our navy blue suits, high heel navy pumps, pill box hat and little white gloves on. It was hard work at that time. Cocktails and meals were served to a full plane within 30 minutes, which was pretty hair-raising.
One time I was on an Electra when lightning struck one of the engines on the left wing. Within seconds lightning struck an engine on the right wing. The mood turned tense. Just then the captain came on and announced, “We’re going to be fine. Free drinks for everyone!” The mood turned festive immediately.
— Janet Cippele
Two years ago, I flew to Denver to visit my girlfriend and her family.
On my way back from Denver, there was a delay and we spent extra time in the terminal. Though I love to watch people, I noticed a couple around the gate area. They were both extremely overweight and agitated, and I thought to myself, this must be hard on them. Anyway, they walked away from the gate and I forgot about them. We ultimately boarded the plane. I was in the very back, on the far right of the plane … the last three seats. The flight attendant stood behind the seats getting ice, etc. organized. As the people started piling in, we were told the take our seats. It was a completely full flight, and the sooner we would sit down the sooner we could take off. I had seat C, the aisle seat. I got my magazine out and settled in. As the final boarding call came in and we were told again to get into our seat. I saw the couple trying to make their way in the aisle to wherever their seats were and I briefly wondered how they could even get into the seats. When I looked back up, they were standing by my row and told me that had seats A & B. I got up to let them in. The flight attendant was just standing there. When they sat down, there was not enough room to even get one of my legs into my chair. I looked at the attendant and quietly walked behind her and asked her to see if there was another seat for me. She loudly proclaimed that I had better take my seat NOW. There were no other seats. I was embarrassed for her to let people around me know what my dilemma was when I just saw another open seat. She again told me to get into my assigned seat as the one I was getting into would be taken. So I waited, and sure enough, a young lady arrived and I got up. Since I still was not able to get into my own seat, I took another open seat. I looked at the flight attendant to see if she could help me out, but she curtly informed me that seat C was my seat, and there were no others. Meanwhile the rest of the people around me looked at her, at me, at the poor couple taking up all three seats, and I finally said to her, “Could you please make sure that I can sit in one of the open seats?” And she said to me, “If you don’t sit down in your seat now, I will have you escorted off the airplane.” I could not believe what I heard. Thankfully, no one else came to take the only seat in the back. I was thrilled and relieved not to have to continue with this battle of seats. After we took off, the attendant walked passed me and said, “Aren’t you lucky?” I quietly said to her, “If I were you, I wouldn’t even go there.”
— Monika S. Matthews
On a transatlantic flight, I was awakened after only a few hours out from London by the loud, argumentative voice of a drunk man in the seat just in front of me. A very quiet voice voice was directing those in neighboring seats to other areas of the plane where they would be less disturbed. The flight attendant offered to help me move. I said I would stay. All night, the flight attendant quietly talked to the drunk man in a friendly way that kept him from disturbing anyone else. At the end of our flight I told the congenial attendant how much I admired his courtesy, patience and wisdom. I wrote a letter of commendation to the airline. We rarely realize that the work flight attendants do is demanding and difficult.
— Mary Ellen Felps
My dad, Joe Escalante, was an extraordinary man. In his short life, he made many friends and helped give Pan American Airways its reputation of safe and fun in the skies. He was a purser. Joe knew every station manager, traffic agents, baggage handler and an amazing number of passengers between Brownsville, Mexico City, Panama, Port of Spain and in-between spots, which were quite a few. He also got to know the new stewardesses who took on part of his job. I was named after one of them. My dad was also good at taking care of difficult situations. One involved the White House Press corps, who chartered a Pan Am plane. They were demanding drinks when they did not need anymore, and my dad and his crew had to handle them. My dad’s crew got an apology letter from The Associated Press a few days later. My dad died when I was 8 and I know he’s probably helping someone right now.
— Monica Escalante Hudson
Flying as a stewardess with British Overseas Airways Corporation in the early ’60s was quite an experience. Somewhere along the way stewardess was changed — or, some may say, upgraded — to flight attendant and BOAC to British Airways.
British culture has long been dominated by rules, and the national airline was no exception. Stewardesses had to be: single, between 21 and 28 years, weigh less than 140 pounds; between 5 foot 1 and 5 foot 8 and had to be tested in a foreign language, catering and medical knowledge. We were trained to give morphine injections, deliver babies, conceal a dead passenger, keep people motivated and alive in a 26-man dinghy and survive in jungle, arctic and desert. Crews would depart from London in the Boeing 707 and fly east or west “round the world” routes, which meant packing for two weeks and climates of both hemispheres.
The one thing nobody could train us for was passengers. Jet air travel was comparatively new and expensive in the early ’60s and although the aircraft capacity was 140, we often flew the Atlantic with as few as 20 passengers. There were six of us in the cabin and interaction with passengers on a 10-hour flight became quite personal and rewarding but certainly not without incident.
On a London to New York flight, the cabin crew was notified by airline staff that a female passenger with a 6-week old baby was the wife of an American tycoon and we were to cater to her every need. As a 21-year-old rookie stewardess, names of tycoons were wasted on me. The woman came aboard and handed me her baby with the instructions that I was to care for the baby whose next feed was due in three hours. I obligingly secured the sleeping infant in a “skycot” attached to the bulkhead and went on to help other passengers to their seats.
After much gin and tonic, the tycoon’s wife moved over four or so rows to join a man who had invited her to drink with him. Alcohol took its toll on the couple, at which point I politely denied them any further alcohol service. They were furious and the tycoon’s wife returned forward to her original seat screaming abuse at me although I was by now feeding and changing her baby. We dimmed the lights, informed the captain of discontinuing the pair’s alcohol and gradually everything became calm – or so we thought.
When passing down the aisle to check the baby, I could not believe my eyes: the mother was stark naked and snoring. Fortunately she was in a bulkhead seat and could not be easily seen. I shook her gently but she was out cold so I tried to dress her. Doing that without cooperation is not an easy task, and I had just got her skirt around her waist when she awoke from her stupor and started to swear and scream about my gender and nationality at the top of her voice. We had to restrain her from lashing out and running half-naked around the plane. Two of us held her down while a third crew member went to report to the captain.
At Idlewild Airport, we had New York medics meet the aircraft; strap the woman to a stretcher together with baby which she was incapable of holding. The cabin crew and medics struggled to get the pair of them safely down the steps and across the tarmac to immigration. At no time did she lose her power of speech and vitriol.
— Jenny Penny
I was flying from Austin to Phoenix on Southwest with my 3-month old — first child, first time on an airplane with a baby. I, as I believe a lot of first time parents do, intended to prepare for any scenario that might occur on the plane and as a result was schlepping about three times our combined volume in baby stuff and despite the pre-board head start was clearly struggling. The charming and delightful Southwest attendant saw me coming down the tunnel and said “Hey, let me help you out!” and to my great surprise, instead of helping me with all the stuff, she took my baby, and they jointly greeted every passenger while I stowed the load. And though I was a bit concerned initially, seeing Ethan smile ear to ear at every new face he saw with her, I quickly realized this woman had a very good understanding of what makes for a fun trip if you’re an infant.
— Karen Weisblatt
My wife and are avid readers of the Statesman, living in Temple. Seeing your request for flight attendant stories made us laugh as we remembered this encounter from the early 2000s. Three couples were on their way to San Francisco and the Napa Valley for a long weekend away from kids. The plane was a wide body jet, one with two aisles and plenty of room. We were all seated within earshot but not right next to each other. We had a while to wait before take-off, so were visiting. When the flight attendant appeared to give her “demonstration,” we continued to visit, as we had all flown before. The attendant, who looked to be in her ’50s, wore lots of pancake makeup, long painted nails and had long blonde hair tightly braided and arranged around her head in a style reminiscent of the “Swiss Miss” chocolate maiden, will henceforth be referred to as “Helga.”
Now, mind you: We were all adults in our 40s with kids, very successful jobs, no alcohol yet on board (yet), and we weren’t carrying on that much. But we were not paying attention to her presentation. Halfway through the presentation, she stopped and made her way over to my side (I was sitting on the aisle) leaned over, and loudly “shhhusshhed” in my ear. I remember it scaring me, as I had not noticed her standing there. She had probably been waiting for my silence. Her outburst and my shocked response sent my wife, seated next to me, and our friends, into hysterics. As a matter of fact, I recall that most of that side of the plane was chuckling. But of course, as my wife would attest, I had been challenged. The gauntlet had been thrown down. I was not about to let Helga get the best of me. After we took off, when the plane was still in its ascent and the seatbelt sign was still lighted, I discovered my reading glasses were in my briefcase in the overhead bin. So, defiantly, I unbuckled and stood to retrieve the glasses. Helga immediately descended and reprimanded me. Then as I read a few minutes later, after the plane had leveled out and we were permitted to unbuckle, I was approached by a flight attendant labeled as the “chief.” She was another “experienced” woman who had probably been flying since the Wright Brothers. I was politely, but firmly, told that I had been reported to the cockpit, noting that I had been reduced to a seat number (the customer in 14D), and that I would not be allowed to get up from my seat during the entire 3.5-hour flight unless I pushed the call button and asked permission. Although my wife became concerned, our friends were really in hysterics at this point. It was pointless to become agitated, there was so much laughter and joking. They had even elicited the participation of complete strangers who had witnessed the events of my discipline. My wife cautioned me of what would happen if I was left in San Francisco and not allowed to return on the same airline. My friends brought me food, even a cup in which to urinate if I had the urge and could not get an escort. I think Helga refused to deal with me, because the “chief” attendant had apparently been reassigned the duty of handling me for the rest of the flight, probably much to the disappointment of the first-class travelers. Memories of the encounter lasted for the rest of the four-day trip. My wife made me promise to behave on the journey home, lest she have to accompany me to the airline equivalent of a jail cell at the San Francisco airport.
Months later when the movie “Anger Management,” starring Adam Sandler as a mad man thrown off an airplane for badmouthing a flight attendant, then having to attend anger management classes came out, my friends organized a reunion to see the movie. They required that I remain seated during the entire movie and even provided me with a urinal from a medical supply store.
— The Devalls
I am a flight attendant on regional jets. My primary concern is safety of the passengers, especially children. I am continuously amazed at the lack of knowledge parents have about flight safety. I do occasionally have a parent who lets the child make decisions and say things like, “But she doesn’t want to put on her seat belt.” I had one family who epitomized everything that can be done wrong. They had five children, boys 14, 12, 8, 3 and a girl 9 months, traveling in a carrier. (Unfortunately, the flight wasn’t full, so it gave them plenty of room to maneuver.) First, they placed the carrier facing forward but appropriately in a window seat. I had to tell them that carriers are placed in the same position as in cars. On my next check, they had moved the carrier, facing backward, but to a aisle seat, blocking in one of the boys. The baby was being held, and mom’s purse was in the carrier. For take-off, mom held the baby and the carrier was in a row by itself. If you have a choice, the safest way for a child or infant to fly is in a car seat. After I finished my announcement that we were ready to taxi, the 14-year-old asked if he could use the lavatory. Of course not! The 3-year-old wanted to sit in a row by himself behind everyone else in the family, and they had let him. As we started taxiing, he got up and went to the back of the plane. I immediately went back and told the parents he had to sit with one of them. During the flight, mom put the baby in the carrier and left her alone as she moved back several rows to talk to another woman. Thank goodness we didn’t have a decompression — there was no one around to take care of the baby. The 12-year-old moved to the emergency exit row, clearly too young to sit there (minimum age 15), and I had to tell him he couldn’t sit there. I felt bad, because every time I went down the aisle, I had to correct them about something. They didn’t apologize or seem contrite. But they didn’t get angry at me either, as I have had some parents do when I’ve asked them to put their child’s safety first.
— Dede
When my now 20-year-old son, Andrew, was 5, he was looking through his backpack that I had packed for him for a plane trip. Crayons, check; books, check; games, check. When he got to the snacks he looked at me and said “Why did you pack these? You know they have those food maids on the planes.” Horrified to see that a flight attendant had overheard this remark, I was relieved when she thought it was funny. What is rich about this anecdote is that now, my son, in addition to being a student at the University of Texas, is a “food maid” himself at the Hills Country Club in Lakeway.
— Jane Tenberg-Yorke
I flew with Trans World Airlines from 1956 to 1959, back when the job was glamorous and the passengers were glamorous also. Movie stars were frequently on our flights as we were known as the “Airline to the Stars.” People were so sweet and helpful. I was based in Newark, N.J., right out of training in Kansas City, and the flights there were pretty far down on the seniority list. I remember one trip was from Chicago to Newark on a Martin 404, which held 40 passengers and made about six stops. Terre Haute, Ind.; Columbus, Ohio; Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Harrisburg, Pa.; and finally Newark. There may have been one more that; I can’t remember. The segments were usually 20 minutes, including landing and takeoff, with two 40-minute segments. I had to serve dinner to all 40 people twice and there was only one flight attendant on these planes. The passengers were commuters, so every flight segment held totally different people. I had to unwrap salads, place them on trays, place pillows on people’s laps, serve coffee or tea, all with a smile, in addition to making the take-off and landing announcements. We also had clipboards and seating charts on which we wrote everyone’s name. On the dinner flights, there were always a gentleman or two who would insist on helping. It might have been against the rules, but it sure made it easier for me, and the passengers got their meals a little faster. No one ever complained; we were all like a family, a far cry from today’s flights.
After five months, I was able to transfer to Chicago, my home town. There I flew on larger planes to the exciting destinations of the west. On one flight, I met the movie producer Joe Pasternak, who discovered Kim Novak. He invited me to visit the movie studio (Columbia) and offered me a chance to act in the movie “Gidget.” Perhaps I was foolish but I decided I wanted to keep flying. Several months later, when serving coffee to the pilots in the cockpit, I met the man I just knew somehow I would marry. I did, and we had a happy marriage for 40 years until his death.
The tradition carried on when I had a daughter who became a flight attendant who married a pilot on her flight.
— Joan Tarbox
My own story occurred when I was flying with a head cold and became panicky at the thought that my ear drums would burst while descending and I would suffer excruciating pain because my stuffy head would not allow the air pressure to equalize, because I was not able to clear them with yawning and swallowing. The flight attendant was soothing, comforting and reassuring, telling me she hadn’t ever seen that actually happen to anyone (which helpful to hear, even if I didn’t know for sure it was really true). She offered a remedy, placing wet paper towels in two cups, heating them in the microwave, and telling me to hold the cups tightly over my ears (so presumably the steam would help me feel better). I don’t know whether this was a legitimate solution, but at least it gave me something to do, and I didn’t suffer during the landing. The most important thing was her sympathetic manner, more so than the actual remedy, listening to my fear and taking me seriously, which was very helpful for my emotional state.
— Rita Kuntz
I was a captain/pilot in the U.S. Air Force when I was assigned to Vietnam. I managed to travel to Travis AFB, Calif., and then overseas to Vietnam without incident. The year there was pretty hectic and definitely traumatic; however, I made it through and flew back to the United States in December 1971. When we got off the military cargo jet at Travis AFB we were advised to go to the Base Exchange and buy civilian clothes before traveling through the terminal at San Francisco International Airport. The reason we were given was that protesters to the Vietnam War were all over the terminal and would throw rotten eggs, spit on, yell at, use profanities with any military person in uniform. We certainly had a hard time understanding this because we were over there doing what our government asked of us and didn’t feel we should be blamed for the war and its consequences. Thank goodness today’s environment for returnees from Afghanistan/Iraq is totally different, as it should be. Anyway, we all bought civilian clothes before going to the airport and catching our flights. The protesters were there in big numbers and, even though they left us alone because of the civilian clothes (media cameras were all over the place), they could tell who we were because of the stature and short haircuts. We got a lot of dirty looks.
I was very happy to get on the airplane headed for Los Angeles, where my parents resided. I had recently gone through a divorce, and my ex-wife and son were in New Mexico. Between the protesters and the divorce my mood was definitely not the best. I had paid for a seat in coach class and when I took my seat I observed the airplane was probably about half full. There was a closed door between coach and first class. We took off from San Francisco and within about five minutes a flight attendant came back from first class and asked if I was in the military and had just come back from Vietnam, and I answered yes to both questions. She then asked for me to please come up front to first class. I reluctantly got up and asked if she was sure it was OK, and she stated it was and I needn’t worry. She and two other flight attendants were working first class and they had no passengers except me. They couldn’t have been nicer and more praiseworthy and repeatedly apologized for the treatment I received in the San Francisco Airport. You were only supposed to have a drink or two on a flight (they were free in those days), but the ladies managed to get a lot more than that into me before we touched down in Los Angeles an hour later. I thanked them profusely for how they had treated me and half-staggered off the airplane. I wasn’t much of a drinker, so my tolerance level was pretty limited. When I got to the L.A. terminal and met my folks they both remarked that I acted like I was about half-drunk, which happened to be true. When I got home I had to put down a bunch of water to get where I could carry on a normal conversation.
The flight attendants hadn’t tried to get me drunk on purpose; they just wanted to make sure I enjoyed myself and that not everybody was protesting those of us sent to Vietnam. I have always, and always will, have a soft spot in my heart for flight attendants! Thanks.
— Rick Wheeler
About seven years ago, I flew Southwest with our two children, Austin, 5 and Madison 3, from Austin to Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to visit my family. Apparently, the pilot’s name was Barney.
As we were seated and before the attendants’ went into their departure routine, one of the flight attendants, began to sing this song, to the tune of the “Barney” theme song:
We love you,
You love us,
We’re much faster than a bus,
So, if you enjoy our hospitality
Marry one of us
And you’ll fly free!
With our daughter Madison being 3 years old and at that perfect Barney age, she just thought that was the funniest thing she’d ever seen an attendant do!
She still recalls it now and again when we board a plane.
— Chrisie Rochow
In the early 1960s I attended “American Airlines Stewardess College” at Amon Carter Field in Fort Worth, Texas. Believe it or not, back then there were classes in “comportment,” where we learned how to sit properly and walk up and down stairs gracefully; classes in grooming and makeup, where we learned that wearing that “trashy” eyeliner would result in being grounded; classes in first aid, where we learned how to deliver babies; classes in how to prepare for the unlikely crash landing, where we got to slide down the evacuation slide; memory classes where we learned how to recall passengers’ names; classes in food and wine service, where we learned how to pour a glass of wine without allowing drips; and we were taught that attendants were to treat passengers as “guests in one’s home.” We received our wings at graduation and were off to our new “home bases” and reality. In those days, after passengers boarded, we used seating charts to record names and later (using that memory training info) the “stewardess” would pass up and down the aisle offering: “May I get you a magazine, Mr. Gray? Would you care for a pillow, Mrs. Smith? Would you prefer the chicken or meat entr?e, Mr. Jones? Red or white wine, Mr. Blue? Supervisors periodically performed “check flights” where attendants were graded on performance, such as calling the majority of passengers by name. There were mail-in postcards in the seat back pockets, asking passengers to comment on their attendants’ performances; the airline always let us know when they received comments, good or bad. By the way, my roommate tested the eyeliner rule and was promptly grounded for a week, but I was never called on to deliver a baby and only one time had to prepare the cabin full of passengers for a crash, which turned out to be a false alarm. As a closing note, when the “new” Boeing 707 jet came on line, attendants received a monetary per flight-hour bonus (similar to “hazardous duty” pay), for flying on the jets because it was said to be harder on one’s legs to fly so high!
— Mary Mullaney Jordan
Many moons ago, I was returning from 21\/2 years of duty in the Far East as a naval weather officer. I took a late night flight from San Francisco to my home in the Chicago area on United Airlines. In those days flights between major cities often had a first-class flight with all the amenities and a coach flight that followed about 45 minutes later with only coffee. If possible United would put the coach passengers on the first-class flight if there was room. Seems there had been a scrap dealer’s convention in San Francisco and the first-class flight was booked solid, so my coach flight flew with about seven passengers. Since it was past midnight there was little for the one stewardess to do, and I was awake. She sat down with me and chatted and proceeded to knit on a dress. About an hour or so out of San Francisco the pilot announced that the first-class flight had a minor engine problem and was landing in Salt Lake City and that we would land also and pick up their passengers. United did put on a second stewardess for the balance of the flight, but by dawn the passengers were getting pretty upset with nothing to eat, and the coffee was long gone. The stewardesses were in a bit of a quandary so I went aft to the galley and sort of ran interference for them in my officer’s uniform. Once in Chicago I gave the stewardess my card and stated I’d be happy to buy her dinner when another flight brought her to Chicago.
Greeting my parents for the first time in 21\/2 years, I believe my first words were “Boy, that stewardess has the best smile,” not the words they expected. Three weeks later after finishing a super leg of veal dinner at my parents home, the phone rang and it turned out the stewardess was at the Chicago airport and wondered if the dinner offer was still good. Of course I said yes, picked her up at the airport and went to a steakhouse where I managed to eat second full meal.
On the 29th of this month, we will have been married 51 years.
— Jul and Phil Skaer
I flew home to rural Missouri a few summers ago to visit family and to escort my sister and nephew back to where I was living in coastal Florida. My sister had only flown once, and her 9-year-old son had never flown. I knew changing planes in Dallas would be really stressful if they had to go it alone.
Justin, the 9-year-old boy, was riveted to the plane’s window and, being a NASCAR fan, enjoyed the take-off tremendously. We flew had a male flight attendant that was in his late 40s . At one point early in the flight, I called the attendant over and explained it was Austin’s first flight and I was wondering if they still gave out wings to first-time fliers. He told us they no longer did that. Before we landed at our destination the attendant returned and said he was pretty sure that he had some wings at home and if we would give him an address he would send Austin a pair. We did just that and you should have seen the smile on Austin’s face when several weeks later he received an envelope in the mail with a pair of wings. That’s customer service!
— Michelle Gaines

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