Confessions of a 1980s Flight Attendant

(CNN) – “I came of age when the jet age came,” says Ann Hood, an American writer and New York Times best-selling author whose latest book, Fly Girl, is a memoir of her adventurous years as a TWA flight attendant. at the very end of the golden age of air travel.

As a child growing up in Virginia, she witnessed the first flight of the Boeing 707, ushering in the era of passenger aircraft, and oversaw the construction of Dulles Airport.

At the age of 11, after she returned to her native Rhode Island with her family, she read a 1964 book called How to Become an Airline Flight Attendant and made a decision.

“Even though it was sexist as hell, it seduced me because it was about work that allows you to see the world, and I thought it might work.”

After graduating from college in 1978, Hood began sending out applications for airline jobs. “I think 1978 was really interesting because a lot of the women I went to college with had one foot in the old ideas and stereotypes and the other foot in the future. It was quite a confusing time for young women.”

“Flight attendant” was a newly coined term, a gender-neutral update to the words “hostess” and “stewardess,” and deregulation of the aviation industry was just around the corner, ready to shake things up.

But for the most part, flying was still glamorous and sophisticated, and flight attendants were still “beautiful and sexy adornments,” as Hood put it, even though they were already fighting for women’s rights and against discrimination.

The stereotype of flight attendants in miniskirts flirting with male passengers still persisted and was popularized by books such as Coffee, Tea or Me? The Unchained Memoirs of Two Flight Attendants, published as authentic in 1967, but later revealed to have been written by Donald. Bain, head of public relations for American Airlines.

Weight restrictions

Some of the worst requirements for hiring flight attendants, such as age restrictions and job loss due to marriage or having a child, have already been lifted, but others remain.

Perhaps the most shocking thing was that women had to maintain the weight they had when they were hired.

“All the airlines sent you a spreadsheet with your application, you looked at your height and maximum weight, and if you didn’t fall into those limits, they didn’t even interview you,” says Hood. “But once you were hired, at least in TWA, you couldn’t move up to that max weight. You had to stay at your hired weight, which in my case was about 15 pounds under my maximum limit.

“My roommate was fired because of this. The worst thing about it, other than what it did to women, is that this restriction wasn’t lifted until the 1990s.”

Hood was one of 560 flight attendants out of 14,000 applicants hired in 1978 by TWA, then a major airline acquired by American Airlines in 2001.

The job began with several days of intensive training in Kansas City, where cadet flight attendants learned everything from the names of aircraft parts to emergency medical procedures, as well as the safety protocols of seven different aircraft. The Boeing 747 queen of the sky is on the list.

“It was a little intimidating because it was so big — and the stairs, the spiral staircases that led to first class that you had to go up and down a lot,” Hood says. “I kept thinking, don’t stumble. Eventually I got used to it.”

Chateaubriand wood carving

Hood’s favorite aircraft was the Lockheed L-1-11 TriStar.

Christopher Dear/Moment Editorial/Flickr Vision/Getty Images

She says her favorite aircraft to work with was the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar. “Only Eastern Airlines and TWA flew domestically. It was a very affordable, workable wide-body aircraft with a great layout of two seats on the sides and four seats in the middle so everyone could get off easily. Nobody was unhappy with this. airplane.”

According to her, flying was still glamorous at that time.

“People dressed up to fly and remembered the food well. It’s really different from today. I can only compare it to staying in a nice hotel or maybe on a cruise ship. Nothing was plastic and the coach was very nice,” says Hood, who remembers donning a Ralph Lauren-designed uniform and carving out a chateaubriand made to taste for first-class passengers, who also had a choice of Russian caviar and lobster soup. to their Dom Perignon.

Not everything was strewn with roses. Smoking was widespread on board and it was a nightmare for the flight attendants.

“If you went on a five-day trip, which was not uncommon, you had to pack a separate full uniform because you smelled so much of smoke,” says Hood. “God, I was glad when it stopped. The front rows of each section were considered non-smokers, but the entire plane was filled with smoke because you couldn’t keep it from going backwards, it was ridiculous.”

What about the Mile High Club? “On international flights, it was not uncommon to see a man walk into the bathroom, and a minute later, his seatmate joins him, or something like that,” says Hood. “It didn’t happen on every flight, but you saw it.

“International flights weren’t usually as crowded as they are now, so in those middle five-seat bays in a Boeing 747, you could see the couple raise their armrests, grab a blanket, and disappear under it. I can’t say what they did. did, but it looked suspicious.”

As for flirting with passengers or inviting flight attendants on a date, this was also common. “I met passengers, but basically it was a disaster. It wasn’t what I imagined. But in 1982 I met a guy flying from San Francisco to New York. five years.”

Job Empowerment

Hood left her job in 1986 to focus on her writing career.

Hood left her job in 1986 to focus on her writing career.

Ann Hood

Hood saw a lot of strange things on board. “The strangest one would definitely be a first class woman who seemed to be breastfeeding her cat. I mean, I can’t tell if it really happened, but she was holding the cat to her chest.

“And then the guy who flew all the way in shorts, a dress shirt and a tie because he didn’t want to wrinkle his pants before the interview. Or the guy in the Boeing 747 in Frankfurt who was riding his bike. down the aisle,” she says.

However, routine sometimes worked, and not every flight was a marvelous concentrate of adventure and glamour.

“I would say the job was 80% fun and 20% boring. On some flights, especially those that were not very full, there was a lot of time left. I have acted in many films. I made this job fun. I liked talking to people. I liked the feel of it. I still love flying,” says Hood.

She says that it was really possible to visit the cities she visited and get to know them. “Sometimes your transfer was very short or you were just tired, but for the most part the city was right outside the door. I really enjoyed it when I flew abroad.”

She left her job to focus on her writing career in 1986, by which time everything had changed. Deregulation, which removed federal control over everything from fares to routes, took full effect, changing air travel forever.

There are more seats on planes and buses are no longer so pleasant, but flying has also become democratic and accessible to a much larger part of society.

Hood says he is proud of his career in the sky.

“Stewardesses are a force. They are heavily unionized. They are independent. In the cabin they make all the decisions. They have to troubleshoot. Know nothing or anyone and find their way.

“This is such an inspiring work, but at the same time a sexist work. By itself, it is as controversial today as it was when I started it,” she says.

However, she recommends it as a career option.

“I was 21 when I was hired, which gave me confidence, poise and the ability to think on my feet,” she adds. “Take control of this plane, and when I get off, go to the city and feel at home – or at least figure out how to feel at home in it.

“I don’t know if this should be anyone’s life’s work – if they want it to be like this, great. But I think a few years as a flight attendant can change your life.”

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