(CNN) — “I came of age when the jet age came of age,” says Ann Hood, American novelist and New York Times bestselling author, whose latest book “Fly Girl” is a memoir of her adventurous years as a flight attendant. aboard the TWA. right at the end of the Golden Age of air travel.
As a child growing up in Virginia, she witnessed the first flight of the Boeing 707 – which ushered in the era of passenger jet travel – and watched the construction of Dulles Airport.
At age 11, after she returned to her hometown of Rhode Island with her family, she read a 1964 book titled “How to Become a Flight Attendant”, and her decision was made.
“Although it was sexist as hell, it seduced me because it talked about having a job that allowed you to see the world and I thought, well, that might work.”
When he graduated from college in 1978, Hood began submitting job applications to airlines. “I think 1978 was a very interesting year, because a lot of the women I went to college with had one foot in old ideas and stereotypes and the other foot in the future. It was a bit of a confusing time for young women.”
“Flight stewardess” was a newly coined term, a gender-neutral update of “hostesses” and “stewardesses,” and airline deregulation 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 embellishments,” as Hood puts it, even though they were already fighting for women’s rights and against discrimination.
The stereotype of miniskirt stewardesses flirting with male passengers still lingered, popularized by books such as “Coffee, Tea or Me? The Uninhibited Memoirs of Two Stewardesses” – published as factual in 1967 but later revealed to have been written by Donald Bain , a public relations executive for American Airlines.
Some of the worst requirements for being hired as a flight attendant – such as age restrictions and loss of job in the event of marriage or childbirth – had already been lifted, but others remained.
Most shocking, perhaps, was the fact that women had to maintain the weight they had at the time of hiring.
“All the airlines sent you a chart with your application, you looked at your height and maximum weight and if you didn’t fit that, they wouldn’t even interview you,” says Hood. “But once you were signed, at least in TWA, you couldn’t reach that maximum weight. You had to stay at your contracting weight, which in my case was about 15 pounds less than my upper limit.
“My roommate got fired over it. The really terrible thing about it, other than what it did to women, is that this restriction wasn’t removed until the 1990s.”
Hood was one of 560 flight attendants, out of 14,000 applicants, hired in 1978 by TWA, then a major carrier, acquired by American Airlines in 2001.
Work began with a few days of intense training in Kansas City, where cadet flight attendants would learn everything from aircraft part names to emergency medical procedures, as well as the safety protocols of seven different aircraft. The list included the Queen of the Skies, the Boeing 747.
“It was kind of terrifying because it was so big — and the stairs, the spiral stairs that led to first class that you had to walk up and down often,” says Hood. “I kept thinking: don’t trip. Eventually I got used to it.”
Hood’s favorite plane was a Lockheed L-1-11 TriStar.
Christopher Deahr/Moment Editorial/Flickr Vision/Getty Images
She says her favorite plane to work on was the Lockheed L-1011 TriStar. “Domestically, only Eastern Airlines and TWA flew. It was a very affordable and functional widebody plane with a beautiful configuration of two seats on each side and four seats in the middle so everyone could get out easily. that. plane.”
Flying was still glamorous back then, she says.
“People dressed to fly and remembered food in a good way. It’s really different from today. I can only compare it to being in a nice hotel, or maybe on a cruise ship. Nothing was plastic and the bus was super cool,” says Hood, who remembers donning his Ralph Lauren-designed uniform and sculpting steamed chateaubriand for first-class passengers, who also had a choice of Russian caviar and lobster bisque to accompany their Dom Perignon.
Not everything was a bed of roses. Smoking on board was widespread and for flight attendants it was a nightmare.
“If you were going on a five-day trip, which wasn’t uncommon, you had to take a separate whole uniform because you would smell too much of smoke,” says Hood. “Boy, was I glad when it stopped. The front rows of each section were considered non-smoking, but the whole plane was full of smoke because you couldn’t stop him from walking backwards, it was ridiculous.”
And the Mile High Club? “It wasn’t uncommon on international flights to see a man walk into the bathroom and a minute later his seatmate joins him, or some version of it,” says Hood. “It didn’t happen on every flight, but you saw it.
“International flights generally weren’t as crowded as they are now, so in those middle sections of five seats in a 747 you could see a couple putting their arms up, grabbing a blanket and disappearing under it. They were doing it, but it looked suspicious.”
As for passengers flirting or inviting flight attendants, that was also common. “I dated passengers, but that was mostly disastrous. It was never what I imagined. But in 1982, I met a guy on a flight from San Francisco to New York. He was sitting on 47F – and I dated him for five years.”
an empowering job
Hood quit her job in 1986 to focus on her writing career.
Hood has seen his fair share of bizarre things on board. “The strangest would definitely be the first class woman who appeared to be nursing her cat. I mean, I can’t say this was actually happening, but she had the cat on her chest.
“And then the guy who flew all the way in in tight underwear and a dress shirt and tie because he didn’t want to wrinkle his pants for a job interview. Or the guy in a 747 in Frankfurt who was riding his bike down the aisle,” she said. reveals.
That said, routine sometimes kicked in, and not every flight was a wonderful concentrate of adventure and glamour.
“I’d say the job was 80% fun and 20% boring. On some flights, especially those that weren’t very crowded, there was a lot of time to fill. You can only serve people so much food and drink so much, and make so many movies. I made work fun. I loved talking to people. I loved the feeling of it. I still love flying today,” says Hood.
She says it was really possible to visit and experience the cities she traveled to. “Sometimes your layover was too short or you were just tired, but most of the time, the city was right outside the door. I’ve really enjoyed this flying internationally.”
She quit her job to focus on her writing career in 1986, and by that time things had changed. Deregulation, which removed federal control over everything from fares to routes, went into effect, changing flying forever.
Planes have more seats and buses are no longer so pleasant, but flying has also been democratized and made available to a much larger portion of society.
Hood says she’s proud of her career in the skies.
“The flight attendants are a force. They are highly unionized. They are independent. In the cabin, they make all the decisions. They have to solve problems. They are there for the emergency stuff. They land in cities where they don’t know. nothing and no one and find your way.
“It’s such an empowering job, but it’s a sexist job. On its own, it’s just as contradictory today as it was when I started,” she says.
However, she recommends him as a career option.
“I was 21 when I was hired, and it gave me confidence, it gave me balance and the ability to think on my feet,” she adds. “Taking command of that plane and, once I landed, stepping into a city and feeling completely at home – or at least figuring out how to feel at home in it.
“I don’t know if it should be someone’s life’s work – if they want it to be that, great. But I think a few years working as a flight attendant can change your life.”