Back in the 1930’s when commercial flying took off, it was only the rich and famous taking to the skies looking for adventure, this pastime being exclusively for the wealthy. Then came the Package Holiday revolution of the 50s and 60s. Some of us recall our parents suddenly taking themselves off to sunnier climes on what was usually a 2 or 3-hour flight, which, at the time, seemed an absolute age to be imprisoned in a ‘metal tube’!
Back then flight attendants were predominantly female. The Air Hostess was a perfectly groomed glamorous lady; dressed head to toe in pristine uniform as if they had been moulded to all look the same, in body as well as attire! The aim of the airline was to entice you to fly with them in ways that usually did not go beyond the appeal of their hostesses.
How times have changed! Today we travel around the world on jets in the way we once took a train or bus. For most of us we want to be assured that we are travelling safely without the fear of terrorists bringing our flight down, or unruly passengers holding us to ransom when we have nowhere to go. Safety is the biggest issue facing airlines today, and the sole focus of the cabin crew it to see to it that we listen to the safety brief, fasten our seatbelts and do not get so inebriated that we cannot follow instruction!
We asked an ex-air hostess about her experiences back in the day:
* How long did it take you to get into ‘character’ for your airline shift?
Once the uniform went on you were in work mode and it probably took around 30 minutes to 1 hour to get ready.
* Were there occasions when you were reprimanded for not being perfectly ‘turned out’?
Not personally as I was known as a “goodie-goodie” and didn’t’ get into trouble. As part of my job as “Number 1” on the aircraft I had to ensure colleagues working under me were dressed to standard – albeit in a nice and friendly way.
* When flying long-haul were you able to find time to relax and have something to eat?
It was pretty full on and busy so you were on the go the whole time but could grab 10 minutes here and there to eat. I don’t remember having set scheduled breaks on long-haul, but in those days, there would be a stop to re-fuel the aircraft where you could get a break. On a flight to Los Angeles, for instance, you could have a short stop in Reykjavik or Goose Bay Newfoundland.
* How many hours did you spend in the air compared to hours spent training and preparing for flying each month?
I did a mixture of short-haul flights and long-haul mainly to LA and New York. As far as I can remember, once your initial training was done there wasn’t any follow-up training except for when I made the change from charter flights to schedule and had to complete my training for First Class service.
* What was the worst incident you encountered on a flight?
Thankfully, I never experienced any technical issues or problems with the aircraft whilst working. There was an incident when I was travelling as a passenger back home to Glasgow at that time, where birds flew into one of the engines and it failed but I don’t remember being scared as I trusted my training as well as the crew who I had worked with.
Whilst working, probably the most problematic flight was when a passenger decided to consume all of his Duty Free alcohol onboard and then demanded more. He became furious when refused further service, to the point where we had the Police waiting for him when he disembarked.
* What was the age restriction for flight attendants at the time you gained employment?
When I started, I think you had to be 20 as I applied at 19 and was told I was too young. You were also limited to flying until you were 35 – before the unions stepped in and that role was changed.
You also had to be under a size 12 and weren’t allowed to be married, so for those who were married it had to be kept secret.
* Were you able to work after having children?
When I was 3 months pregnant, I stopped flying and went into an admin role at the airline. I didn’t return to work after having my daughter and not many people did due to the length of time you were away for on trips in those days.
* How did your role change throughout the years and what was the best change?
The role became more challenging as I got promoted and became responsible for other areas but it was still the job I loved.
* What has stayed with you since your flying days?
The safety drills and procedures are ingrained in you, so I always check out the exits when I get onboard a plane!
It was a great time and there are lots of memories and friendships that have lasted until today. It was hard work but a lot of fun and I loved the travelling and getting to see new places.
My son likes to take the mickey out of me, as even after all this time I’m still doing my make-up as the plane comes in to land. Some habits never leave you.
We have all become used to the stringent security regulations imposed at the airport as well as on the flight, and accept that rules are there for a reason. We board a plane to get from A to B as quickly and efficiently as possible. Many of us probably would not be able to recall how the flight attendants were dressed or if they were sufficiently attentive. We often eat at the airport and will not necessarily have any personal attention from the crew. Do we prefer it this way or would some of us like to go back to the way it used to be?