(CNN) — “I came of age as the jet age came of age,” says Ann Hood, an American novelist and New York Times bestselling author whose latest book “Fly Girl” is a memoir of her adventurous years as a TWA flight attendant. at the end of the Golden Age of air traffic.
As a child, growing up in Virginia, she witnessed the maiden flight of the Boeing 707 – which ushered in the era of passenger jet travel – and saw Dulles Airport being built.
At age 11, after moving her family back to her native Rhode Island, she read a 1964 book titled “How to Become an Airline Flight Attendant,” and her decision was made.
“While it was sexist as hell, it lured me because it talked about having a job that lets you see the world and I thought, well, that might work.”
When she graduated from college in 1978, Hood began sending cover letters to airlines. “I think 1978 was a really interesting year because a lot of the women I went to college with had one foot in old ideas and stereotypes and the other in the future. It was quite a confusing time for young people. women.”
“Flight attendant” was a newly coined term, a gender-neutral upgrade from “hostesses” and “air hostesses,” and deregulation of the airline industry was imminent, ready to shake things up.
But for the most part, flying was still glamorous and sophisticated, and flight attendants were still “beautiful and sexy ornaments,” 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 exists, popularized by books like “Coffee, Tea, or Me? The Uninhibited Memoirs of Two Airline Flight Attendants” — published as factual in 1967, but later revealed to be written by Donald Bain, an American Airlines PR manager.
Some of the worst flight attendant requirements — such as age restrictions and losing the job in the event of marriage or childbirth — had already been lifted, but others remained.
Perhaps the most shocking was the fact that women had to maintain the weight they had when they were hired.
“All the airlines sent a chart with your application. You looked at your height and weight limit, and if you didn’t fall in that, they wouldn’t even interview you,” Hood says. “But once you got hired, at least at TWA, you couldn’t get to that weight limit. You had to stay at your hiring weight, which in my case was about 15 pounds less than my weight limit.
“My roommate got fired because of this. The really terrible 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 by TWA in 1978, then a major airline acquired by American Airlines in 2001.
The job began with a few days of intense training in Kansas City, where cadet flight attendants would learn everything from aircraft parts 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 a little scary, because it was so big — and the stairs, the spiral staircases leading to the first class, often had to go up and down,” Hood says. “I would keep 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. “Only Eastern Airlines and TWA flew domestically. It was a very approachable, workable widebody aircraft with a nice arrangement of two seats on each side and four seats in the middle so everyone could get out easily. No one was unhappy about that.” . right.”
Flying was still glamorous back then, she says.
“People dressed up to fly and remembered the food in a good way. It’s really different from today. I can only compare it to being in a great hotel, or maybe on a cruise ship. Nothing was plastic and the bus was super nice.” says Hood, who remembers donning her Ralph Lauren-designed uniform and cooking chateaubriand to taste for first-class passengers, who also had a choice of Russian caviar and lobster bisque with their Dom Perignon.
It wasn’t all 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 pack a separate whole uniform because you would smell so bad of smoke,” Hood says. “Boy, was I glad when that stopped. The first rows of every section were smoke-free, but the whole plane was full of smoke because you couldn’t stop it going backwards, it was ridiculous.”
What about the Mile High Club? “It was not uncommon on international flights to see a man go to the bathroom and a minute later his seat mate joined him, or some version of it,” Hood says. “It didn’t happen on every flight, but you saw it.
“International flights usually weren’t as packed as they are now, so in those middle sections of five seats on a 747 you saw a couple lift the armrests, grab a blanket and disappear under it. I can’t say what they were doing, but it looked suspicious.”
As for passengers flirting or asking flight attendants out, it was also common. “I’ve dated passengers, but it was mostly disastrous. It was never what I imagined. But in 1982, I met a man on a flight from San Francisco to New York. He was in 47F — and I went with him out for five years.”
An empowering job
Hood left the job in 1986 to focus on her writing career.
Hood has seen a lot of bizarre things on board. “The strangest would certainly be the woman in first grade who appeared to be breastfeeding her cat. I mean, I can’t say it actually happened, but she had her cat at her breast.
“And then the man who flew all the way in his tighty whites and shirt and tie because he didn’t want to wrinkle his pants for a job interview. Or the man on a 747 in Frankfurt who was riding his bike down the aisle,” she reveals.
That said, sometimes the routine kicked in, and not every flight was a prodigious concentrate of adventure and glamour.
“I would say the work was 80% fun and 20% boring. On some flights, especially those that weren’t very full, there was a lot of time to fill. You can only serve people so much food and drink so much, and play so much movies. I made the job fun. I loved talking to people. I loved feeling. I still love flying,” Hood says.
She says it was indeed possible to actually visit and experience the cities she traveled to. “Sometimes your layover was very short or you were just tired, but for the most part the city was on your doorstep. I took advantage of that a lot when I flew internationally.”
She left the job to focus on her writing career in 1986, by which time things had changed. Deregulation, abolishing federal control over everything from fares to routes, had gone into full effect and changed flying forever.
Airplanes were filled with more seats and coaches were no longer pleasant, but flying was also democratized and made available to a much larger part of society.
Hood says she is proud of her career in the air.
“Interns are a force. They are strongly affiliated with unions. They are independent. In the cabin they make all the decisions. They have to solve problems. They are there for the necessities. They land in cities where they don’t” nothing or nobody know and find their way.
“It’s such an empowering job, yet a sexist job. It’s just as contradictory today as it was when I started,” she says.
Still, she recommends it as a career option.
“I was 21 when I was hired, and it gave me confidence, it gave me poise and the ability to think on my feet,” she adds. “To take charge of that plane, and once I got off, walk into a city and feel completely at home — or at least figure out how I feel at home there.
“I don’t know if it should be someone’s life’s work – if they want to, fine. But I think a few years working as a flight attendant can change your life.”