Update about blog

Come on over to my other blog, Alchemy of Clay and Living in Black Mountain NC, where the scenery and my ceramic arts life are combined. I've moved some personal blog posts, (as well as those that are about my ancestors) back here.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

My days of flight

I did have a few months of my 21st year flying professionally.  I quit college over a failed romance, and took a job as a Flight Attendant for Pan American World Airways (aka Pan Am).  The jets had recently started flying passengers, and that's where I worked.

We had to carry our flat shoes in our purses while walking to the planes, where we removed our high heels which could perhaps punch holes in the lightweight floors as we trod up and down the aisles serving as waitresses for almost a hundred people.

 I was flying the Latin American routes instead of learning, while my sister and her boyfriend here are seeing me off, after I was hired in April 1963.  I flew the 2 jets shown below, learning all the emergency procedures, as well as food service.  I also flew in DC-6 and DC-7's, prop planes that flew shorter flights in the Caribbean.  I'll never forget the live chickens in a straw shopping bag which was included along with several children piled with mom into one seat.

DC- 8
Boeing 707
Wikipedia shares:
"Pan Am was the launch customer of the Boeing 707, placing an order for 20 in October 1955. It also ordered 25 of Douglas's DC-8, which could seat six across.  
The 320 "Intercontinental" series 707 in 1959-60, and the Douglas DC-8 in March 1960, enabled non-stop transatlantic crossings with a viable payload in both directions.
Popular Culture loved Pan Am:
Pan Am held a lofty position in the popular culture of the Cold War era. One of the most famous images in which a Pan Am plane formed a backdrop was The Beatles' 1964 arrival at John F. Kennedy Airport aboard a Pan Am Boeing 707–321, Clipper Defiance.[136]
From 1964 to 1968 con artist Frank Abagnale, Jr. masqueraded as a Pan Am pilot, dead-heading to many destinations in the cockpit jump seat. He also used Pan Am's preferred hotels, paid the bills with bogus checks, and later cashed fake payroll checks in Pan Am's name. He documented this era in the memoir Catch Me if You Can, which became a distantly related movie in 2002. Abagnale called Pan Am the "Ritz-Carlton of airlines" and noted that the days of luxury in airline travel are over.
Then almost 50 years later... ABC had the TV show, Pan Am.  And it only ran for one season.
Pan Am is an American period drama television series created by writer Jack Orman. Named for the iconic Pan American World Airways, the series features the pilots and stewardesses of the airline as it operated in the early 1960s at the beginning of the commercial Jet Age.
Actresses in the TV Show Pan Am

Pan Am premiered on ABC on September 25, 2011 and ended on February 19, 2012.
The Pilot Show: April 1963. Dean pilots the Clipper Majestic '​s first New York to London flight—his first as a captain—and searches for his girlfriend, Bridget, about whom Dean learns some shocking news. Maggie, a stewardess suspended for not wearing her girdle to work, is unexpectedly reinstated when the scheduled purser, Bridget, does not arrive. Veteran stewardess Kate is revealed to be a CIA courier who was recruited during a layover in Rome three months prior, and she takes her first U.S. intelligence assignment to switch a passenger's passport. Meanwhile, Laura must deal with people asking her if she is the stewardess on the cover of Life magazine, and trying to do her best while not bothering her sister, Kate, who resents Laura's sudden fame. Colette sees a former lover on the flight, only to discover he is accompanied by his wife and son.
Pan Am won the "Best Series" at the Rose d'Or TV awards, Europe's equivalent of the Emmys.
This TV series took place at exactly the time I was flying; same uniforms, same issues (well without the CIA at least) and different routes.

I only flew to Latin countries, then back to the states.  Portugal was the only European country I visited, but there were lots of trips to Mexico, the Caribbean, Central America, and the east coast of South America as far south as Sao Paolo, Brasil.  I flew over Cuba a few times on the way to Puerto Rico.

I stayed in various hotels on layovers where Pan Am made contracts, in many Latin cities, and San Francisco once.  In Curacus, Venezuela there were various political upheavals including armed conflicts, so we stayed out of town at a posh resort.
Not where we stayed, but this is a park near Caracus

 I loved Rio de Janeiro, Brasil, and that I had 3 days layover there to see the sights.  The flight which I had just worked from New York was a non-stop overnight flight of 12 hours, carrying the Brazilian soccer team.  We really had a strain on the little bathrooms when all those men woke up in the morning wanting to shave before landing and meeting their fans.

You can barely see the serpentine walkway on the left, on which I remember walking.

 I would often be away from my home in Miami Springs FL (near the airport) for a week to 10 days.  There might be a trip every day, and sleeping in a different bed each night.  Or there might be one trip of 12 hours, then a layover for 3 days.  I had no seniority, so I got the flight schedules that were least desirable.

Pan Am - Betty Riegel
Not mine, but a typical Pan Am Crew of Flight Attendants (aka Stewardesses) ready to go to work

And the traveling waitress life had a toll on me.  I may have been recovering from my broken romance, but I was also away from home for the first time with no friends to speak of.  I was immersed in a culture of mostly Hispanic women and men, and I felt pretty lonely.

 I made some pretty bad decisions in my personal life during my six months as a Pan Am stewardess.  And as a stewardess I stretched myself too thin with days and nights of work, then partying much of the time I wasn't working.
Pan Am - Betty Riegel in LA welcoming first class passengers
British Stewardess, Betty Riegel welcoming passengers in the same style uniform which I wore.
Our uniforms were tailored, but with all the good food I was eating, I already was stretched to the limit in mine.  The blue cloth was not as bright a blue as shown in the TV series, either. Soon I was so glad to leave the supposedly romantic traveling life of a waitress in a plane to settle down with an old friend who wanted to get married.  At that time stewardesses weren't allowed to get married or have children.  And suddenly that was exactly what I wanted.

Incidentally, my little sister also quit college in her third year and became an Eastern Airlines stewardess.  I don't remember if she flew longer than I did, but she traded the high life in to live on a farm in Tennessee as a "back-to-the-land" hippy.  We Rogers girls weren't meant to stay in the air that long, I guess.

I may still enjoy a flight now and then...squeezed usually against some giant person or another...but I really enjoy a take off which feels so grand to the bottom of my shoes.  Glad I never really had a lot of "G's" like an astronaut, or this might be chicken feed.

I'm sharing this post with Sepia Saturday, where this week everyone will be sharing something to do with stewardesses, or puppies.  Come over to see the postings by lots of folks on Saturday HERE.
The Sepia Saturday theme image this week comes from the collection of the Preus Museum which is the National Museum of Photography in Norway. It is a photograph by Elisabeth Meyer entitled "Stewardess Hugging A Puppy" and forms part of the Preus Museum stream on Flickr Commons .  It appears that the photograph was taken in Alaska and it dates from sometime in the 1950s

Read Betty Riegel's story I Lived the High Life as A Pan Am Stewardess HERE.

Wikipedia is my source for most quoted materials and photos.

Images of the two advertisements are from PanAmAir.org.

Information about Pan Am the TV Show comes also from Wikipedia HERE.


La Nightingail said...

The life of a flight attendant seems like such a romantic thing. However, I can see where it might be fine for a while, but not so much in the long run. I hope you did enjoy it for a while, though? And nice, informative post!

Jo Featherston said...

Very nteresting to read about your flight attendant experience in the '60s. My niece in Canada was an attendNt with Hawkair, flying mostly between Vancouver and Smithers in northern BC. I'm not sure how many passengers were on board, but she and the pilot would regularly be the only crew!

Wendy said...

It sounds like you were the quintessential PanAm flight attendant. I have a Facebook friend who is a Delta flight attendant, and whew - the stories she tells! Not an easy job putting up with some passengers.

Little Nell said...

You look so elegant in your uniform, but I’m guessing that it wasn’t alL glamour. How wonderful to have seen the sights in those places though. I think I remember seeing Pan Am ads in magazines my great -aunt sent from the States.

Anonymous said...

A most interesting episode in your life, between other interesting episodes.

Bob Scotney said...

My first trip to the USA in the 1960s was with Pam Am. The cabin crew were immaculate in those blue uniforms.
Unfortunately most people in Britain remember Pan Am as the plane that came down on Lockerbie as a result of that Libyan bomb.

ScotSue said...

I enjoyed reading your memories of your air stewardess days. In the early 60's it was a job that appealed to me - travel to far away places and a stylish uniform made it sound glamorous, but even then I knew realistically I was too much of a Plain Jane - slim enough but with straight hair and heavy glasses. All that glamorous appeal has long gone, with the casual dress on the budget airlines and today's "Trolley Dolly" image.

Anna Matthews said...

This was certainly a job that seemed glamerous from the outside but was a lot of work. I think six months would have been about it for me as well.

Barbara Rogers said...

Oh, I had never heard the term Trolley Dolly. What a hoot. And I was certain I wasn't going to be hired due to really crooked teeth...but apparently that didn't matter as much back then. Now days nobody's kids grow up with crooked teeth!

Karen S. said...

You were beautiful, just exactly what they hired back in the day. Once I saw the Pan Am I just knew you'd be speaking in the time of the show Pan Am that didn't air here long enough. My hubby may have liked it even more than me,but we sure liked watching it, and of course they cancelled it here. What an exciting life I'm sure it was in those days.