“Glamour: an attractive or exciting quality that makes certain people or things seem appealing, especially in a mysterious or magical way. Glamour can be an exciting and often illusory, romantic attractiveness.” Yes, there is a magical, attractive quality to an airship flying high above the azure sea!
Onboard those airships, the “safety directors”, also known as flight attendants, have long been seen as part of the glamour, the magic of flying. Here is my true story of flying five million miles (or sixteen years) as a flight attendant for Trans World Airlines from 1969 to 1985. We were trained in Kansas City, MO then the headquarters of TWA. Eighteen months into my flying career, we received this casual, but official, letter that we could be bombing targets. Did TWA offer us “hazardous duty” pay? Not hardly!
“Be a Woman of the World” was the headline on the brochure I requested from TWA in 1968 with this image reinforcing the message. The photo was a departure from the past: bright colors, short skirts, long hair and a woman of color! Wow, could this be me? Could I be paid to fly around the world? I had graduated from college in 1967 and accepted an entry-level job with the federal government. However, on-going job freezes there found me working as a substitute teacher and living at home with my parents.My hometown, Miami Springs, Florida, as part of the Greater Miami area, was an airline boom town! We lived close to Miami International Airport where Pan American, Eastern and National Airlines all had headquarters. I had considered the possibility of flying in the past, but at 5′ 10 1/2″ I was considered too tall to be hired by any of those airlines. Much more about this later!
The classic tailored uniforms of earlier decades were missing. My mind’s eye saw this 1958 cover from LIFE magazine.
I started thinking about all this lately because I brought my orange striped hat, dress and jacket uniform items to my trunk show at Cuttin’ Up last month. I found my internet search about flight attendants, our public image and our varying uniforms enlightening. In my eyes, it seems there is a certain “dignity” lacking in some of the later corporate efforts to manipulate that portrayal of women workers.
When I was hired in late 1968 and began flying in March 1969, I could not have known that in 1971 my own image would be part of TWA’s marketing campaign and ads.
In 1971 I was one of the three flight attendants to model our new Valentino designer uniforms at each of the seven domicile cities. I was thrilled by the plum version of the uniform. We had choices of the plum, chocolate brown or a tan color. Best of all, we now had the option to wear trousers! No more summer uniforms and winter uniforms–these polyester uniforms would be worn year round. No required girdles or white gloves or hats!
My real education began after college graduation! Living as a woman worker for a large corporation and as a feminist as the women’s liberation movement was growing, enriched my life in ways it is hard to catalogue. I’m going to write about the highlights and some of the tangents of living the “glamorous” life of a TWA flight attendant/safety director. Perhaps I can dispel some of the common illusions. I’m looking forward to sharing my story with friends!