The new airline-inspired Pan Am television series launch is only a week away. The show takes place in 1963, during an era when the stewardess career appeared glamorous and the young ladies had to be model-like to even be considered for the job. Of course, times have changed. When I started my flight attendant career in the 1990′s weight restrictions were slowly vanishing, but hot meals were still being served in coach, blankets and pillows were still available for every class on almost every airline, checked baggage was free and security screening was pretty much a breeze.
Seven years ago I retired my flight attendant wings for the world of motherhood and the work-from-home career of freelance travel writing. It was a fun experience and I am grateful that I could stay home with my children.
As I discovered, nothing lasts forever, and this fall both of my children are in school full-time. As the saying goes, you can take the flight attendant out of the airplane, but you can’t take the airplane out of the flight attendant, and that was certainly the case for me. That’s why I ended up spending the last five weeks immersed in inflight training with my fourth airline.
Emergency equipment, fire fighting, evacuation commands, jumping down slides, CPR, self-defense tactics and much, much more consumed my days and nights. I made great friends and had a lot of laughs with my classmates.
I loved every moment. The best part, however, was upon completion of the training program: the re-pinning of my flight attendant wings.
From the moment I walked on the plane I felt at home, but there were several differences I picked up on during those four days of work. For example, while standing in the airport security line, I observed that the passengers weren’t nearly as agitated as they were in 2001 to 2004. Men and women calmly stood in line removing their shoes and holding bags of 3-1-1 liquids along with their IDs and boarding cards or cell phones (for their paperless boarding pass). Seven years ago passengers were still adjusting to the changes triggered by 9-11. Today, passengers know what to expect and have managed to adapt to the changes quite nicely.
During my “compliance checks” (ensuring seat backs are up, seat belts are fastened, electronics are turned off) I marveled at the variety of electronic devices. Technology is ever changing. Formerly, cell phones and the occasional smartphone and iPod had to be powered down. Now, it’s iPads and Kindles and a variety of hand-held games and computerized electronics. Passengers were Facebooking and playing Angry Birds. At one point in flight, it appeared almost every passenger was immersed in some kind of electronic device.
My weekend was filled with helping passengers find luggage space and passing out drinks and snacks. But the best part was reuniting with my passengers. I chatted with grandmothers who were flying to see their grandchildren, cooed over babies, listened to business men and women tell about their hectic schedules, and congratulating proud (yet sad) parents who were returning from dropping their children off at college.
During those hours on the plane I did observe one thing that hasn’t changed… there are still decent people in this world. Passengers offered to switch seats so couples could sit together, assisted the elderly in retrieving their canes from the overhead bins upon landing and many said kind words or gracious thank yous as they exited the aircraft.
Of course, there was also a lingering sadness that hung in the air. That weekend was the ten-year anniversary of 9-11 and every flight and cabin crew in America flew with heavy hearts. One TSA agent made eye contact with me as I passed through security and as she wished me a good day, I knew the words meant more more than a simple pleasantry. We were feeling the same thing.
Once on board, our captain addressed the passengers, standing in front of the cabin, as he always does, but that day he addressed the somber anniversary with reflective and inspiring words, causing the passengers to break into applause and thank him upon exiting the aircraft.
On Sunday evening we brought a full plane from Newark to Minneapolis. Many, if not most, of the passengers had been at Ground Zero that day. Eyes were puffy and many passengers had 9-11 memorabilia. Even my airline’s crew members wore American flag pins in honor of the lives lost.
As expected, times have indeed changed. But returning to the skies as a flight attendant has reminded me that although policies and aviation regulations are stricter than they once were, and technology is continuing to advance, there are still good people in the world. Yes, it’s great to be back.