We had to quit at 30… or if we got married

14 Nov

GLAMOROUS new TV drama Pan Am follows the lives of four air hostesses in the swinging Sixties – a period widely acknowledged as the golden age of air travel.

Billed as the Mad Men of the skies, the new series – which starts on BBC2 on Wednesday at 9pm – stars Hollywood beauty Christina Ricci and features plenty of flirting and fashion as well as flying.

The drama aims to reflect the allure of air travel 50 years ago and centres on one transatlantic flight crew.


So does it capture what it was really like to work as an air hostess back then?

Here three former “trolley dollies” tell JENNA SLOAN about their world of exotic locations, film stars and seven-course meals, plus a fright with one apparently dead passenger.


‘I’ve still got a love note from Sean Connery’

ANGELA WALLER joined the Hunting-Clan airline in May 1957 and left in June 1962, several years before it became part of the new British Airways.

Now 79 and living near Bognor Regis, West Sussex, she recalls…

“Being an air hostess was considered the most glamorous job around and I wrote to lots of airlines asking to be considered. When I was finally taken on by Hunting-Clan when I was 24, they told me they had received more than 5,000 applications that year and had hired just four air hostesses.

“My contract demanded automatic resignation if you got married or reached the age of 30, whichever came first but I was so desperate for the job it didn’t matter to me.

“My uniform was very smart — a black skirt and jacket, a matching hat and black high-heeled shoes.


“I was naturally slim at 8st 6lb but for long-haul flights it wasn’t unusual for every passenger and crew member to be weighed before we got on to ensure we had enough fuel to reach our destination, so putting on a few pounds wasn’t an option.

“The planes were sometimes chartered by film crews. Once we were coming in to land when a young man came up, saying he wanted to give me a note.

“I took it, then forgot all about it until the next day. It was a menu card signed by the film crew with the note, ‘Miss Austin, I love you, Sean Connery’. I still have it to this day.

“After I left the airline I went back to my secretarial career and got a job in Libya, where I met my husband. In 2009 I wrote a book about my experiences as an air hostess, called Before There Were Trolley Dollies.”

‘One passenger picked me up in his Bentley’


IN 1969, Libby Register became a stewardess with BOAC — now part of British Airways — and left in 1984. The 66-year-old mum-of-one is now a dental receptionist and lives near Aylesbury, Bucks. She says…

“The uniform was very glamorous. We had a tight-fitting pencil skirt in navy blue and a short, tight-fitting blouse that rode up when you put something in the overhead locker — which, of course, all the men loved.

“We’d always stay in good hotels in the city we were flying to. I had a permanent tan and my family were very proud of my job.

“In first class, the service was incredible. There was a seven-course meal on monogrammed crockery with linen table cloths. We’d carve a joint in mid-air and serve hors d’oeuvres, a fish course and pudding among others.


“First-class passengers got champagne on arrival and as part of our training we had cocktail-mixing exams.

“There was a fair bit of flirting and we’d be asked out by passengers all the time. One first-class passenger asked me to dinner in Toronto. He picked me up in his chauffer-driven Bentley and we had a wonderful meal.

“A friend of mine was working on a flight where a passenger was pronounced dead. He was covered with a blanket but as the stewardess walked past with a tray of orange juice the body moved.

“She got the fright of her life and the juice went flying over everyone.

“I had a fantastic time as a stewardess but it’s not the same now. The budget airlines are quite tacky, though they have opened up air travel to everyone, which means it’s much easier to travel and see the world, just like I did.”



‘We were asked to a party at a sheikh’s palace’


UNA ALLMAN flew with BUA from 1964 to 1968, then worked in crew control for British Airways until retiring in 1999. Now 71 and living near Okehampton in Devon, the grandmum-of-three recalls…

“My interview involved a man asking me what food and wines I’d serve him at dinner and me standing up and turning round slowly in front of him. He asked if I knew any foreign languages and I remembered a line of Spanish I’d learned at school, so that got me the job.

“My first flight as an air hostess was the first time I’d been up in a plane. I was sick, which was rather embarrassing, but I loved flying straight away. The uniform was glamorous — a navy blue hat with a wing on the side, a white blouse and a navy jacket and skirt.

“We were looked on as the models of the day. I was once asked to a party along with the whole crew at a sheikh’s palace in the Middle East and we’d go out to bars and clubs all over the world, from Amsterdam to Hong Kong. We were experts at making cocktails for the first-class passengers but turbulence could be tricky.

“A cocktail I was carrying went flying all over the French ambassador and his wife when the aircraft suddenly dropped while we were over Africa. I was massively apologetic but luckily such accidents were very rare.

“I think flying is in my blood. I got my own pilot’s licence in 1974 and I still take my two-seater plane up a couple of times a week.

“Flying now isn’t like it was. Recently I saw a captain and three stewardesses walking through airport security, all carrying their hats — which would never have been allowed when I was an air hostess.”





Crash of the Titan

PAN AM, once the world’s largest airline, was founded in 1927 – originally flying passengers and mail between Florida and Cuba.


In 1936 it launched a service between San Francisco and the Phillipines, cutting two weeks off the journey compared to steam ships.


The fare was around $950 – £9,000 in today’s money.


A year later, it added routes to South America and Europe, including Britain and France. At its peak in the Sixties, it flew to 86 countries on all six major continents.


But by the mid-1970s, the company had massive debts.



Then in 1988, tragedy struck when Pan Am Flight 103 from London Heathrow to New York JFK was blown up over Lockerbie by terrorists, killing all 243 passengers, 16 crew and 11 Lockerbie locals.


In 1991, Pan Am declared bankruptcy and shut down.




One Response to “We had to quit at 30… or if we got married”

  1. Darnell Debord January 9, 2012 at 6:50 pm #

    Thanks for sharing, this is a fantastic blog.Really looking forward to read more. Great.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: