Second largest US Airline in the world...and...let's just say...past tense.
Pan Am also the oldest airline in the world and the oldest airplanes/jets. Back in the day...
While some would say, TWA = Try Walking Across!!! I say, that was just competitive jealousy!
The above lime green TWA uniforms (circa 1969) also came in bright orange and navy blue. Having worn navy blue plaid most of my parochial life, I chose lime and orange. Funny thing was, I really thought those TWA skirts were mini skirts, at the time and quite frankly, a bit shocking (after a few years at an all girl's Catholic college above the Hudson River.
Fast forward to last Sunday night and the premier of "Pan Am", a new televison series depicting the life of a new breed of women, the stewardesses of Pan Am and the lives that took them "up, up and away" to lands near and far.
Having flown for TWA back in the late 60's/early 70's, I was a bit taken aback that the network producers or TV writers and promoters of a new TV series, had chosen to feature Pan Am over TWA. But so be it. I would watch it anyway, just to see how they presented the once glamorous, flighty lives of the men and women who frequented the skies and each other's beds. Or so the writers and producers would have us believe...
I, too, once had to make a decision: Whether to fly for Pan Am or TWA.
I was so sure it would be Pan Am, as they had "the name" and the prestige of being the largest airline in the world, at the time. It simply was, the "it airline" to be with in any capacity. Or so I thought.
To the back story: Betwixt and Between
During the winter semester of '69, I was matriculating at a large university (fish out of water) after spending the majority of my eductional years in small, private (religious) schools. As there was no room in the dorm at my chosen college in Pennsylvania, yet another all girl's college where my best girl friends from high school went, I was shot down by my mom on attending. No way she was letting me live "off campus" so far away, therefore, I begrudgingly went to a more local college and lived at home.
One Sunday morning in early Spring '69, my father was sitting in the living room, per usual, in his comfy chair reading the New York Times. I was not myself that semester and he knew I was unhappy about my college situation. He called me into the living room and fully opened up a two page spread of dual ads; one page was a Pan Am ad and the other, TWA. I stared at the two pages of airline recruiting pitches, reading both ads with my dad. He was talking about how impressed he was with flight attendants and that it might be a great experience for me.
It had never occurred to me to ever work on airplanes, so this was a bit of a shock and I couldn't imagine doing it. The ad called for two years of college minimum and a second language, as each airline was in need of language qualified flight attendants for their increased international routes. Normally, flight attendants had to reach a certain seniority to bid for the international flights, however, at this particular time, both airlines were in need of many new recruits to fill the growing number of international cities being added to their respective schedules. It was a real opportunity and it would be a short window of hiring for immediate training to become an international flight attendant for the top two airlines in the US and abroad.
First thing Monday morning, I called both Pan Am and TWA and scheduled my interviews. Within a week, I was heading to their New York offices to meet the prospective employers. It was early April when I applied to each.
First, I interviewed with Pan Am, believing this would be my first choice, "if" I was even accepted. They were very formal, serious and scrutized me, top to bottom, thoroughly. I met with three difffernt people during the process and took a lengthy Spanish exam, after which, I was brought into an office, sat down and told, quite unenthusiastically, that I had been accepted with one condition. They wanted me to take more Spanish to bring my fluency up to some higher standard necessary for me to to be hired full time. I was really let down but still hopeful. I could do that.
A few days later, I interviewed with TWA. This was a totally different experience. At once, they were very welcoming, friendly and made my process much more effortless and comfortable. There too, I was interviewed for hours, height and weight measured as well as all pertinent body measurements (yes, they really did this before discrimination laws kicked in). That made me a bit uncomfortable, but I knew they had strict rules about appearance and everything being "in proportion" as image was a key role in becoming a flight attendant at the time.
Another thing that surprised me was that you also could not color, tint or highlight your hair. All natural hair color was a requirement. I was OK with that but always thought it was strange that they allowed the wearing of wigs that could be highlighted, as wigs were all the rage in the early 70's. In addition, they checked your teeth, which also had to be in good alignment...much like the Doublemint Twins. Or so it seemed. But, OK, it was part of being a quasi-glamouous (glorified) waitress in the sky!
After a very warm, freindly interview with the TWA recruiter, a very handsome and welcoming fellow, it was clear that they were interested in hiring me. My Spanish was plenty good for TWA and they offered me the job the same day. I would leave for training in 3 short weeks! I was flushed and suddenly nervous. Was this really happening? The reality sunk in when they handed me my itinerary, an airplane ticket to Kansas City, Missouri, where my 6 weeks of initial flight attendant training would begin, followed by an additional 4 weeks in New York City, to complete my international flight attendant training. Quite a mouthful and quite daunting to a young lady unaccustomed to being far from the nest.
I loved the training weeks and met and made some wonderful friends in Kansas City. A little training romance ensued for the duration but was soon forgotten once my wings were pinned to my crisp, new uniform. The long awaited graduation and curiosity of where my frist flight would take me, produced the inner stirrings of a passion for travel, the likes of which I would have never seen, had it not been for my father's penchant for reading the New York Times, cover to cover, months earlier.
I was off and flying! Flight Attendent I.D. #25434 was headed to Athens, Greece! I could hardly contain myself when I heard the scheduler on the other end of the line. Athens, being the most senior bid of all the international routes, I was incredibly lucky to have gotten this flight; the result of being brand new and on reserve...the proverbial "luck of the draw." A nine hour flight from JFK, leaving late at night, we arrived in Athens in the bright new morning of my first flight. To top that off, I was allowed to sit in the cockpit for the landing over transparent blue waters, white beaches and modern buildings, the likes of which I'd never seen. It was like a fairy tale beginning to a charmed occupation with no end in sight.
I had surely landed the best job in the world, taking me all over the globe to European cities I only read about in text books and to an eye opening beginning of the many adventures which had just begun.
Madrid, London, Milan, Rome, Paris, Tel Aviv, Istanbul, Zurich, Geneva, Athens...could it get much better? Even Chicago and Denver for one week of emergency reassignment, was a rollercoaster of unanticipated thrills, prayers and near tragic events. The stories could fill the shelves of my mind and memories galore.
I invite you to take a trip back down memory lane with me to a post written in 2008: "Coffee, Tea or Me."
More adventures of a flight attendant await you there...and perhaps, many more to come.
So, fasten your seat belts, sit back, relax and enjoy the flight.
T W A
My alma mater,
Was the right choice for me.
UP AND AWAY ! ! !
Note: These are actual photos of mine. Yes, it's me. Blonde one.