Peggy worked for Braniff International as a flight attendant during the airline's exponential growth of the 1970s.
Braniff Class of 1977-9
On the first day of a new job, it's hard to know exactly what to expect. After weeks of practice in mock-up galleys and simulated airplanes, our flight attendant class had to pass an exam aboard an actual flight with paying passengers.Working on board a jet for the first time presented a few challenges.
The first hurdle was finding the employee parking lot which was buried deep in the maze of the Dallas Fort Worth Airport. Our instructors warned us to allow extra time in case we missed the first tram that carried people from the lot to the terminal. There was a twenty minute wait between scheduled pickups.
Braniff Student Transport Bus
Our next hurdle was finding the correct gate for our flight and an agent to unlock the jet way door. Their duties kept them hopping from gate to gate with the multiple departing flights. We waited nervously at the Jetway door until a pilot let us in. Once on board we would meet the crew assigned to supervise us as we performed their standard duties.
Most of the seniors who drew the assignment of training rookies were patient and understanding. Some of us would discover that not all flight attendants were created equal. Some were born practical jokers.
My roommate and I were assigned to work the same trip, so we shared a ride to the airport with me driving. We were wearing regular street clothes, not having our uniforms until we passed our final examinations and graduated. That set us apart from the regular crew in their designer uniforms. We clearly stood out as trainees. In fact, we had to wear a badge that said as much increasing our level of discomfort.
My Braniff Wings
The flight crew started off testing our familiarity with the equipment. They had us locate the nearest fire extinguishers, flashlights, life rafts, demonstration equipment like mock O2 masks and life vests. The caterer loaded meals and supplies into the galley and we worked quickly to stow away the food and beverages. It was soon time to greet passengers waiting to board the plane.
Vintage Departures from the Movie, Almost Famous
Our nervous smiles and badges gave away our rookie status on the job, making us even more self-conscious. We worked tagging passenger's coats, marking them with seat numbers and stowing them in the forward closet. Passengers kept us busy in first class keeping track of beverage orders. We passed along the requests to the real crew who watched from the galley and prepared the beverages while we served them.
My roommate worked in coach while I worked first class the first leg of the trip. In First Class, there were two attendants for less than ten passengers. In coach, there were three attendants for over a hundred people. Our positions were reversed on the next leg so we could experience the different levels of service between cabins. Coach class was like running a marathon while in First Class, the forward cabin, we had time to visit with the passengers.
The seniors working first class were nervous about letting us serve their passengers, with good reason. There was still so much we needed to learn. We observed the experienced flight attendants in action before moving on to coach where we passed out blankets, pillows and magazines, collected money for alcoholic beverages and wrote out passenger beverage requests. We began icing glasses in preparation for the upcoming service once we took off for the second part of the journey. The experience was worlds apart from our practice in the classroom.
We’d managed to get by so far without snagging our panty hose, in which case, we were required to change into a fresh pair. Flight attendants could be written up with a dress code violation if caught working with a run in our stockings.
We took turns making the departure flight announcements reading the prepared script out of our flight manuals as required by FAA regulations. It was a thrill to be sitting in the crew jump seats during takeoff.
The Meal Service
Once the plane leveled off we started the meal service - a light snack of finger sandwiches. Carrying the tray in one hand, we used tongs to transfer the food to a napkin on each tray table. We continued working our way down the aisle until the plane hit some light turbulence and began to rock in the air. We hit an air pocket and the plane lurched suddenly downward. I landed smack into the lap of a passenger sitting in the aisle seat spilling the contents of my food tray down the front of his shirt.
He was as surprised to find me in his lap as I was embarrassed to end up there. Fortunately, he was a good sport and after I got to my feet, he grabbed a sandwich off his shirt, grinned and shoved it into his mouth. It was a miracle that he didn't complain to the senior flight attendant who ran down the aisle to find out what happened.
In the Jump Seat on a Braniff Flight
An urgent announcement came over the speakers as the captain suspended the meal service and announced, “Flight attendants, take your seats.” Our required response was to make an announcement asking the passengers to return to their seats and extinguish their cigarettes. Cabins were divided between smoking and non-smoking as smoking was allowed on board domestic flights at the time.
Without warning, the bright yellow oxygen masks dropped out of the overhead compartments and dangled down in the passenger's faces. Those who had tuned out our announcements wore looks of panic which were mirrored on my own face. The plane tilted at a steep angle as it began an immediate descent to a lower altitude.
Airplane Scene from Almost Famous (Strong Language)
Almost as soon as it started, the turbulence stopped and the Captain came back on the air. He explained that the masks were released only as a precaution, there was absolutely nothing to worry about. It reminded me of the punch line to an old joke, "Absolutely nothing can go wrong, nothing can go wrong, nothing can go wrong, nothing can go wrong..."
Our meal service resumed and we finished delivering sandwiches to anyone who still had an appetite after all the bouncing. By then, the ice had melted in the prepared sodas but the coffee was strong and fragrant. Soon, we collected the remaining service items and prepared the craft for landing without further incident. I wrote up an incident report and gave my good-natured passenger a voucher for dry cleaning his soiled clothes.
Flight Attendants in Hawaii
Upon completion of our scary training flight together, the bond between me and my roommate strengthened restoring a renewed affection for one another. Spending five weeks in a hotel in the same room had tested our own good natures. We left the concourse that day arm-in-arm wearing genuine smiles of joy and friendship. We were off to see the world.
© 2011 Peg Cole