Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Where Did the Glamour Go?

An article was posted in CNN.Com that spoke about the unglamorous life of flight attendants compared to the exciting times of 50 or so years ago. I was struck by the almost fatalistic tone which asked the inferred question of why anyone in their right mind would aspire to the profession much less stay in the business?

The article concentrated on the extreme hopscotch lifestyle of domestic flying which can include four to six flights each day, different hotels each night and up to four or five days away from home. Add in to that those crews who, by their choice, live in one city yet are based out of another and it adds up: packed flights, crew shortages, short trips and tempers. Is that the full picture? Not entirely.

Every airline employs its fair share of airborne Mother Theresas, both in age and saintliness. We know this. On the flipside every airline is equally embarrassed at the number of disgruntled dragons in the air as well. Still, I can't help feeling that, like all things, the good ol' days of the article are often viewed with rose colored glasses.

Glamour seems to have existed mainly in the long-haul flights of the era, like those Pan Am Clippers that had literally all day to get from California to Hawaii. Plenty of time to turn out a crown roast on a 24 hour flight wouldn't ya think? Or the Lockheed Connies to Paris, maybe. At maybe 350 miles an hour, that's a good, solid 10-12 hours to New York, again all day long to whip up cracked lobster and a seat-side carving of tenderloin with all the trimmings, all the while wearing white gloves, pillbox hats, pearls and heels.

That type of high style existed in one place: First Class, which the rich and famous paid for. And remember this: the entire plane was First Class! If the whole plane was First Class, who could upgrade? Steerage travel meant staying with the bus, train and shipping trade.
Want proof? To save money Lucy and Ricky drove to California and then took the train home to New York. They sailed to England for free in exchange for Ricky's band playing every night and no one watching the show giving it a second thought. They didn't FLY anywhere until that cheese-eatin' trip on Pan Am back to New York!

That, I believe, is where the glamour is, exactly where it's always been: in First Class on extra long flights, both 50 years ago and today. Up front on a 15-hour haul to Hong Kong or Australia there is plenty of time to really lay on a full spread and let the bubbly flow. Not every airline today carves a roast anymore but some probably do.

Domestic flight attendants in coach often work under conditions most bus conductors wouldn't accept. I believe this to largely be true. The ones in the premium cabins, though, especially on long-hauls across the country and overseas, however, do have the time, the seniority and the wherewithall to make themselves and their employing airlines shine. Some still do.

And for that special treat maybe it wouldn't hurt if we the passengers dressed it up a little bit again, too.

Gotta go!

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