Former Pan Am Stewardess on the Good Old Days of Air Travel

Valerie Waterman was a stewardess for Pan Am from 1970-1976, and enjoys watching ABC’s new series, Pan Am (“An exercise in nostalgia!” as she calls it).

For many, these were the good old days of flying, and quite a few of today’s flight attendants would probably agree.

Stresses on Flight Attendants, Then and Now

Listen as FareCompare’s Rick Seaney tells Anne McDermott that maybe the “good old days” were not all that good, at least when it comes to airline ticket prices:

Waterman said fatigue was one of the biggest problems for stewardesses of her era; when she was flying one of Pan Am’s famous “around the world” routes, she would work 10 or 11 days straight. Back at the hotel, when a fellow stewardess would ask, “You getting any?” everyone knew the only thing meant by “any” was sleep. “We were always tired, always in different time zones,” adds Waterman.

Today’s flight attendants endure different stresses, especially frustration with unruly passengers and overcrowded planes.

Read about the Worst Drinking Incidents on Planes

Exhibit A for frustration overload is probably former JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, who slid out of his plane (and his career) on the emergency chute, beers in hand (but there have been other incidents, including a flight attendant who set a fire on the plane).

Let’s look at some other differences in air travel today, from the flight attendant’s point of view:

Salaries: Waterman says “I think I made about $1,000 a month” which would be the equivalent of about $70,000 today, adjusted for inflation. Various websites put average flight attendant pay in 2011 in the $40,000-$50,000+ range.

Read what a flight attendant thinks of today’s passengers (the good, the bad, and the ugly)

Plane loads: Waterman remembers full planes on some routes, but she also remembers “plenty of empty seats” so passengers could spread out. In 2011, empty seats are a rarity, thanks to the airlines constant rounds of capacity cuts.

Uniforms: This is where it is better today, or so says former Pan Am stew Waterman, who was required to wear a girdle for at least part of her tenure: “They wanted you to be smooth, because, well, some people can ripple a little bit,” she noted, then laughingly added, “Me, I ripple all over the place now!” No such undergarment requirements exist today.

Question for Readers

Now that you have heard some thoughts from flight attendants, what do you think of them?

More from Rick Seaney:

Did They Really Wear Girdles? Q&A with a Former Pan Am Stewardess

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Published: October 12, 2011