The Down-To-Earth Glamour Girls

Relaxing in her Brisbane pad, ex-hostess and author Libbie Escolme-Schmidt, reminisces with a smile.

“If you mentioned you were an air hostess, men became suddenly interested in you,” laughs Ms Escolme-Schmidt, who hasn’t lost any of her glamour.

“The cachet was enormous. Being an air hostess was a magnet for attention and we played to that aura.”

In the 1960s air hostesses were goddesses of the air and dressed by their respective airline to kill or at least lure male passengers aboard and the aircraft aisle was their catwalk.

“Back then flying was exclusive, it was adventurous,” she said.

“There was an atmosphere of optimism, excitement and a feeling of boundless opportunity for both passengers and airline crew. The Sixties was a time of big air expansion and being an air stewardess was tremendously exciting. For quite a while I couldn’t believe I was taking money for the job. I seemed to be going from party to party all over the world.”

Four years in the planning, Ms Escolme-Schmidt’s book Glamour in the Skies is the first to celebrate the stewardesses of British Airways and their predecessors from 1936 to 1980, widely agreed the golden age of air travel.

The book is a defining piece of work documenting with wonderful tales and humour air travel between the 1930s and 1980s, with interviews from retired and current cabin crew, weaving a journey following the development of the female flight attendant through the early years of discrimination to her present-day career of equality.

From the role of a nurse in the 1930s in a military-style uniform, female flight attendants morphed in the 1950s and 1960s into iconic sex symbols who spawned many movies and broke many hearts.

But in the formative years of airlines there was no glamour and certainly no females.

The first flight attendant, a male steward, served on the German Zeppelin LZ10 airship in 1911.

Imperial Airways, the forerunner of British Airways, had cabin boys in the 1920s and in the US Stout Airways hired stewards in 1926. Western Airlines and Pan Am quickly followed.

The first female flight attendant was registered nurse Ellen Church, who was hired by Boeing Air Transport, later United Airlines, in 1930.

Ms Church convinced Boeing that nurses would both calm passengers’ fears of flying and perform a positive role in caring for passengers who more often than not were airsick.

Many airlines quickly followed and when WWII broke out the requirement to be a nurse was dropped because most had enlisted.

After the war airlines quickly hired a virtual army of female flight attendants who had been working as radio operators and pilots during the conflict, says Ms Escolme-Schmidt.

“They still had the spirit of adventure and were used to working with men in uniform. They were fresh-faced, sensible, and with little make-up. There was a healthy, commonsense approach to the profession.”

However, this was soon to change as airlines realised that sex sold – and sold to high-paying business passengers who were at the time mostly male.

Airlines such as Pacific Southwest Airlines, Braniff and National touted sex heavily.

Ms Escolme-Schmidt’s own stint in the wide blue and sexy yonder began in 1964 when, as a student from Queensland, she joined British Overseas Airways Corporation, later British Airways, for the time of her life.

“Trips could be as long as 28 days, including lots of time off. A typical trip would take you from London to New York, then across to San Francisco or Los Angeles. The next stop would be Honolulu, followed by Fiji, Sydney and Hong Kong. I probably went round the world about 11 times a year. It was one long holiday of touring, shopping and partying.”

And rather than a one-day stop for the crew, airline schedules meant that in many cases they would spend three or more days at some destinations, waiting to crew the next return flight or the continuation of the round-the-world service.

Ms Escolme-Schmidt reflects that when she joined the application forms were more about your form than substance.

“Applications required a recent photo with measurements of height, weight, bust, waist and hip.”

They even stated that the applicant “should have a neatly proportioned figure and be of pleasing appearance,” said Ms Escolme-Schmidt.

“When we did the Caribbean run, we had dresses made from paper.”

“They were absurd. If you spilt a drink down the front, they disintegrated. Another airline had dresses made out of a gold paper.

“The real worry was that in those days passengers were allowed to smoke and we feared that our dresses – and their contents – would go up in smoke.”

Compiling the reminiscences of fellow cabin crew from the 1940s to the 1980s, Ms Escolme-Schmidt provides a fascinating, frank and often funny portrait of life in the skies during the halcyon days of air travel.

Glamour in the Skies is packed with many anecdotes, ranging from administering oxygen to passengers flying over the Andes, to serving French champagne on Concorde.

Covering training, sexual discrimination, disasters, passengers, glamorous stopovers and other temptations, this illustrated book presents the changing times in air travel through the eyes of the stewardess and offers the perfect tribute to the girls who walked the skies.
When asked if she misses flying Ms Escolme-Schmidt says a big no. “That sort of flying doesn’t exist any more,” she says.

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4BC- Sharing some stories of the Sky

Listen to Libbie chat with Walter Williams on 4BC’s Nights here:

Libbie chatting with Walter Williams on 4BC

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Town & Country Qld – A Golden Era of Travel for Outback Girl

Article published in Town & Country Queensland

To access the article please click on the link below:

Town & Country Qld – Article

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The Edinburgh Evening News Article – Remembering a golden era of flight

Click on the link to go to web page or read article below:

THE first-class wardrobe was lined with expensive fur coats, while in economy class suits and ties – with hats for the ladies – were de rigueur. Air rage was unheard of – if a well-heeled flyer did happen to indulge a little too much in the free-flowing Châteauneuf-du-Pape, then they were more likely to flirt with, rather than shout abuse at, the air hostesses. And strict legs vetting procedures meant not even the sight of a chunky ankle was allowed to spoil a passenger’s enjoyment of their Beluga caviar or lobster.


When Boeing introduced its 707 jet at the tail-end of the 1950s, it heralded a whole new era in air travel. It could fly faster and further – meaning fewer fuel stops – than any previous plane, and could hold more passengers.

Airlines from Pan Am to BOAC, one of the forerunners of BA, rushed to ditch their air-propeller models in favour of the newcomer which could reach New York in just six and a half hours from London.

Flights were still pricey compared to these easyJet days and so passengers tended to be those with a little cash to splash – from celebrities and

People would just enjoy the beautiful food royalty to the plain wealthy. And so in the 1960s a whole new class was born – the jet set.

“It was a golden age of travel,” says Alastair Dodds, principal curator of transport at the National Museums of Scotland, which includes the National Museum of Flight in East Lothian, where part of the last 707 in Britain is about to go on display. “I remember pictures on television of stars like The Beatles getting on planes and they were always 707s.

“Passengers were treated extremely well – food and drink was as good as the top hotels’. And while a lot of stars now have private jets, then if you flew on a 707 you were likely to be on the same flight as someone famous.”

For some it was a rare treat – in the course of the research for the exhibition, which will feature a 707 cockpit and cabin crew area, Alastair found an advert for flights to Beruit, so far out of ordinary folks’ reach they came with an option of a year-long payback plan. But there was a way for those on more modest means to join the jet set – by becoming an air steward or stewardess. Also in the Jet Age exhibition is a host of films, memorabilia and recollections from those whose job it was to cater for the 707 passengers’ every whim.

Among the memories are those of Libbie Escolme Schmidt, who believes she flew in the very BOAC plane set to go on display in East Lothian. She was 24 and looking for a cheap way of getting home to her native Australia when she applied to BOAC in 1964. She clearly remembers her interview for the post. “The disconcerting bit was when they asked me to walk around so they could see what my legs were like. I felt like a cattle at an agricultural show! I got the job, but I still don’t know if it was my legs or my personality,” she laughs.

She admits in the early days she was “terrified” of her sophisticated passengers but she quickly grew to love the style and standard of service.

“All the women wore hats and the men wore suits and ties. And the wardrobe in first class was just lined with fur coats.

“Now I get on a plane and I’m sitting next to someone in a T-shirt and flip-flops!”

Libbie herself was always immaculately turned out in her tailored navy uniform – and had to wear her hat and gloves to greet passengers. “I would call the look glamorous military,” she says.

Dining, including seven-course feasts for first-class passengers, was a major part of the flight. “Well, we didn’t have movies or music or all that racket in those days so people just enjoyed the beautiful food and wine. It passed the flight time,” explains Libbie.

Caviar, lobster and smoked salmon were staples on the menu, as were roast lamb and beef. Amazingly, the joints were actually cooked on the plane.

George Forrest, 70, of Bathgate, flew 36 times on the 707 due to go on show at East Fortune during his 11 years of flying.

For a while he was on the royal flight roster, serving the likes of Princess Alexandra. Aside from the royals, he met around 40 celebrities during his stint on the 707 – including Max Bygraves, Nina Simone, Judi Dench and Peter Ustinov. His favourites, he says, were Elizabeth Taylor – “a beautiful woman, very polite” – and Telly Savalas.

As for Libbie, there was one particular star she loved flying with. “My absolute, absolute favourite was Trevor Howard – I loved the movie Brief Encounter. He was absolutely gorgeous – the way he addressed you and talked to you. He was entirely charming.”

Fresh red roses were served with dinner – on one occasion the star kept hold of his and, just before landing, presented Libbie with it. “I kept it for years,” she sighs.

Cabin crews were together for 18 to 28 days, possibly circling the globe several times. George, who joined to satisfy his travel bug, regularly visited the Far East, Africa and the US. “It’s easier to say where I didn’t go. I never got to Brazil, which I am sorry about.”

The crew tended to bond together – including with the pilots who in the 1960s were often dashing ex-wartime flyers.

It was a lifestyle which came to earth with a bump in the early 1970s, with the arrival of the Jumbo jet. Bigger than its predecessor, it marked the real beginning of mass travel and package holidays abroad. Libbie left air hostessing in 1973 to marry an Australian cattle grazier and set up home in the Outback. George left the same year, getting tired of living out of a suitcase.

“You started to get the charter airlines coming in, with smaller cabin crews,” he says. “And this was the era of trolley dollys – BOAC always had a 50/50 male-female policy but the charter airlines tended to go for all-female crews.”

Now that era of high-flying glamour is consigned to history – which is why Alastair and the Museum of Flight are so delighted to have rescued the 707 from an RAF museum in Shropshire, where it was about to be scrapped. Lovingly restored in its original colours of blue, silver and white, with the upholstery recreated by a mill in Alloa, the plane, which reaches its 50th birthday in September, and its accompanying exhibition will have a wide appeal, says Alastair. “It will bring back a lot of memories for anyone who lived through that era – and those who didn’t will be amazed at how different air travel was,” he says.

Jet Age opens at the National Museum of Flight on April 1, entry free with museum admission (adults £9, concs £7, children 12 and under free). The museum is open seven days a week.For more information, visit

• Glamour in the Skies by Libbie Escolme Schmidt is published by The History Press, priced £18

Last Updated: 27 March 2010 12:19 PM

Source: Edinburgh Evening News

Location: Edinburgh


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International Journalists Newsletter

Formed in 1884, the Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) is the world’s oldest established professional body for journalists, and a representative voice of media and communications professionals throughout the UK and the Commonwealth.

In their April 2010 newsletter publication, journalist Leslie Abdela did a book review on “Glamour in the Skies”. To access this article please click on the link below:


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Whatever Happened to the Glamour of Airline Travel

By William Langley

Read article online here.

Bang on your scheduled arrival time, you are in the airport. How perfect is that? Unfortunately, the airport is the one you were hoping to depart from. Everywhere around you, wreathed in the noxious whiff of junk food and rage-induced perspiration, swarm your fellow passengers, all of you trapped in a vast, inhuman holding pattern.

Once on board, that big, comfy seat they tempted you with in the brochures turns out not to be quite so comfy. Partly because the man seated next to you is the size of a plesiosaur. And the woman on the other side is clutching three-month-old twins, either one of whom could drown out a Metallica concert. You squeeze in to the sliver of space between them, watch idly as miles of greasy tarmac slide by on your crawl to the runway, and prepare to grapple with the world’s most depressing question: chicken or beef?

Whatever happened to the glamour of airline travel? To the discreet tinkle of piano lounges, the sipping of expertly shaken cocktails, the adjustment of silk cravats? Modern air travel has become a nightmare. One that is likely only to get worse, and as the memories of the good times fade, a whole generation of air travellers is growing up hardened to the everyday humiliations, delays, discomforts and rip-offs of flying.

The problem isn’t merely that airports have become vast, fortified shopping malls filled with chain outlets and awash with slobs in shell-suits. Or that the process of getting to the plane routinely takes longer than the actual flight. Or even that the on-board experience is … well, the author Thomas Harris describes it with appropriate distaste in his novel Hannibal: “Shoulder room is 20 inches. Hip room between armrests is 20 inches. This is two inches more space than a slave had on the Middle Passage. The passengers are being slopped freezing-cold sandwiches of slippery meat and processed cheese, and re-breathing the f**ts and exhalations of others in reprocessed air.”

Today’s airline traveller knows that all this awaits him. If he doesn’t, a tuned-for-maximum annoyance system of check-ins, passport control, security scans and boarding gate hold-ups serves to constantly remind him. Yet, what really baffles him as he stands and shuffles, nose to the immobile back of the passenger in front, is how these horrors came to be visited upon him. The answers are complex and reflect, to a great extent, both the best and worst of human nature.

Flying was, indeed, once glamorous. In the mid-1940s only around 10 million people took commercial flights, and international routes barely existed. To fly at all was to experience something of exotic rarity. Today the number of airline tickets sold each year approaches three billion, and at any given moment more than 750,000 people – roughly half the population of Abu Dhabi – are up there in the sky.

In the course of getting to its current oversubscribed state, air travel has shed more than glamour. It has lost its essential mystique – the sense of wonder we used to have that it was actually possible to fly, and that human ingenuity had built a craft capable of such a thing. This almost childlike appreciation made flying – at least in the early days – something akin to the witnessing of a miracle. Today’s airline passenger barely realises that he’s doing something that all earlier generations of humans would have considered pure fantasy. In Virgin’s Upper Class cabin the seats are configured herringbone-fashion facing the centre. The message is obvious: only nerds want to look out of the window.

For the first few decades of commercial air travel the glamour lingered because the fantasy remained essentially intact. Flying was the privilege not just of the few, but of the few in possession of both money and a spirit of adventure. During the 1930s and 1940s, the great Pan Am Clippers plied the skies, crewed by men in starched naval uniforms and attended by women in pale blue dresses and pink lipstick. Furnished in the manner of flying gentlemen’s clubs (an early brochure lists dining tables of black walnut, Wedgwood china and soft leather seats) these majestic machines first opened up the world to the idea of international travel. In doing so, they set us on a course to today’s degradations.

In the early days there was only one class – expensive. A return ticket from San Francisco to Shanghai on a Clipper cost $12,000 at today’s prices, but aviation technology was developing fast and by the 1950s and 1960s new planes such as the Boeing 707 and the De Havilland Comet became the flagships of the Jet Age. They were fast, efficient and offered the tantalising whiff of air travel for all.

Still the sense of wonder endured. “It was actually more than that,” says the former British Airways stewardess Libbie Escolme-Schmidt, author of the recently released book Glamour in the Skies. “There was an atmosphere of optimism and possibility and tremendous excitement. Passengers would dress in their best clothes for the flight. Many had never been aboard an aircraft before.

“Stewardesses were treated like celebrities. We went to official functions, stayed at the finest hotels. Every girl dreamed of being a stewardess. I remember going for a job interview, and there were all these immaculately turned out, beautifully spoken young ladies flicking through Vogue and Tatler. All desperate to be pushing trolleys.”

Pilots, for their part, assumed the image of the cool-nerved hero. Steven Spielberg’s 2003 movie Catch Me If You Can wittily evokes the romantic heyday of air travel. It tells the story of a con-man impersonating a Pan Am pilot, raising the question of who better to impersonate if you want a good life?

Yet, as the Golden Age of air travel came to an end, the signs of turbulence were already looming. Aviation’s attractions were driving its popularity faster than anyone had imagined. “Come Fly With Me”, crooned Frank Sinatra, and millions took up the offer. Airports – most of which had been built on the lines of municipal bus stations – could no longer cope with the onslaught of passengers. Slowly it became clear that the airline pioneers’ dream of free movement of people could only be achieved by a global system of mass transportation.

This was the world the air traveller had progressed to by the 1970s. The glamour had largely gone, but, by way of compensation, the traveller found that flying was a convenient and not unpleasurable way to get around. He could buy a ticket without having to show identification, check his bags without being interrogated as to their contents, walk unimpeded through the airport and have a good chance of finding an uncrowded plane. It was cheaper, too. Deregulation of the United States airline industry triggered a global trend for new, nimbler airlines that paved the way for today’s low-cost carriers.

A new image of the air traveller evolved from the upheaval. No longer did he resemble Humphrey Bogart escorting Ingrid Bergman to a spluttering Lockheed Electra in Casablanca. He flew because it was practical and his time – or his employer’s time – was valuable. But by turning aviation into a utility, he brought about the end of an age of innocence. By the 1970s, the realisation was dawning that, beyond its usefulness in moving people around the world, an aircraft could, potentially, be a useful tool of criminal or terrorist enterprise. Between 1969 and 1978 there were more than 400 international hijackings. In response, governments turned airports into high-security zones.

“Air transport,” says Michael O’Leary, the boisterous boss of Europe’s biggest budget airline Ryanair, “is just a glorified bus operation.” He isn’t far wrong. Modern pilots are essentially computer operators, and passengers have become a bulk commodity to be freighted around the world at the lowest possible cost and highest possible margin.

There are, to be fair, exceptions. The UAE’s national airline, Etihad, last month won the top award at the World Travel Awards for its high standards of service.

But the pressures on the traveller continue to grow. Under the guise of environmental concern, governments now use him as a cash cow – imposing taxes that can exceed the cost of the ticket. Airport operators, who make much of their profits from retail operations, have little incentive to speed him past their glitzy malls.

The glamour isn’t coming back. You can still – if you want to spend the money – fly in luxury. But the real magic came from exclusivity, and that has gone forever.
The loss should be tempered by the knowledge that the urge to travel, to explore, to discover, has driven human progress throughout history, and that the ordeal the traveller now endures demonstrates both the suffering and the power of the people.

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A Flair for Flying

BA High Life Magazine December 2009

BA High Life Magazine December 2009

Libbie Escolme-Schmidt looks back on her heady days as an ‘air hostess’ in the golden era of the 1960’s

I became an airline stewardess by chance. As a young university student in Brisbane, I used to watch the TAA aircraft fly over my grandmother’s house in Clayfield. About an hour later, I would see a very glamourous TAA air hostess walk past the house to her accommodation next door.  I found it incredibly exciting to think that just an hour before she had been up in the skies in that aircraft.  She looked so confident, elegant and mysterious.  I wondered, where had she been that day?

That was in the late 1950’s. Like hundreds of other Australians in the early 60’s, once I graduated, I joined the exodus to Britain. It was an exciting time to be young and free, but everything came to a halt after I had spent all my money seeing Europe.  I was flat broke.  In a quandry, I applied to BOAC, a predecessor of British Airways, to become an air hostess.

Fortunately fo rme it was a time of expansion for the airline and within three weeks I was being interviewed in a borrowed grey Chanel suit and my only pair of heels. The interview was a terrifying experience.  While I thought I would be questioned at length about my knowledge of BOAC and its routes, my expressionless interrogators asked questions about my life and my career so far. I also had to walk and sit down in fron tof them. I thought htis was somewhat demeaning, but I was so desperate to get the job and silently thanked my mother, who had sent me on a finishing course as a gift when I graduated from university.

Within two months, I was on my six-week training course with BOAC.

Ever day involved copious note-taking on topics such as menu definitions, cabin service routines, air-sea rescue and jungle survival. Air-sea rescue was a great day as we all donned our bathers and experienced the life rafts and life jackets. I hadn’t been in a swimming pool for a couple of years and thought it was heaven.

The day we receieved our Wings was such a relief.  At last I was going to be an airline stewardess. I was about to have the best time of my life. The excitement of opening those brown paper envelopes sent in the post by crew scheduling to tell me where I was assigned for my next trip never waned. I was going around the world for 18, 21 or 24 days at a time.  What a lifestyle! I used to go to my tailor and jeweller in Hong Kong and pick up my goods on the next trip. I visited the Taj Mahal, wandered the avenues of New York, explored Bangkok, Tokyo, Singapore and Delhi, went on safaris in Africa, basked in the sun on the beaches of the Carribean and Waikiki, climbed Machu Picchu, watched the animals from treetops in Africa.  Those were just a few of the wonderful experiences. I loved the peripatetic existence of going to exotic locations and the countless opportunities to meet so many interesting people.

The passengers were such a pleasure, elegantly dressed and so polite.

We welcomed them in our white gloves and smart hats as if they were special guets coming to dinner. We would escort them to their seats, address them by name and help them put their hand baggage and their coats (neatly folded) in the overhead racks. The slogan was ‘BOAC Takes Good Care of You’ and we did.

My most romantic moment with a passenger was when I had a very charming and inebriated Trevor Howard on board. He thoroughly enjoyed every morsel of his food and the Chateauneuf-de-Pape. As I went to clear away, he took my hand and said he wanted to give me a little gift. He then generously presented me with the red rose I had initially placed there, and kissed my hand.  I couldn’t keep the kiss but I still have the rose, crushed and ried. A true brief encounter!

Th emost alarming incident was when a snake escaped from its basket (it was travelling with a snake dancer) on the way to Nairobi. Being a coward, I hardly looked for it but sent the passenger on her hands and knees to find it, but guess who did eventually find it…me! It was curled up around the base of the lavatory ‘getting cool’ she said.

My greatest thrill was being allowed to sit behind the captain for take-off and landing. My favourite was Kai Tak, the old airport at Hong Kong, which was a famously difficult place to land.

Crew life was enormous fun. The job created a strange social phenomenon in which a group of ten or 12 total strangers would meet and almost immediately become a team for the length of a trip.  We would become very close: work together, eat togetehr, go on excursions together, shop and swim together and do a whole lot of other stuff together, if the spirit and body were willing.

Flying suring the Swinging 60s gave our lives an extra panache.  For a while many of us were guilty of rolling up our waistbands to shorten our skirts. Airline competition was fierce and the stewardesses were the faces of the airline, so a new uniform designed by Clive had us all wearing minidresses, boots and Wolfonavy blue tights. And it didn’t stop there. For the Carribean run, we wore paper dresses. These were a disaster if a spillage occurred.

I am often asked if I would do it all again. Oh yes of course I would, but only in the Golden Age.

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Libbie “Flying High” on the Channel 9 Today Show!

Libbie being interviewed by Lisa Wilkinson on the Today

 Show in October about her book “Glamour in the Skies”.

Click on the link below to view the interview:

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Aeroplane Monthly September 2009

Glamour In the Skies

The Girls don’t get much of a look-in in aviation literature, so this book recalling the golden age of the air stewardess is welcome. The period covered is 1936 to 1980 and is based on “stews” who served with British Airways and its predecessors.  Teh author interviewed many people and recorded them on tapes and discs, and in letters and telephone calls.

BOAC’s first air hostess began operations on May 10, 1943, in a de Havilland Albatross from Bristol to Shannon. By 1950 the stewardess role had been firmly established and attractive girls in uniform were part of this and many other airline’s advertising.

As an example of those days, the girls’ salary was £4 a week with no overseas allowances. Their equipment on Avro Lancastrians and Yorks consisted of huge thermos flasks of soup etc, plus plates for hot meals and fruit salads. Soda siphons and saucepans completed the kit. Flight times had no limitations and were mostly around 12hr.

Pilot recollections are given for various types of aircraft flown by BOAC, from DC-3s to Concorde, and there is, rather surprisingly, an appendix listing aircraft disasters, fortunately not fatal. Other appendices give the old and new phonetic alphabets and a timeline of BOAC and its predecessors.

The Golden Age of the air stewardess has gone, but many of those who experienced it considered it the most wonderful time of their lives. This delightful book will please anyone interested in airline history, with its many stories of a changing world seen through the eyes of the “stew”. Well done girls!

***** (Five Stars- Absolutely Outstanding) Mike Hooks

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Review: This England, Autumn 2009

Glamour In the Skies

For many girls of a certian age one of their childhood ambitions was to become an air hostess.  Whether it was the stylish uniforms with the jaunty hats, the prospect of flying to exciting and exotic destinations, or the opportunity to mix with the international jet set, this was one job which seemed ot be perfect. But was it really as good as it appeared?

Compiling the reminiscences of fellow cabin crew from the 1940s to the 1980s, the author provides a fascinating, frank and sometimes funny portrait of life in the skies during the halcyon days of air travel.

Concentrating on British Airways and its predecessors, she also considers the development of the stewardesses’ role and commercial passenger flights; training; discrimination; in-flight emergencies; and flying supersonic on Concorde, which despite its elegant, sleek exterior had an unbelievably cramped cabin!

Filled with 90 colour and black-and-white photographs this will appeal not just to former cabin crew, but seasoned air passengers too. Fasten your seatbelts for a nostalgic and illuminating flight.

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