Watch Libbie on the National Museum of Flight’s video: “The Jet Set”!
Watch Libbie on the National Museum of Flight’s video: “The Jet Set”!
Here are the pictures I said I would send of your book being read by some stranger in MY hammock in Tahiti – hope you like them!
“Glamour in the Skies” turns up in the most far-flung places!
There was a time when almost every young woman wanted to be a film star or an air hostess, later called stewardess.
Things have changed for the better, virtually every job now being open to women. However, in the years before World War II and immediately after it, the world of air travel demanded that passengers (now called customers) were treated to luxurious service.
Libbie Escolme-Schmidt OAM, who flew as a stewardess for British Airways, has compiled a wonderful record of nostalgia for those “golden days” of air travel. Her book is filled with anecdotes, cartoons and memory-provoking photographs of young women in glamourous uniforms as well as short dresses, depending on the fashion.
Of course, it was not all glamour. The training was and retains high priority, calmness in emergencies, politeness in the face of rudeness, efficiency amid passenger chaos. These qualities, more often than not, are the real memories a passenger takes from the flight.
Libbie was intrigued, as a Brisbane student, by the elegance of a TAA hostess who lived nearby. Later, after her own experiences and several degrees and careers later, she decided to pay tribute to the “trolley dollies”, many of whom moved on to other exciting careers.
This is a well-researched book with a light touch. It has a comprehensive index, several appendices covering air disasters and airline chronology.
Air hostesses, now “cabin crew”, were and are an essential element in the wellbeing of passengers. Libbie Escolme-Schmidt has done them a service by recalling an important part of their history and contribution to flying.
One woman who knows what it was really like in the glamorous era of Sixties air travel is former air stewardess Libbie Escolme-Schmidt who flew the world with BOAC – the British Overseas Airways Corporation.
She says that the new drama captures the mood of the time almost perfectly – and adds that the life of modern-day air hostesses – as seen on recent fly-on-the-wall documentaries such as Airline – is completely unlike that enjoyed by the women who worked in the industry in its infancy.
‘The lifestyle is no way near as interesting as the times we enjoyed,’ said Libbie. ‘The Pan Am girls were gorgeous and they were all blonde.
‘But whenever we crossed paths in New York, I used to hold my head high and be proud of being part of BOAC. We were more glamorous.
In the golden years, cabin crew took pride in their careers and would have rallied behind British Airways, says retired air stewardess Libbie Escolme Schmidt.
Watching the selfish spectacle of BA cabin crew threatening to strike over Christmas makes me realise just how much air travel has deteriorated since the golden days. When I started working as an air stewardess in the 1960s, my colleagues and I took such pride in our job that we would have pulled together to help BA, however difficult, instead of behaving like spoilt children and bullies.
Before flying became mass market, to be an air stewardess was a privilege. Our uniform was a real uniform: it was smart, official but glamorous, a tailored navy blue suit with a white blouse, white gloves and a neat cap. Every single woman who worked for what was then BOAC (British Overseas Airways Corporation, our state airline until 1974) remembers the uniform with great nostalgia.
Just as we had pride in ourselves, our passengers were also immaculately turned out -and they were a delight to work with. Instead of turning up in sloppy sportswear, they boarded in furs, hats and gloves. Everything was dignified – and this in the equivalent of economy class, although in reality only the rich could afford to fly then. Those who did behaved with the utmost decorum because the journey was seen as an occasion which warranted it. They were all interesting people who would often write to us via the airline after the trip to thank us.
For most of my career I felt guilty taking my wage, as it was such a fabulous experience. Every flight was an adventure. We did not have rest periods or even places to even rest; we just grabbed a few minutes wherever we could, whether in a wardrobe or sitting on an air larder which leant against a freezing door. We accepted the conditions as part of an exciting lifestyle, whose numerous perks made up for the odd hardship. As the golden years of flying came to an end, however, the people who felt passionately about the profession left.
Today the conditions and pay for BA cabin crew are the best of any airline in the world. Unfortunately, the privileges that go with the job appear to have given the recipients an overrated idea of themselves. Why shouldn’t air stewards make some concessions when pilots have agreed to a pay cut, managers have accepted voluntary redundancy and many of their other colleagues have volunteered for salary reductions? It seems that loyalty and esprit de corps have vanished faster than a vapour trail.
In these disastrous financial times, every passenger seat is precious revenue. To jeopardise this business over the 12 days of Christmas is inconceivable. Instead of taking to the picket lines, flight attendants should prove their worth by coming up with creative ways to help their passengers and their company get through a difficult period. Otherwise, they risk destroying what my generation still fondly remembers as the world’s finest airline.
Libbie Escolme Schmidt is the author of Glamour in the Skies
Meet the author at the National Museum of Scotland
Date: Thu 19 August
Venue: National Museum of Flight
Cost: included in museum admission.
Come along to the National Museum of Flight on Thursday 19 August and meet Libbie Escolme-Schmidt, author of Glamour in the Skies: The Golden Age of the Air Stewardess. Libbie will be talking to visitors and signing copies of her book, which is available from the Museum shop.
Boeing 707 passengers © BAMusAn Australian ex-BOAC stewardess, who flew on Boeing 707s, Libbie has experienced working with the ‘jet set’ and the thrill of the glamorous lifestyle.
You can also see her in our short film which is screened inside the 707 cabin at our new The Jet Age exhibition.
Find out more about Libbie Escolme-Schmidt at http://libbieescolmeschmidt.com/.
By Anna Carey
Saturday August 29 2009
Flight attendants have worn many different ensembles over the decades. Initially, the uniforms had, like those of the pilots, a slightly military air. “Most of the girls still think that the early 60s uniforms — navy-blue suits which fitted quite nicely, and a white shirt, a hat and gloves — were the smartest of the lot,” says Libbie Escolme-Schmidt. “After that, we went into mini-skirts. Everybody else was running around in mini-skirts in the 60s, so BA had to do something. And anyway — and I was a guilty party to this — we were all hitching up our skirts anyway!”
As the decade progressed, airline bosses went ever further in their attempts to sell the stewardesses as sexy air babes. This culminated in the introduction of floral mini-dresses made of paper (pictured far right) which, one former stewardess remembers, “American men used to try to cut [shorter] with their own scissors”.
Uniforms are a bit less outrageous these days. Former Aer Lingus air hostess Michelle Doherty was fond of her Louise Kennedy-designed Aer Lingus outfit. In fact, it sounds like she quite misses it.
“Working at Phantom, I spend every morning going ‘Oh God, what am I going to wear?’ Whereas with a uniform you don’t have to worry,” she says.
“You have your shirt, skirt, jacket, scarf and a little routine, and you could always put your hands on it. You didn’t have to think. It was glamorous and it looked nice. And it looked good seeing everyone dressed the same.”
Escolme-Schmidt thinks the post-60s attire never matched the style of the early years, however.
“After they lowered the hems again in the 70s, many of the uniforms weren’t as attractive as those early, partially military uniforms.”
– Anna Carey
Complete article also available here: Irish Independent Weekend
By Anna Carey
Saturday August 29 2009
When you are shuffling along a never-ending security queue at Dublin airport, waiting for seven hours in Frankfurt for a connecting flight or paying a tenner on a plane for a tasteless soggy sandwich, it’s hard to remember that, not so long ago, flying was a glamorous, fun experience.
In a relatively short time, we’ve come to think of flying as a stressful chore. But it was once a great adventure. And as a fascinating new book reminds us, the excitement and romance of air travel was personified by the air stewardess, that chic, capable goddess of the sky who tended to passengers’ every need.
“A lot of flight crew who joined in the past 20 years have read the book and they say they had no idea that flying was once so glamorous, so leisurely and done with such aplomb,” says former air stewardess Libbie Escolme-Schmidt, the author of Glamour in the Skies: The Golden Age of the Air Stewardess (History Press, stg£20). “But if you don’t know about what you’ve missed, then perhaps you don’t miss it.”
In her lavishly illustrated tome, Escolme-Schmidt conjures up a world where passengers were served four-course meals with linen napkins and a full silver service, where even economy passengers were given Elizabeth Arden toiletries and could request everything from a shoe horn to an electric razor, and where cabin crew enjoyed fabulous parties in some of the most exotically beautiful places on earth.
Escolme-Schmidt joined BOAC (later British Airways) in the early 60s, but she fell into the job almost by accident. “I came to London to seek my fortune, like millions of other young Australians in the 60s,” she laughs. “I kept spending all my money on travel and finally, when I was flat broke, I applied to BOAC so I could get home for nothing. I became a stewardess by default! But once I started the job, I absolutely adored it.”
It seems she joined at the right time. “The air stewardess really started to be seen as glamorous in the early 60s, when the jets really got going and people started to travel more.”
The first air stewardesses took to the skies in the early 30s, at the dawn of commercial air travel. Initially, no women were employed as cabin crew, but then a young nurse from Iowa had a brainwave. “Ellen Church actually approached Boeing Air Transport in San Francisco,” explains Escolme-Schmidt, “and said it was a good idea to employ nurses so that if a passenger got sick, they could be cared for.”
The idea took off — literally — and for several decades working as an air stewardess was not only one of few exciting careers available to women, it was also a way of seeing the world long before backpacking and cheap international flights. “I’ll always remember the first time I ever saw New York,” says Escolme-Schmidt. “I couldn’t believe the skyscrapers; it was a great thrill. But my favourite place of all was Hong Kong — I loved the atmosphere. It danced with life and it still does. It was such a different environment for many of us. Terribly exciting. Most of the girls say that unless they had joined up, they would never have been to so many exotic locations. We used to stay in most places for two or three days, so you had lots of opportunities to go touring. And when we got to Hong Kong, we all immediately went shopping! We led very busy lives on the ground as well as in the air.”
And those busy lives included some fabulous parties. “People would always let their hair down at the end of a flight,” remembers Escolme-Schmidt. “We were a close team so it was great fun.” It was harder to party in some places than others, however. “We used to smuggle booze into Karachi because Pakistan is a Muslim country. We were allowed to bring in a certain amount, but that only lasted five minutes. You were there for about five days and we needed supplies, so we had to be rather inventive.”
But it wasn’t all fun and games. Initially, although male cabin crew could keep on working indefinitely, female staff were forced to leave after a decade. “It was decided, by someone who I have to assume was male, that after 10 years the women had passed their use-by date,” laughs Escolme-Schmidt. “It was ridiculous. You knew about it when you joined so you accepted it at the time. But people who left after 10 years always said those years felt like 10 minutes. You were continually on the go, so life passed very quickly.”
Happily, the introduction of equality legislation in the 70s ensured that female crew could continue to fly for as long as they liked, and Escolme-Schmidt recently talked to a woman who’s been flying for 42 years.
Time restrictions weren’t the only problems faced by stewardesses. Sexual harassment was rife. “There really was a lot of it, and I always thought the girls handled it terribly diplomatically,” says Escolme-Schmidt. “But it did cause a certain amount of anxiety to some girls who couldn’t joke it off. The mentality of some of the men was that if you were on a flight, you were more or less their possession.”
The sex appeal of stewardesses was explicitly used as a selling point by many of the airlines in the 60s and 70s. “The advertisements of the American airlines were particularly bad,” says Escolme-Schmidt. “They were very sexist. The girls were exploited to some extent as products.” The idea of air stewardesses as sexually available reached its nadir in Coffee, Tea or Me?, a 1967 bestselling ‘memoir’ of high-jinks in the sky by the writer Donald Bain in the guise of two flight attendants, Trudy Baker and Rachel Jones.
Although Escolme-Schmidt welcomes the strides women have made in the industry, she’s depressed by what she sees on flights now. “The ethos back then was to give the passengers a wonderful experience,” she says. “You did everything you could to make it an exciting trip for them. Nowadays when you get on board, it doesn’t seem like the crew care whether you enjoy your trip or not. They chuck the food out and that’s it.”
But is that really true of today’s flight attendants? Michelle Doherty, who presents the daily radio show Finest Worksongs on Phantom 105.2, worked full-time as a flight attendant on Aer Lingus from 1997 to summer 2008. For several, years she combined this demanding job with presenting the popular music programme Night Shift on Channel 6, but she wasn’t tempted to give up her life in the sky for TV celebrity.
“I knew these things can be very short-lived, so I wanted to have a back-up,” she says. “Some days I could be at TV3 in the morning, then I’d change into my uniform and head off on a flight in the afternoon. It was madness. But because I loved doing both I didn’t mind.” She finally made the choice between flying and music presenting when the job with Phantom came up. “I realised I didn’t really want to do it for the rest of my life.”
For Doherty, customer care was definitely at the heart of the job. “I used to sit beside nervous passengers and hold their hands,” she remembers. “One of the best things about the job was the way you could really help people and try to settle them down. Once, a little girl panicked and couldn’t breathe properly, so I sat beside her and got her a paper bag to calm down her breathing. She was shaking, but we got her settled and one of the girls sat next to her for landing.”
Some passengers could be difficult, but Doherty found that a bit of friendliness went a long way. “You have to put yourself in their frame of mind,” she says. “They’ve been rushing all day, the airport’s very stressful, they’re up to 90 and they feel it’s okay to take it out on you. But if you just say, ‘Look, I’m trying to make your journey as relaxed as possible’, and you have the right attitude, you can make everyone feel better.”
Although the flight staff’s concern for the passengers didn’t change during Doherty’s time in the air, the services they were able to provide for them definitely did. “We really noticed the downsizing,” she says. “When I started, we had a full meal service going to London. You could give 100 executive customers hot towels. Your head would be spinning afterwards, but I liked it that way because you really felt you were going out of your way to provide a good service. It’s not very personal now, you just ask what you can get someone and that’s it.
“But everything has to change, and costs have to be cut. If you want flights to be cheaper, services have to be reduced. You can’t have it both ways.”
Of course, budget flights aren’t the only significant thing to happen to aviation in the past decade. “I was in LA on September 11,” says Doherty. “That was terrifying because we were stuck there for days and we didn’t know when we’d get home. I was trying to get through to my family and couldn’t because the lines were jammed.”
The subsequent increased security made things more stressful for everyone — including the staff. “Everything changed,” says Doherty. “The passengers would be stressed out getting on and it would take them ages to get through. And we had to be searched too, so it was all very time consuming for us. The security checks became even more intense.”
It’s a long way from the relaxed old days. “Passengers told me they feel they’re now viewed as the enemy when they get on board,” says Escolme-Schmidt. “The staff don’t like you moving around. But when I was working, passengers used to wander up and down the aircraft chatting to people — and of course they could smoke, too. It was a great big, long dinner party!”
But although flying may have changed, the idea of taking to the skies hasn’t totally lost its lustre. And Libbie Escolme-Schmidt thinks it never really will.
“To most people, flying will always be something that is almost magical,” she says. “And that’s why I think it will always have that special feeling about it.”
– Anna Carey
And now I must tell you about the launch of Glamour in the Skies…. an opportunity to have living history all in one place, which was in the very elegant Downer room at the Australian Embassy in London. There were 4 generations of stewardesses there, wonderful and spritely Olive Carlisle in her mid to late 80’s, very well groomed women from the 50’s, stylish women from the 60’s and Concorde and 747 stewardesses were there representing the 70’s to the 80’s. Many hangar doors were being opened, the din was deafening, as ex crew recounted experiences and recollections….laughter and smiles abounded.
Penny Downie, the acclaimed actress nominated for an Olivier award and who received the Dame Peggy Ashcroft award for best actress, amongst many other awards, launched the book. As Penny Downie said ,and you can see her in Invictus, the brilliant Clint Eastwood movie with Matt Damon and Morgan freeman … “ this was an rare occasion where a collective memory of history was present and has been put to print for the first time . How important it is to capture your history and your invaluable contribution to aviation history before it is lost… I congratulate you all.”
It’s hard to imagine flying as being glamorous in this day and age.
You file through immigration, have numerous security checks and then find a seat in economy, hoping there’s enough leg room and that you won’t be sitting next to someone who snores and dribbles for the duration of a 17 hour flight.
It wasn’t always this way. In the early days of air travel, only very rich people were able to fly. The industry was considered very glamorous and the air hostesses were expected to match this image.
Libbie Escolme-Schmidt was a stewardess at the time. She’s collected stories from fellow stewardesses and turned them into a book called ‘Glamour in the Skies’.
Libbie came into the Outlook studios to chat to Jonathan Charles about her experiences – including the time she had to deal with one very slippery customer.