It’s holiday travel time and that can mean delayed flights, crowded cabins and invasive pat-downs. If being in an airport seems like the last place you’d want to be this time of year, imagine what it must be like to be a flight attendant.
Hilton Head Islanders Lynda Bouchard and Dee Merian are former flight attendants from two different eras. Bouchard flew from 1982 to 2001, quitting shortly after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Merian wrote about her eight years as a stewardess in the 1950s in her recently released book, “The Best Years of Flying: A Memoir of Howard Hughes and TWA.”
Flying the friendly skies is different now from when they were in the business. But a lot was the same. And neither Bouchard nor Merian regret one day of it.
They recently got together with The Island Packet and The Beaufort Gazette to spend some time reminiscing about their years up in the air.
FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB
Bouchard. Believe it or not, it’s the passengers. I always likedit because you could meet so many different people. The stories are incredible. You have to keep in mind — the flight attendants really made the tenor of the flight. It could be either really good or really bad.
Merian. The layovers, to be honest. In the pre-jet days, the crews only flew 60 or 70 hours a month. We’d get time to explore the places we stayed, we’d get put up in nice hotels.
BRUSHES WITH CELEBRITY
Bouchard. Joe Walsh from the Eagles was flying first class once. He came up and sang “Rocky Mountain Way” on the intercom to the whole cabin. Richard Simmons once got on and helped me run the galley in first class. He was in his striped shorts and tank top.
Merian. Nat King Cole was a very charming man. But he was a very deep sleeper. He was on a flight, and I could not awake him. His wife told me he was a very deep sleeper and to just shake him. Well, I was reluctant at first, but he woke up. He looked around like he had totally forgotten he was in an airplane.
AND BRUSHES WITH TROUBLE
Merian: We used to fly out of Vegas. The gangsters were the ones that always caused a stir. One time a woman got on with this big hat and gray suit and I didn’t pay much attention to her at first. She sat in the corner. As it turned out, it was a man dressed as a woman. He was skipping town, I guess. He was in trouble. They were all terrified to testify. It was a dangerous crowd.
A couple of people got on a flight to Vegas, and they started to fight. And then they started to punch each other out. They lost track of what they were doing and the flight manager came back and they punched him out. I called for management to come get them out of the plane.
Bouchard. Sometimes it’s just the little things. We’d have people who’d stand up when the seat belt sign was on. People who’d get up and move around during the beverage service. It’s just little things but they eventually add up over time.
And we’d have to go over the safety cards. It’s like, “Hey, Mr. Businessman, if I was in your boardroom, I’d be listening to you.” I like it on some airlines where they do songs and other things to liven it up. People hear it so much they need to hear it different so they listen.
Bouchard. When I started flying, most of the airlines had open bins so people put their skis and all their packages in. That was when they could bring just about anything on. Traveling on the holidays was a festive atmosphere. It was a fun time, but you saw that change throughout the years as the rules and restrictions changed.
Merian. Back when I would work holidays, almost no one actually traveled on the actual holidays. It was always the few days before or after.
Bouchard. One of the biggest things I miss — the peanuts!
Merian. The number of passengers on our flights were significantly less than what they are now with the jets. They weren’t too far off when they’d say we’d have nine-course meals. And we’d serve wine or champagne with each course. Sometimes, we’d sneak off with a bottle or two.
Bouchard. In a lot of ways it still is one of the best jobs out there. No other job allows you that kind of travel and let’s you meet so many people. The training of a flight attendant trains you for so many things. It’s like a master’s class in the study of human nature.