Former flight attendants recall experience flying with Pan Am

October 3, 2011 9:10:24 AM PDT
Pan American World Airways was the largest international carrier in the United States from 1927 until its financial collapse in 1991. Now the iconic airline is part of the premise behind a new ABC show.

On the television show, Pan Am actresses portray the glamorous life of a stewardess jetting around the world. As we found out, some of the real women of Pan Am call Houston home today.

It was a new era for women, and some Houston ladies were a part of it.

"Those people who flew back then, because you dressed up to fly," former flight attendant Maria said.

And to be a woman of Pan Am, you had to be single, no children, bilingual and attractive. And there were height requirements that some inched by.

"I put cotton in my hose," former Pan Am flight attendant Suzie Wilson said. "As soon as it hit the hair roller in my hair, I go, 'Ow.' 'We're so sorry.' Then I got hired."

And those scales on the ABC show are no joke.

"Even when we were recruiting, which was what year, 1976? We had a scale in the recruiting room and you had to get on and weigh," Suzie said.

It was a time when meals were cooked from scratch.

"Those were the times really, you did everything. And now you have to buy your meals," one former flight attendant said.

And surprises kept you on your toes.

"It would get louder during the flight -- Bock, bock. It was a fighting cock rooster. We had to tell the pilot and lock it in the bathroom," said former Pan Am Flight Attendant C.C.

But not all the stories end with a laugh. There were hijackings.

"He had a knife and he cut the captain and so finally the captain said shoot, shoot, the policeman had his gun and shot him five times," former flight attendant Jean Richie said.

And honeymooners.

"A couple of times we'd have to put blankets over them," another former stewardess said.

In first class was a long list of celebrities.

"I said, 'Can I come and do the cold towels? I said do you know who is going to be on board? He said, 'Who?' I said, 'Marlon Brando!'" Maria said.

The gracious.

"We had Christopher Reeves, Superman, and he was so nice," C.C. said.

And the difficult -- like Bianca Jagger.

"She would tap her cane when she wanted something, you'd be like, what?" Suzie said.

For 64 years, it was America's airline, but it never recovered after the 1988 Lockerbie bombing.

"After Pan Am was destroyed, the government did not come to our aid and that was the end of Pan Am," said Suzie.

The past 20 years, these women have stayed in touch. It seems many of the story lines may not be much of a stretch and from the perspectives of these Houston women.

"It was a wonderful time in my life, probably the greatest time in my life," former flight attendant Tee Couch said.

It's no wonder it was a job little girls looked up to.

There are still Pan Am reunions held each year around the world where past employees gather to reminisce.

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