(CNN) — “I came of age when the jet age came,” says Ann Hood, an American writer and New York Times best-selling author whose latest book, Fly Girl, is a memoir of her adventurous years as a TWA flight attendant. at the very end of the golden age of air travel.
As a child growing up in Virginia, she witnessed the first flight of the Boeing 707, ushering in the era of passenger aircraft, and oversaw the construction of Dulles Airport.
At the age of 11, after she returned to her native Rhode Island with her family, she read a 1964 book called How to Become an Airline Flight Attendant and made a decision.
“Even though it was sexist as hell, it seduced me because it was about a job that allows you to see the world, and I thought it might work.”
After graduating from college in 1978, Hood began sending out job applications to airlines. “I think 1978 was really interesting because a lot of the women I went to college with had one foot in the old ideas and stereotypes and the other foot in the future. It was quite a confusing time for young women.”
“Flight attendant” was a newly coined term, a gender-neutral update to the words “hostess” and “stewardess,” and deregulation of the aviation industry was just around the corner, ready to shake things up.
But for the most part, flying was still glamorous and sophisticated, and flight attendants were still “beautiful and sexy adornments,” as Hood put it, even though they were already fighting for women’s rights and against discrimination.
The stereotype of flight attendants in miniskirts flirting with male passengers still persisted and was popularized by books such as Coffee, Tea or Me? The Uninhibited Memoirs of Two Flight Attendants, published as authentic in 1967, but later revealed to have been written by Donald. Bain, head of public relations for American Airlines.
Some of the worst requirements for hiring flight attendants, such as age restrictions and job loss due to marriage or childbirth, have already been lifted, but others remain.
Perhaps the most shocking thing was that women had to maintain the weight they had when they were hired.
“All the airlines sent you a spreadsheet with your application, you looked at your height and maximum weight, and if you didn’t fall into those limits, they didn’t even interview you,” says Hood. “But once you were hired, at least in TWA, you couldn’t go up to that max weight. You had to stay at your hired weight, which in my case was about 15 pounds over my maximum limit.
“My roommate was fired because of this. The worst thing about it, other than what it did to women, is that this restriction wasn’t lifted until the 1990s.”
Hood was one of 560 flight attendants out of 14,000 applicants hired in 1978 by TWA, then a major airline acquired by American Airlines in 2001.
The job began with several days of intensive training in Kansas City, where cadet flight attendants learned everything from the names of aircraft parts to…