Flight attendants in retirement; many endured tough standards
They were servers with a nurse’s training, single and slim, forced out by age 32. In public, they couldn’t eat, drink or smoke; many wore white gloves and were tucked into impeccable uniforms, small hats pinned atop their coiffed heads. They had to be ready to fill in, always, overnight bags packed, subjected to strict appearance screenings at work, unusual even in the 1950s.
Today we call them flight attendants. The individuality of an air carrier was generally shaped by these “air hostesses,” serving plated meals and forever smiling in a bouncing plane, and with whom the public most closely interfaced―but with restricted rights even outside the job.
Yet these women, and later men, were resilient and fought for their rights. A 1970s movement ended the prohibition on marriage and allowed them to retire when they chose. Some older flight attendants remain in the sky―it’s not too unusual to have 50 or more years on the job, says Mollie Lassy, Southwest Florida chapter president of Clipped Wings, a national club of retired and active United Airlines flight attendants. The group formed in 1941. Southwest Florida’s chapter has some 35 active and retired members. It’s mostly social, keeping tabs on the airlines, trading details on kids and grandkids, Lassy says, but it also includes planning for the Special Olympics, an event Clipped Wings nationally co-sponsors.
On this sunny morning, Southwest Florida’s Clipped Wings are gathering at the Gulf Coast Town Center for their monthly luncheon. A handful still fly, but most are off the clock. Other din-
ers gawk as the women pass by, respectful, perhaps sensing that they represent something special. They are, after all, quite striking into their 60s and 70s. They carry themselves with glamour and the intangible cohesion of schoolteachers, soldiers or a baseball team.
The lessons of the 1950s and ’60s can do that, Lassy says. “It was like a fashion career, but dealing with so many rules. It’s much different now.”
Clipped Wings meets monthly to keep tabs on their business and one another.
Flight attendants had endured strict dress, marriage and retirement rules. Things changed in the 1970s.