Elizabeth Berg

A friend of mine recently said to me, “I love when you start a story with, ‘When I was a flight attendant …’ because I know it’s going to be a good story.”

ann hood

“Fly Girl” prologue

Ann Hood is one of those charismatic people you just want to be around — in person and on the page. I’m always glad when she has a new book come out, but when I heard about Fly Girl, which is her memoir about working as a flight attendant for TWA in the golden age of air travel, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it.

I have a certain fascination with flight attendants. I have a lot of questions that I’m too shy to ask them. I figured I’d always be one of those people sitting on the plane sneaking looks at them and wondering what their lifestyle is really like. How is it to jet off to all those places all the time — exhausting? exhilarating? What’s your favorite place to go? What is your favorite/least favorite kind of passenger? Are you pals with all the other flight attendants? Do they teach you how to do hair and makeup in flight school when you’re not otherwise engaged in learning about pesky things like mechanics and where the emergency equipment is kept on each type of aircraft? And what about that mile-high club?

Ann Hood answers many of those questions in this book, but she does a lot more than that.

Fly Girl is a virtual get-away: you feel you’re right there on the plane with her in the glory days. When you think of how people fly now, in clothes close to being pajamas — or, in fact, pajamas — it’s hard to believe that people in the ’70s were outfitted in dresses or suits, the men in ties, the women in heels. And the flight attendants were lovely to look at, elegantly thin, with subtly done make-up and stud earrings and tidy hairdos and pretty smiles. Their uniforms were chic, even the aprons. And as I recall, they were unfailingly pleasant, too.

Many first-class sections used to have large bouquets in the front of the cabin, and I recall receiving a mimosa complete with orchid seconds after I sat down when I flew first class to Hawaii from Boston, courtesy of about 10 gazillion frequent flyer miles. There was fine food, too; Ann carved so much chateaubriand on planes, she can still probably do it in her sleep. There were cloth napkins and china plates and little salt and pepper shakers. After meals, there were ice cream sundaes served from a cart to your liking. And even in coach, who didn’t like that cute French toast served for breakfast?

Ann describes flying all over the United States and Europe. She describes a passionate date she had with a man she met in first class. She takes us through the specifics of work routines that flight attendants observe after the seat belt sign goes off, including the inevitable burned fingers from taking foil off food trays.

Oh well … along came deregulation, an oil crisis, massive furloughs and a labor strike. Ann kept working — not always for TWA, but she kept flying. Also, she kept writing. Ever wonder what the flight attendants do when they’re not patrolling the aisles? In Ann’s case, she was working on a novel, sitting on her jump seat, or in hotels, or on public transportation going to and from the airport. Reading about her writing is when I found myself getting unexpectedly moved because of the idea that whatever your dream is, it’s worth trying to achieve it. Imagine, though, having two dreams fulfilled, as Ann did. It’s hard not to cheer for her at the end of the book. Hard, too, not to take another look at what you might do to address some of your own dreams.

Come to this Zoom event to meet the charming Ms. Hood and hear more about her experiences as a flight attendant and as a writer. I’ll bet you’ll have your own questions to ask.

Ann Hood’s appearance is part of the Writing Matter Series, hosted by Elizabeth Berg. Find the link at nineteenthcentury.org.

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