Something Special In The Air

Remembering a unique era in air travel, when it was all glitz, glamour and questionable practices
Frontiers of Flight Museum Braniff exhibit. Photo by Can Türkyilmaz

Remembering a unique era in air travel, when it was all glitz, glamour and questionable practices

In 1952, Helen Adair’s future took flight. Clad in a light blue skirt-suit and hat, her poised and prepped body stepped onto a DC-3 Braniff plane with 21 passengers, and she began her journey as a hostess in the sky.

A 1960s-era marketing campaign meant bright colors for Braniff.

Braniff “hostesses” took their first flight June 1, 1937, and today, a group of Preston Hollow women still buzz about their years of travel through Clipped Bs, an organization formed by former Braniff flight attendants who reflect on the “good years.”

Flying in the 1950s and ’60s was all luxury, style and class. Pilots greeted pristinely dressed passengers as they boarded. Beautiful hostesses donned fashion-forward mini dresses and high-heeled boots, served up cocktails and chef-prepared lunches, and when one of them delivered the seat belt instructions, people actually listened.

Back then, women in their late teens and 20s clamored for a flight attendant job, typically available to about one in a hundred applicants. Many of the successful ones still live in Dallas because it was the headquarters of Southwest, Braniff and American.

As a Clipped B, Adair speaks of the years she worked as a glamorous flight attendant with a starting salary of $199 a month. It was a time when “hostesses” (what Braniff called the ladies) knew all their passengers by name, and people took pride in the way they looked, says Adair’s friend Rhea Maguire.

Maguire got her wings in 1958 because it was the most exciting job available at the time. She was sitting with her parents on their way to California when a flight attendant told Maguire she would be perfect for the job. Maguire says she was in college studying to be a teacher and didn’t want to seem excited about the idea in front of her parents, but the woman was just so “cute, cute, cute,” and she wondered what it would be like to be in her perfectly polished shoes.

Most women worked as secretaries, teachers or nurses, and Maguire says she didn’t want that life. She flew for more than a year before she married her college sweetheart, a man she has been married to for 53 years.

In Braniff’s prime, women had to retire when they married or by age 32 when, Maguire says, most women weighed about 130 pounds max.

Maguire and Adair browse the Braniff exhibit

“It was very glamorous at that time, hose and heels and gloves. It wasn’t the casual,” she says of their attire. Before the hostesses, who stood between 5’ 2” and 5’ 7”, could begin their shifts, inspectors looked at the women’s shoes, made sure their hair didn’t touch their collars, and they were weighed, says former hostess Yvonne Crum.

On July 15, 1964, Crum started working for Braniff and later switched to American Airlines. She retired 46 years later on the same day in July after having what she calls “a little detour with breast cancer.”

Crum says she was very fortunate to work in the “glory days” when respect went both ways on an aircraft. The passengers were generally polite, and the hostesses took pride in a job that opened the world to them.

Crum started working for Braniff in 1964 and later switched to American.

Adair says she never would have traveled to South America if it wasn’t for her job, and smiles with perfectly applied red lipstick when she speaks of the thrill of Mexico City and New York. Maguire also says New York was one of the best places she traveled.

It wasn’t all glamour, though. Maguire and Adair speak of picking uneaten food off passengers’ trays after they left the plane or fell asleep.

“That’s why I eat so fast now,” Adair jokes.

She also jokes about the time Lyndon Johnson flew in coach on one of the flights, and the flight attendant alongside her was afraid to approach him because he had a notorious temper.

“He couldn’t have been nicer,” Adair says of the former president, who marched down the aisle and shook everyone’s hands.

Larry and Yvonne

Adair came back to work in reservations and at the ticket counter in the late ’70s after suffering from Braniff withdrawal. Women were allowed to take ground jobs for airlines if they were “too old” to work in the sky.

But, “flight attendants are born friendly,” Adair says of the desire to work with the public and the lifelong friendships they form.

Adair, far left, and her fellow hostesses in the 1960s

Before deregulation “Braniff was the biggest thing going,” but the glory days came to an end in the late ’60s when American landed in Dallas and everything changed, Crum says.

Adair says Braniff expanded too fast to try and keep up, and that, along with bad management and rising fuel costs, was the reason Braniff went under.

Men didn’t start working as “cabin attendants” until 1972, 10 years before Braniff folded. Crum said hostesses lost everything when the airline went under.

“Our pension and savings and everything,” she says.

Staying connected is important for these women, whose hair is still perfectly curled and nails polished to glimmer in the light. Clinging to her memories, Adair volunteers to this day as a docent at the Frontiers of Flight Museum.

The Frontiers of Flight Museum showcases Braniff uniforms circa 1960.

Visit the Frontiers of Flight Museum at 6911 Lemmon.
Hours are Mon.-Sat. 10 a.m.-5 p.m.,
Sun. 1 p.m.-5 p.m.
seniors $6, adults $8, students $5, under 3 free
For more information call 214.350.3600 or visit flightmuseum.com

 


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