When she started work as a flight attendant 50 years ago, her job was mainly to make sure passengers stayed in their seats. (No seat belts.) But if they got up she followed them to the bathroom. It was next to the door to the outside.Neither was locked.
Jessie Carter Bronson, one of the original eight stewardnesses who started flying for Boeing Air Transport, a predecessor of United Airlines 50 years ago, was clearly the star of yesterday's reception and airline fashion show at the Rayburn Building. Even Margaret Jo Humbert, who has been flying for 35 years, wanted her autograph.
Bronson recalled serving coffee or sandwiches whenever one of the 11 passengers on a plane requested them, in fragile cups and saucers that often chipped or broke. The cabins weren't pressurized, so everyone chewed gum. "Even so, your ears hurt all the time."
All eight of the first stewardesses hired were nurses, but Bronson remembers only once using that professional skill. "A lady passenger was coughing and sneezing so badly I brought over a hypodermic to relieve her asthma," Bronson recalled. "But when I got real close I realized that she was taking care of herself with sips from her neighbor's hip flask. It probably fixed her better than the medicine."
The 20-hour, 13-stop flight from San Francisco to Chicago was very bumpy and flew mostly at 3,000 feet or lower. Center aisles were clogged with mail bags. And if the flight was too overloaded to take off, "they didn't put off the mail. They put me off," Bronson said.
There was no flirting with pilots. "We were scared to death of them.They were ex-World War I pilots and much older than we. The copilots? Well, maybe."
The uniform -- suit, cap and sensible shoes -- that Bronson and the others wore 50 years ago led off last night's show, sponsored by the International Aviation Club and United Airlines and commentated by Audrey Smaltz.
Futuristic costumes for flight attendants in the year 2030 by Bill Blass, Bill Haire, Edith Head, Lucy Porges (for Pauline Trigere) and Stan Herman were also worn by both male and female attendants. Herman's quilted silver vest flashed different colored lights to signal different services: green for food, red for seat belts, and the like.
"Time will be so precious we'll have little extra time to speak, so we will communicate in lights," said Herman. (Herman made the current round of uniforms for all United attendants, pilots, sky cap and the like and will also style the next round of uniforms.)
Bronson, who quit flying after about two years to get back to serious nursing, said she might like to put on one of the modernistic suits and fly to the moon. "I think the flight would be a bit confining, she said. "But once you started to float around up there, at least your feet wouldn't hurt."