The working life of Jacqueline Kelly can be measured in days.
Hired as a flight attendant for Eastern Air Lines last Oct. 21, she started work on Nov. 19 and earned her wings on Dec. 18. Last week, she got her first full paycheck, and this week the company laid her off.
"I'm numb," she said yesterday at the office of the Transport Workers Union in Alexandria, where she joined 75 other flight attendants at a morale meeting. "It's the worst feeling I've ever had in my life. I finally got a job I really love and they just took it away from me."
Kelly, 24, lives in Burke with three other Eastern flight attendants. Beginning Feb. 4, as a result of this week's announcement by the airline that it would furlough 1,010 of its 7,200 flight attendants -- 78 of them based in Washington -- all four will be out of work.
Earlier this week, Eastern cut the salaries of its 40,000 other employes by an average of 20 percent. The airline said it needs to save more than $450 million each year in employe pay and benefits to prevent financial collapse. Both sides are gearing up for a strike, though industry observers say neither can truly afford one.
"There is much real human pain here, I don't question that for a minute," said Jerry Cosley, Eastern's senior vice president of corporate communications. "But our deadline in the market place is forcing Eastern to act now. We are losing money at an alarming rate."
That, too, is a matter of general agreement. The nation's third largest air line, Eastern lost $76.5 million in the last quarter of 1985, and because of a particularly savage season of price wars with other carriers, the situation appears to get worse each day.
But to the men and women who face the temporary loss of their jobs -- and the real possibility that it will be permanent -- the maneuvering by union officials and company executives means little. The union meeting room was filled yesterday with the mingling smells of perfume and cigarettes, as flight attendants gathered to plan their next move.
"My whole adult life I have worked for this company," said Trish Horth, an Eastern flight attendant for 15 years. "It's such a hostile act for them to take. We are willing to make concessions, but they don't care. I am here today because soon it will be our turn, too. If I lost this job I'd be done in this business. What should I do, go line up for a job with all the 19-year-olds? I have no real options."
The flight attendants said they are particularly hurt that Eastern took out large advertisements in many newspapers beginning yesterday, saying that the company's flight attendants are well paid.
Union officials say they are contesting pay issues less than a new rule that would force employes to count as a day off any time they have more than 24 hours without having to fly. That means that if they fly to San Francisco on Tuesday and return home on Thursday, Wednesday counts as a day off. That was not previously the case.
"What am I supposed to do, set up dental appointments in San Francisco, do my dry cleaning and have my car serviced there?" said Patsy Schultz, one of 280 flight attendants now on active duty in the Washington metropolitan region. "The company doesn't want us to have a career here, because nobody with a family could possibly live with this schedule. They want this profession to become a hobby again. Well, for me it's a lot more than that."