the schmooze


Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe
Syosset, New York


The fall TV lineup includes a period drama about the pilots and flight attendants who once made Pan Am the most glamorous way to fly ("flien").

"Di drame" (the drama) is set in 1963 and uses NYC as its backdrop. The series is scheduled to debut on Sept. 25, 2011. It is a nostalgic journey back to an age when Pan American ruled the skies and jetlines embodied the height of "luksus" (luxury) and the epitome of glamour.

Aimee Lee Ball wrote the following:
An anonymous flight attendant recently posted an open letter "to the flying public" on the Internet: "We're sorry we have no pillows. We're sorry we're out of blankets. We're sorry the airplane is too cold. We're sorry the airplane is too hot. We're sorry the overhead bins are full...We're sorry that's not the seat you wanted. We're sorry there's a restless toddler/overweight/ offensive-smelling passenger seated next to you...We're sorry that guy makes you uncomfortable because he 'looks like a terrorist....'"

This sorry state of affairs ends with an admonition: "The glory days of pillows, blankets, magazines, and a hot meal for everyone are long gone. Our job is to get you from point A to point B safely and at the cheapest possible cost to you and the company."

(Source: "Sexy in the sky: A History of the Stewardess," by Aimee Lee Ball, Copyright 2011, American Express Pub. Corp.)

No, we won't hear these two airline jokes:

El Al had just established trans-Atlantic service and was making its inaugural flight from Tel Aviv to New York. Once aloft, the "sheyn" (pretty) stewardess picked up the microphone and talked to the passengers:

This is the first trans-ocean, non-stop flight from Israel to America. Just relax and enjoy the trip. You will know immediately if anything goes wrong. "Der pilot" will become hysterical.

Also aboard the El Al plane from Israel to America was Grandma ("di bobe"), taking her first flight, They had only been aloft for a few minutes when the "alt" lady complained to the stewardess that her ears were popping. The girl gave a "shmeykhl" (smile) and handed the "elter" (older) woman some chewing gum, assuring her that many people experienced the same discomfort.

When they landed in New York, Grandma thanked the stewardess, "The chewing gum worked fine," she said, "but tell me, how do I get it out of my ears?"

What we may learn from the program is some airline/stewardess trivia:

In 1933 the Toledo Sunday Times wrote that the airline stewardess "goes to work 5,000 feet above the earth, rushing through space at a rate of three miles a minute,. The stewardess has been eulogized, glorified, publicized, and fictionalized. She has become the envy of stenographers in New York City and farmers' daughters in Iowa."

In 1936, an article in Literary Digest was titled, "Flying Superman and Superwomen." They noted that airlines put as much extraordinary care into selecting their stewardessess as they did with pilots.

IN 1937, Women's Home Companion described a stewardess as an amalgam of "nurse, ticket-puncher, baggage-master, guide (the Grand Canyon or Boulder Dam must be pointed out to all passengers), waitress, and little mother of all the world.."

In 1943 stewardesses received such favorable attention from the press and the public. A writer for Independent Woman concluded that they exuded "the skill of a Nightingale, the charm of a Powers model and the kitchen wisdom of a Fanny Farmer."

In 1955 United stewardess Barbara Cameron posed for Playboy Magazine as "Miss December." She appeared again three years later as the "The Girl Next Door."

In 1958 American Airlines opened a new stewardess training facility. Life Magazine marked the occasion with a tribute to flight attendants. On Life's cover were two cosmopolitan brides-in-training, and inside were trainees preparing for "one of the most coveted careers open to young American women today." "The job they want does not pay extraordinarily well, only $255 to $355 a month. The life is irregular and the opportunities for promotion ("hekherung") are small. But the chance to fly, to see the world ("velt") and meet all sorts of interesting people-- mostly the kind of men who can afford to travel by plane--gives the job real glamour." (Source:, Oct. 4, '09)

In '65, the jet age, with its "eng" (crowded), speedier flights andmore motley passenger population presented a new challenge to stewardesses' glamour image. With the advent of jets travelers and pundits (and occasionally flight attendants themselves) began to speak of the stewardess as merely a glorified waitress. Flying itself began to lose its cosmopolitan allure.

A female reporter for the Des Moines Register wittiy suggested how durable stewardesses' image was in "Meet the Girl Who Wears Those Silver Wings and a Big Smile": "The airline stewardess, 1965, has one of the most frustrating jobs in the world. Male passengers expect her to look like a Las Vegas showgirl, and are angry when she doesn't. Female passengers are angry when she does, and all fond of calling her a "flying waitress." Bachelors says she's not as glamorous as she used to be, yet would trade their collection ("zamlung") of James Bond paperbacks for a date with her."

After years of lawsuits, flight attendants have the right to gain a few pounds, let their hair go "groy" (gray), get "shvanger" (pregnant), be men and wear polyester uniforms.

Andy Rooney ("and more by Andy Rooney") wrote, "I can't complain much about your stewardesses. They aren't as young or as pretty as they used to be and this seems like a step in the right direction, but I do have two suggestions. Will you please tell them to stop making that announcement where they say, 'If there's anything we can do to make your flight more enjoyable, please don't hesitate to call on us.'

The chances are she's got a planeload of people and we'll all be lucky if she has time to throw lunch at us. We've got about as much chance of getting special attention from a stewardess as we'd have getting the only floor nurse in the middle of the night in a crowded hospital."

Rooney talks about "AR," who is trying to determine the fare from New York to LA:

AR: "Could you tell me how much the fare is from New York to Los Angeles?"

"Thank you for calling Ace Amalgamated Airlines. Your Stairway to the Stars. All our agents are temporarily busy. Please don't hang up. You will now hear Beethoven's Sixth Symphony by the Akron, Ohio, Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Sir Clarence Schimmel...

AGENT: Ace Amalgamed no longer offers a tourist class, sir. Would you like Couch, Economy, Super Saver, Super Coach, Super Duper Coach, or a seat with room in front of you for your legs?"

AGENT: Regular first class features all the champagne you can drink and food you can't eat at all. Our Economy First Class Special is $329 roundtrip. This includes an all-expense paid trip to Disneyland, lunch with Carol Burnett and a reporter from the National Enquirer, and a room at the Y in Beverly Hills.

AGENT: I'm sorry, sir. Our Economy First Class Special is sold out. Actually we only had one seat allotted to that and the pilot's mother is using it...."

Eastern Airlines, in a promotion aimed at funeral homes, is offering a 50% discount for corpses shipped aboard its passenger jets until Aug. 31.

Art Buchwald ("Only snobs pay for airline tickets") writes about his friend, Pierce, who is flying from Boston to LA, paying $700. That is their special summer rate fare for tourist class.

Pierce asks the clerk how long it will take before he can fly for free.

His reply: "I would say two more flights should do it, providing you eat at a Red Lobster restaurant and see Dick Tracey 16 times. We have this tie-in with every one for our 'Come Fly With Me' August free-fall program."

And then the clerk tells Pierce not to mention to the other passengers that he paid $700 for the seat. Pierce asked, "Why not?" "Because they'll think you're a snob... People who have purchased their ticket for full price are considered dumb, and no one has respect for them."

Iberia Airlines, advertising in Miami for flight attendants, says one prerequisite is the ability to swim.

Ray Romano ("Everything and a Kite") writes about his first flight to Las Vegas: "I thought the people sitting in the window seats were hallucinating."

"I see a castle! Hey, a pyramid! Oh look, a gigantic lion!"

"I thought we were flying over a miniature golf course."

"Of course, what those people were seeing were all the new, big, tacky hotels that have gone up over the years. There's always some kind of theme: King Arthur, pirates, McHale's Navy, who the hell knows? Anything and everything."

Bryan Fogel and Sam Wolfson ("Jewtopia") writes about flying "the friendly Jew Skies: El Al Airlines:

El Al, the national airline of Israel, was officially established on Nov. 15, 1948, with the goal of transporting Jewish immigrants from Yemen and Iraq into Palestine...All El Al flights carry armed air marshals, and cockpits are sealed to protect against
attempted intrusions. So why should you fly El Al?

Travelers expect airlines to provide the basics: food, water and working toilets. You'll get your checked-bag fees refunded only if the airline permanently loses your luggage, not if it's late to your destination.

In a move to attract new passengers and improve customer loyalty, several airlines have announced new in-flight amenities for travelers.

American Airlines began offering "pizhame" (pajamas) , slippers, and quilted bed toppers to first-class passengers on Boeing 777 flights from the U. S. to London. And Alaska Airlines begins offering free wireless Internet service to fliers with smart-phones and IPod Touches, and those who rent the airline's in-flight entertainment system. Virgin America added free broadcasts of pro sports games on the entertainment gadgets installed in the back of the seats.

Oh, how I remember flying during the '60s. It was expected that you would wear nice clothing onto the flight. We were "oysgeputst" (dressed up). Anyone who strolled onto an airplane in 1960, or early 1970's in a sweatsuit, or ragged jeans, would have shocked the passengers.

There were no security procedures of any consequence. I walked up to the ticket counter, bought a ticket, showed no ID, and walked out unsupervised onto the tarmac. I climbed the stairs onto the plane. Meeting an arriving flight, one would just stroll over to the gate and greet your friends or "mishpokhe" (family) as they walked off the plane.

There were observation decks at many airports. With little concern about security, some airports allowed you to stroll ("shpatsirn") outside, take a seat, and watch the airplanes come and go.

Let's now observe a moment of "shtilkayt" (silence) for the golden age of travel. And let's give thanks to the stewardess who advises us: "On a plane at crusing altitude, one drink is equivalent to two on the ground. Next time you're airborne, sip slowly!"


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Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe is the author of
two books:
yiddish for dog and cat loversbook
"Yiddish for Dog & Cat Lovers" and
"Are Yentas, Kibitzers, & Tummlers Weapons of Mass Instruction?  Yiddish
Trivia."  To order a copy, go to her

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