Back to the Future

by Romlee Stoughton

Many Southern Californians know Ric Romero as part of the ABC 7 news anchor team in Los Angeles. But there was a time when Ric was part of a very Ric-Romero-ABC-7different team – as one of the first recruits of male “cabin attendants” hired by Pan Am in 1972. It all began when Mr. Celio Diaz Jr, who applied for the position in 1967,  was denied employment. He filed a class action lawsuit charging that Pan Am’s refusal to hire him based on his gender was discriminatory. In 1971 the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled for Diaz by upholding the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the industry could no longer exclude men from the position. Unfortunately for Diaz, by the time this landmark decision was reached, he was older than Pan Am’s cutoff age for employment.

Ironically, Pan Am traditionally hired only men for the job before WWII, but towards the end of the 1950s, male recruits were becoming few and far between. By 1964, Pan Am ceased hiring men as stewards completely. The advent of the Boeing 747 Jumbo Jet, first introduced by Pan Am in 1969, sparked a radical change in air travel. Larger planes and more people flying required Pan Am to increase their hiring of cabin crew. Perceptions were also slowly beginning to change that would allow for the possibility of men to perform functions once reserved for women only. Pan Am was now actively looking for men to serve in the cabins of its airplanes after an eight-year absence.

Ric was living in Manhattan Beach, California in 1971 enjoying summer break from attending Long Beach State University. He couldn’t believe it when he heard an ad on his car radio that Pan Am was specifically hiring men to be cabin attendants. The idea of travel and a fresh, new adventure was alluring; suddenly it all made sense. Los Angeles International Airport, where many of the airlines had administrative offices, was so close, so Ric submitted applications to Pan Am, United, and Western. Ric went through all of the interviews and Western responded first offering him a training date. The idea of international travel was too appealing however, so he held off on Western in high hopes of getting hired by Pan Am. His wait paid off when he received his invitation from Pan Am to attend training in Miami. Ric’s ticket to the world had arrived just as he wanted. Knowing he would require extra spending money, he continued to work at home until his training start date in July 1972. This gave Ric enough time to contemplate his high-flying future. One evening, while out with his buddies he expressed his apprehension about his career choice . Much to his surprise it was followed by some encouragement he wasn’t expecting:

“I was twenty-two, and all my friends were getting married and having kids as they were a little older than I was. I thought maybe I need to start my career. Maybe this is a mistake. I told my friends, ‘you know I don’t think I’m going to take the job’. They all said, ‘Are you nuts? We want to be YOU! Just do it even if it’s for only a year. Get the experience of it!’”

With Ric’s decision made and his one-way ticket to Miami in hand, he was off to Pan Am flight attendant training. The Miami Airways Motel in Miami Springs, Florida would be his new home for the four-week program. There were four classes and about thirty men out of the couple of hundred trainees. Each week a new class would arrive. Ric was one of eight men in his class and even though training could be challenging, the 727 training flights to the Caribbean, Puerto Rico, the Bahamas, and Jamaica offered an idea of the excitement that lies ahead. At that point, Ric knew there was no way he was going to back out of his decision to fly.

The Miami Herald, March 1972. Click image to expand

With men now being hired in this predominantly female job, Pan Am adopted the more neutral or generic term of “cabin attendant” instead of stewardess or steward.  A new face to the profession appeared in training classes for airlines across the nation, and it naturally attracted a lot of media attention. Miami newspapers featured interviews and articles on Pan Am’s training center being open to men for the first time in years. Training was demanding and the expectations were high. Being bilingual was a must and Ric qualified in Spanish for his second language requirement, having learned it from his grandparents. Trainees worked together studying for long hours and supported each other throughout the course. Ric came from a California beach life and was an avid surfer. Pan Am’s worldwide international routes obviously meant crossing over entire oceans and the Miami Airways Motel pool was perfect for ditching and life raft training. For some, this was one of the more frightening aspects of the curriculum and Ric’s skill in the water proved to be invaluable for a fellow classmate who he taught how to swim.

Trainees learn life raft and survival equipment procedures at the Miami Airways Motel pool. (Photo courtesy of Joy Losee)
Trainees learn life raft and survival equipment procedures at the Miami Airways Motel pool. (Photo courtesy of Joy Losee)

“Training was around four weeks with a six-month probationary period. We were told at the very beginning that we would be taking tests at the end and if you didn’t pass you’d be washed out – you had one shot! Everyone took it extremely seriously. Some days we’d begin training very early in the morning and be done at 2:00 or 3:00 in the afternoon and then hang out by the pool and study. I remember there was a large group of Japanese trainees, and they all studied together. They were always together. Most of them were sent to Honolulu for their language. If you went to Honolulu, you received extra pay because of the higher cost of living. We graduated with a class of about forty.”

Pan Am was the one U.S. airline that hired a multinational crew to serve its global route structure. For many people, choosing to embark on a career with Pan Am would require leaving one’s hometown or country to begin a new way of life somewhere completely different. In the beginning, trainees weren’t certain where they’d be sent after successful completion of training to start their exciting flying career. The anxious anticipation of relocation possibilities was finally over. They had the choice of Boston, Washington D.C, Honolulu, or London as bases:

“I was going to choose Boston at first. I had a cousin who lived in Boston and had some restaurants there. I kept thinking about my buddies telling me just to have fun with the experience – do whatever! I thought, what the hell. I’m just going to do London. I’m going to choose London and see what happens. If I hate it, I’ll choose something else.”

Pan Am Male Cabin Attendant Wings
First issue insignia for male cabin attendants used for a short time before the final half-wing design. These were often humorously referred to as the “nail clippers.”

Ric graduated and received his wings in April of 1972 and was one of the first classes of men to get based in London. Since Pan Am’s return to hiring men came rather quickly, preparation for a uniform ensemble for them to wear left almost no time for design, choice, or selection. Pan Am, at least, wanted something that resembled a naval dress coat, so the most basic concept was rushed into production. Ric was issued the firstPan Am Flight Attendants MIA 2 Pan Am male cabin attendant uniform for the 70s. It was dark blue. The suit coat design had no lapels and included brass buttons with the Pan Am logo. Male-Cabin-Attendant-Tie-200pxA light blue dress shirt; a black, blue, and orange-stripped tie; and a black belt and dress shoes completed the basic look. Accessories included a black trench coat with epaulets and a short navy blue serving apron. Cabin attendants were required to furnish their luggage, and pursers were each issued a serving kit that included a carving knife for the prime rib, tongs, a serving spoon and fork, and an ice mallet among other things.

“I thought getting based in London was the best of both worlds. When you think about how great London is as a city first of all but yet the weather can be so horrible, we would fly to the Middle East or Far East to all the warm climates. I would bid a line to go to Nice or Rome – to warm temperatures so I didn’t have to endure the horrible weather all the time. I was able to go wherever and enjoy it, so that was really cool.”

Click to read Life-In-London.
















5 thoughts on “

Back to the Future

  1. Romlee, this is one of the groves articles I’ve read in a long time. So many memories, and lots of info. Thank you!

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