Life in London

Pan Am travel poster from 1972.
Pan Am Grenadier Guard travel poster from 1972.

Being based in London afforded Ric the opportunity to experience living in various locations. He even commuted from Madrid, Spain for a while, but he found accommodation in the outskirts of London for most of his time living there. He first moved to Ascot, Berkshire with two classmates; one from Italy and another who had worked as a Pan Am passenger service agent in Iceland before flying. Like most cabin attendants, Ric was adventurous, and eager to see and try new things. He even learned to play the popular English game of rugby from his next-door neighbor while living in Ascot. He also lived for a year in Virginia Water, Surrey in a room built above a couple’s garage in what was part of a mansion:

“I was renting this place that had Persian rugs on the floor, china, real silverware, and even an indoor swimming pool. They had a membership with the prestigious Wentworth Club, and I was able to participate in all of that for $140.00 a month. The rental came with a maid, and someone took care of the apartment while I was gone. It was fantastic!”

Wentworth Club, Virginia Water, Surrey
Wentworth Club, Virginia Water, Surrey

One of the perks of flying for Pan Am were the many connections made from having easy access to the world. Whether it meant visiting a new friend or reacquainting with an old one, Pan Am cabin attendants often had a place to stay. Ric was able to enjoy both the charm of living outside central London and the excitement of being in it. He had a friend from the States who was living in Mayfair, an exclusive area of West London, while learning an uncle’s business. The uncle was a very wealthy owner of the largest Pong Video Pinball operation in England at the time, and the Mayfair accommodation was quite nice. Ric would frequently hang out and stay with his friend and explore the city while dating a girl who lived there.

The London base was relatively new when Ric arrived. For a new hire out of training, flying out of London offered the exciting experience of living abroad while seeing much of the world. It also provided the opportunity for many current cabin attendants to transfer home to the United Kingdom or commute from their country of origin. Ric remembers the base being very welcoming for the most part, and because of his junior status, he also wasn’t competing for the same lines of flying as the more senior cabin attendants. During a short time living in Hounslow, located by Heathrow Airport, Ric learned a trick for bidding more desirable flights and days off from one of his roommates who worked in crew scheduling. This “inside tip” proved to be very rewarding:

“You could sign up for TACA (Time Available Cabin Attendant), and they had a book with all of the charter flights and flights that were missing a crew position, or needed special languages and things like that. I could build my line of flying. I had the greatest lines all the time. I could get enough overtime so that I could make extra money. I could get long layovers, lots of days off, or lots of deadheading so I had it pretty good that way.”

With men now officially stepping into the career after a lengthy court battle, some of the public, including other crew members, still perceived that the job should only appeal to females. Being served by a “male stewardess” raised both eyebrows and speculation. Prevalent at the time was an unsubstantiated belief that many pilots resisted or even refused to be served by these new male recruits. Ric noticed that it’s often construed that men working as a cabin attendant are gay:

“There were gay men, but there were also a lot of us straight men too. I think it was inappropriate that people would assume and think that way, but I believe most of the passengers didn’t even think about it. There were female cabin attendants however that would assume you were gay and wouldn’t even want to deal with you. As far as pilots, we’d get to someplace like Beirut. A lot of us would go out together and go somewhere and have dinner or whatever and the pilots didn’t join us. I think they would have under other circumstances. I can’t say from my experience that they were ever willing to sit down and talk to us. I didn’t know them very well.”

For the pilots, the focus was navigating the huge 747 safely to its destination, while the cabin attendants made sure the safety and comfort of Pan Am’s passengers was their primary responsibility. A crew of sixteen staffed the 747 and it wasn’t uncommon for Ric to be the only male cabin attendant on the airplane. Because of this, he was accommodated with a private hotel room on layovers during a time when crew of the same gender were required to share. When Ric and his male colleagues joined Pan Am, there were already men working in the cabin who had twenty-five years of service or more, but they typically worked as ISDs (Inflight Service Directors) or pursers on the 747. A man serving in the cabin in the same role as the females, however, was somewhat perplexing for the traveling public. Most passengers would put the females to task for providing in-flight service and amenities while the men were viewed more as supervisors or managers, if they weren’t confused for pilots:

“It was very rare that I flew with another guy. As a result, a lot of passengers thought that I was in charge simply because I was a guy. If there were problems, the passengers would come to me. I remember once there were all kinds of issues on the plane. We were missing pillows and blankets, short on sodas, and the film even broke down. They were standing there poking their finger on my chest saying ‘You need to take care of this. You need to fix that. We should get new tickets and on and on…’”

Pressures of being a male cabin attendant certainly existed in the process of crew integration and the public’s understanding of their presence. Expectations came from various directions. The ISDs and pursers ran a pretty tight ship, but that was never a problem for Ric. He was a hard worker and preferred working in first class where he learned to acquire a taste for caviar as well as tackling various language announcements. He picked up Italian from hearing the language spoken by two Italian roommates, and he also became conversational in French and a bit of German. His ear for languages encouraged him to “give-it-a-go” making onboard announcements in foreign languages whenever he had the opportunity. Even Swedish and Japanese weren’t off limits! Ric was always assured when native speakers on the crew were surprised and would compliment his foreign language ability and good pronunciation.

The first class lounge accommodated 16 people and lounge seats were not sold. The upper deck was for the exclusive enjoyment of all first class passengers. It was furnished with two curved settees, each with seating for four people, and with two tables, both of which were furnished with four swivel chairs.
The first class lounge accommodated 16 people and lounge seats were not sold. The upper deck was for the exclusive enjoyment of all first class passengers. It was furnished with two curved settees, each with seating for four people, and with two tables, both of which were furnished with four swivel chairs.

He enjoyed staying busy and making himself useful on the plane. The demands of working a full 747 and providing an elaborate and time-consuming service made for a faster flight, which he preferred. His favorite work position was in Pan Am’s first class upper deck dining room that seated 16 passengers and he equally enjoyed working the galley or the aisle.

Unfortunately, the upper-deck lounges did not last long. Beginning with the OPEC Oil Embargo of 1974, it simply became too expensive for the airlines to maintain lounges in their 747s, and the lounges were quietly converted into additional seats, so that each plane could hold more fare-paying passengers.
Unfortunately, the upper-deck lounges did not last long. Beginning with the OPEC Oil Embargo of 1974, it simply became too expensive for the airlines to maintain lounges in their 747s, and the lounges were quietly converted into additional seats, so that each plane could hold more fare-paying passengers.

The purser or ISD would usually serve and take care of the cockpit, so cabin attendants didn’t frequently interact with the pilots. The execution of the different services depending on cabin position relied on Pan Am’s thorough training and actual onboard experience. Coordination of motor skills, proficiency, and speed while being gracious and professional were challenging:

“We served drinks by hand-held trays and cooked prime rib roast from scratch in first class. The upstairs galley was teeny-tiny. I was very comfortable up there in the galley. You were in total control. I really liked it. Once you did the meal service in the upper deck, you were going back out and serving the passengers that hung out up there. There were always plenty that did – playing cards and drinking coffee. They’d want cocktails and snacks and stuff like that. In Economy, we really had to hustle; especially on the 747 where we could only take six drink orders at a time. We didn’t have beverage carts. Drink-Order-TrayWe had a tray with a Styrofoam sheet on it that you could write on with a pen. We would map out six cocktail spaces and write down whatever the passenger ordered and then personally deliver the beverage with the tray. We had to continue writing down orders, make the drink, then go back out there and take more orders on a new sheet going back and forth until we were finished. For the meal service, we had convection ovens, and we were provisioned separate containers full of entrées, salad, and rolls, and then we had to individually place everything together on the tray. Of course, they could smoke back then and that’s why I didn’t particularly like working in coach. New York to Bermuda was a full meal service including cocktails on a two-hour flight! We’d be slamming those trays into the galley as we were just coming in for a landing every time. It was totally crazy! Today, you’re lucky if you get a bag of peanuts.”

Pan Am ushered in the both the jet age and the jumbo jet revolution. The 747 was unequivocally the pride of Pan Am’s fleet. Trial tests of various cabin layouts were conducted in the quest to offer the finest experience in air travel. Some worked and some didn’t:

“Pan Am would try different seating configurations. Just behind first class, there was this area where they put seats back-to-back so they didn’t recline and the passengers would be facing each other…..they could hardly cross their legs because they’d be hitting each other. That lasted for about a month.”

Pan Am flights 001 and 002, which went around the world, were popular trips. The route traveling east from London included Frankfurt, Istanbul, Tehran, Beirut, Karachi, New Delhi, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and finally New York. Flight 002 operated the westbound direction. Many of Ric’s trips were two weeks at a time. Hong Kong was an eleven or a twelve-day trip, and like Bangkok, the crew enjoyed two or three-day layovers. New Delhi was an eight-day trip with a day layover like most of the other cities.

Cabin attendants would often work PA 001 and PA 002 to New York to conduct their banking or simply check-off their grocery list. Ric would frequently return from his trips with the items he needed to prepare a home-cooked meal back in London. He flew about an 80 to 90-hour flight-time maximum to a minimum of 67 hours. Base pay was $934.00. Unemployment was quite high in the UK in 1972, and the exchange rate was around $2.60 USD to the GBP. Since being based and living in London wasn’t terribly costly at the time, for many Americans getting based there offered a huge incentive:

“The tax code required that cabin attendants based abroad pay ether U.S. tax or tax of their country of residence. Those of us based in London were to pay UK tax only on money we brought into the country. Most of us kept a bank account in New York with the credit union and a Barclay’s account in England. A tax accountant was supposed to be assigned the duty of assessing taxation for cabin attendants but never did. Because of our U.S. tax exemption from being a bona fide residence of the U.K. and the tax assessor’s oversight, I didn’t pay any taxes! Here I am working for the highest paid airline, not having to pay taxes on my income, and I schedule myself for plenty of overtime to great destinations.”

Barclays Bank Terminal 3 at London Heathrow Airport 1970s. Pan Am's In-flight Service Dept. was a short distance away making it convenient for cabin crew to do their banking.
Barclays Bank Terminal 3 at London Heathrow Airport in the 1970s. Pan Am’s In-flight Service Dept. was a short distance away, making it convenient for cabin attendants to do their banking before and after trips.

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Life in London

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