Hood, Ann. Fly Girl. W.W. Norton & Company, 2022. 288 pp. ISBN 978-1324006237 $26.95
You’ll never forget your first (flight). It was 1986. My dad and brother got to come all the way to gate to see us off, and my mom and I flew to Ohio from Boston’s Logan International Airport over April vacation when I was in sixth grade (I missed a Girl Scout field trip to Martha’s Vineyard to go). I had a bag of second-hand books to read, we were seating the smoking section to accomodate my mother’s vice, and I got to peek in the cockpit before getting pinned with a pair of gold plastic wings. I immediately wanted to be a stewardess when I grew up. Since then, I’ve flown countless times in the contintental US and Canada, on standby for free courtesy of a friend who worked for Delta and always make a point to park and go when I’m picking someone up. Post 9/11, you can’t go all the way to the gate anymore without special permission, but I think it’s nice to see a friendly face waiting as close to the arrivals gate as allowed.
I’ve been a fan of Hood since I heard her keynote at a MA Library Association conference luncheon, which lead me to her book Comfort (about the loss of her five-year-old daughter quite unexpectedly to a virulent case of strep), and then on to read two of her historical novels, The Italian Wife and The Obituary Writer. In her new memoir Fly Girl, she details her coming of age as a young flight attendant for TWA in the golden age of aviation from the glamour: exotic destinations! handsome strangers! the chateaubriand and made to order sundaes in first class! brushes with celebrity! to the gritty: the sexism! the strikes! the passenger who OD’d in the restroom! the men who one after another followed a “colleague” into a restroom for their turn to join the mile-high club.
Eye-opening for present day travelers, Hood recalls the grueling job application process (more like a casting call), the weigh-ins, and the write-up for not wearing lipstick; the expectation that the average stewardess would find a husband in less than a year and a half;
More compelling is the grave reminder that flight attendees are highly trained to act in an emergency, highly skilled at negotiating tense situations, and there to serve as first responders, FIRST–and THEN as the people who kindly bring a beverage or airsick bag.
Buckle your seatbelts: while this tell-all tastefully refrains from mentioning specific names or flights, it is a bumpy ride through a few short years. The air travel becomes fodder for not only her writing (drafts were penned from a jumpseat on flights) but her knitting (which other novels center around), and art imitates life as a character in the Obituary Writer was a flight attendant for a short time before meeting her husband. This is a compelling story but could have used with slightly stronger editing. Told mostly chronologically, I would have loved even more detail about places, people and food; some details are redundant. Still, this is a strong addition to library collections; recommend alongside popular pilot podcasts (my favorite is 74 Gear) and flight attendant podcasts (my favorite is Fly With Stella).
I checked Fly Girl out of my local library.