Retired Stewardess Flew During Glamorous Golden Age of Aviation

November 26th, 2018
Cypen Towers resident Carol Hood in her Capital Airlines uniform circa 1958.

Resident Carol J. Hood is a bird lover who’s always been fascinated by flight. These days she helps care for the finch aviaries around campus and enjoys independent living at Irving Cypen Tower, where she’s been a resident for five years.

She travels into town by bus, socializes with friends and participates in a variety of classes at Miami Jewish Health.

But she will always be drawn to things that fly. After all, she spent much of her youth in the sky.

The 85-year-old resident was a stewardess who flew “the friendly skies” with United Airlines at a time when glamour and adventure were synonymous with the term “air hostess.”

It was the Golden Age of Aviation and travel by flight was just coming into vogue.

Carol still remembers the stir it caused when the stylish flight attendants exited the plane and walked through the terminal with the airline captain. Travelers would stop and point.

“We were all dressed so nice and had to wear our hat and gloves,” Carol recalled. “They would all stare at us. Then when they saw you on the plane, it was the same thing. I had to wear high heels on the planes for years. It was hard to carry all the trays, especially if you hit an air pocket.”

She did it with a smile for 30 years before retiring. Today her memories remain vivid.

Short Stature Was a Point of Contention

She was in her late 20s when her first job offer came from Eastern, but she wasn’t actually hired. The hiring manager called her back and withdrew the offer, telling her she was too short for the job.

“He said, ‘I didn’t see that you were only 5-foot, one-inch tall. You had to be 5-foot two,” she said. “I was disappointed but I just kept trying. You can do almost anything if you keep trying.”

Carol was eventually hired by Capital, which subsequently merged with United Airlines, where she spent her career. It was the mid-1950s, flying was an opportunity to see the world and she jumped at the chance. The one-inch height discrepancy never made a difference.

“I got the job because I was persistent,” she said smiling.

The prerequisites for becoming a flight attendant then make her giggle today. In addition to the height requirement, she had to be slender, well-proportioned, have short hair, never have been married, have no children and had to stay within the weight limits. (Her weight limit was 120 pounds).

She recalled a time when she exceeded the limit by one pound and received a registered letter from the airline’s headquarters in Chicago. The letter instructed her to lose the weight by the next three-month weigh-in or be grounded. She lost it.

Marriage was absolutely out of the question. In fact, anyone who got married had to quit, she said.

She earned “air passes” during her tenure at the airlines and was able to travel all over the world. She visited Portugal, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands, Greece and Hawaii, to name a few places.

“I got the job I wanted and I stayed with it,” said Carol, who never married or had children.

Early Air Travel Was a Novelty That Attracted Large Numbers of Fliers

Today her eyes light up when conversation turns to air travel. During her years with United, she flew on DC-3s, DC-4s, DC-6s and Constellations in the days before jet engines. And when jet engines geared to propellers came out in a plane called the Viscount, she flew on that too.

The Viscounts were quieter and smoother than regular propeller planes, and drew hordes of fliers who wanted to experience a new way of travel, she said.

“You can’t take a plane that’s not a jet over 8,000 feet,” Carol explained. “You could fly higher in the Viscount and with the (regular) jet engines you could go up to 40,000-42,000 feet. Then they were really smooth.”

Mealtime aboard a plane back then was also a big occasion. Passengers chose from three different courses and ate off real dishes instead of paper or plastic plates. And the liquor flowed freely, she said.

“They had everything you could want,” she recalled.

Flying back then was so special travelers dressed up for the ride.

“Men wore their gray flannel suits and women dressed in hats, suits, gloves and heels. Everyone was excited to try it,” Carol said. “Women were also starting to travel for business. It was nice.”

These days she is mostly content with birdwatching. She hasn’t flown in years and marvels at descriptions of the snacks fliers receive today instead of the full course meals she once served. She knows flight attendant uniforms are more casual and is glad to learn they have done away with the high heels requirement.

She’s also not sure she’s done with flying.

“I want to go on a safari in Africa. And I’ve never been to Asia or Australia,” she said smiling.

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