The XX Factor

Would We Really Want the 1970s Air Travel Experience Again?

Steven Slater might just go down as the most renowned airline steward in history . On Monday, Slater confronted a JetBlue passenger disobeying the rules, only to get a series of invectives slung his way and a suitcase dropped on his head. With that, he took to the plane’s loudspeaker, issued a curse-heavy monologue on the small injustices of working as a flight attendant, announced his imminent retirement, released the emergency exit slide, and slid out to the tarmac. He became an instant celebrity- Jimmy Fallon dedicated a song to him , his ex-wife defended his actions on Good Morning America . To a lot of unsatisfied customer service workers, he was a folk legend-the real life equivalent of Office Space ’s sad-sack worker-cum-outspoken office hero, Peter Gibbons.

But according to author Ann Hood, a TWA stewardess during the halcyon days of air travel, the Slater saga was just emblematic of the sad deterioration of the air travel industry. Hood, a TWA flight attendant during the 1970s, waxes poetic today on Salon , about everything from the “linen napkins” she used to gently lay on passengers’ tray tables to her shade of lipstick that “perfectly matched the stripe on my jacket.” You see, flight attendants, they used to be real well-mannered and pretty.

Hood gets that air travel isn’t going to ever be an “unforgettable experience” again; the novelty has worn off. Passengers are no longer excited by the mere fact of flying. But as much as I’d love a flight atmosphere with an iota of decorum, I’m not too keen on idolizing an era in which flight attendants had to wear 5-inch heels and short skirts and appear in commercials obligingly “shaking their tails.” It’s like admiring Mad Men ethos for all the surface demonstrations of sexy patriarchy-beautiful dresses, male chivalry, the when-men-were-men-and-women-were-pretty philosophy-and ignoring the forced smile on Joan’s face when her boss tells her she has to “wear the dress with the big red bow” to the office Christmas party.

Photograph of Continental Airlines flight attendants in 1972 courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.