Former flight attendant compares real life aloft to ABC's 'Pan Am'

Former flight attendant compares real life aloft to ABC's 'Pan Am'

November 13th, 2011 by Karen Nazor Hill in Life Entertainment

Carol Young holds uniforms that she wore as an international airline stewardess for Pan Am in the 1970's.

Photo by Angela Lewis /Times Free Press.

It's easy to see why Carol Misenheimer Young chose a career as an airline stewardess in 1971.

Today, 40 years after earning her Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) "wings," the energetic 62-year-old still exudes the qualities that nabbed her the prestigious job in the first place -- beauty, brains, personality and a sense of adventure.

"Being a stewardess for international flights was my goal for as long as I can remember," said Young, who lives in Hixson with her husband, Dr. Larry Young, an anesthesiologist. "The entire time I was at University of North Carolina, I planned on being an international stewardess. I knew my degree in French education would help."

In the 1970s, it was a requirement for flight attendants on international flights to speak two languages fluently, she said.

"The flight attendants had to speak the language of where they were flying in case there was an emergency and you had to communicate to the passengers in a language they could understand," she said.

Young's memories of her flying days resurfaced recently, thanks to the TV show "Pan Am," which airs at 10 p.m. Sundays on ABC. According to ABC, the show takes place in 1963 -- "a time when only a lucky few could take flight, experience a global adventure or gain a front-row seat to history. Those lucky few flew Pan Am, the largest, most prestigious airline in the world.

"More than Coca-Cola, Elvis Presley or the transistor, Pan Am exported American culture to the world abroad and brought that world back to American shores."

Young and her former stewardess friends are fans of the show, she said.

"The show is well written," she said. "The writers did a great job of researching the program. Pan Am was, to me, our greatest, and first, international flag carrier. They were a worthy employer. There was always the opportunity of upward mobility, in a culture that was not amenable to that. We were not forced out after a certain age. One of my roommates is still flying."

Young said her stewardess lifestyle was fast-paced, romantic and tiring. "But it was an adventure of a lifetime," she said.

A native of Greensboro, N.C., Young was 21, a fresh college graduate, and had only flown a couple of times before flying to Miami to participate in an intense six-week stewardess training course where she learned everything from bartending to skin care.

"Airplanes have no moisture in the cabin, and if you're up there 60 to 80 hours a month, you had to take care of your skin," she said.

Young had aced her interview with Pan Am in Washington, D.C., where she recalls she was interviewed by a stern middle-aged woman and a "very good-looking" young man. Their questions ranged from education to hobbies to health and weight, she said.

"Looks were important," Young said. "I've heard stewardesses being referred to as the 'uber models' of that time. You did have to be in good physical condition. Working across oceans while standing on your feet can be tiring."

Though the job was demanding, stewardesses were compensated well, Young said.

"It was one of the best paying jobs back then," she said. "I honestly don't remember what I was paid, but it helped put my husband through medical school."

Based out of John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, Young shared a three-bedroom apartment with eight stewardesses. "It worked out fine because nobody was ever there," she said.

The first few years of her five-year career as a stewardess, Young was single. And, like the TV show "Pan Am" portrays, there were many "good looking, wealthy men flying in first class," she said. "We were always getting asked out on dates."

Among the celebrities she met while working at Pan Am were Paul Newman and Charles Lindbergh.

"When I was in training in Miami in December 1971, there was a stockholders meeting at Pan Am's home base. The newest class of stewardesses was asked to be the 'hostesses.' That evening, in my uniform and white gloves, I met and shook the hand of Charles Lindbergh. He was on the Pan Am board of directors."

Decades later, Young and her husband visited Lindbergh's grave in a remote area on the Hawaiian island of Maui.

She met Newman during a flight. A first-class passenger, Newman asked Young if she would get him a "cold one" (a beer). She said it took minutes for his request to register because she couldn't quit staring at him.

While her job took her frequently to South America, Central America, the Caribbean, Africa and Europe, she said Paris is her favorite city, followed closely by Capetown, South Africa.

Traveling for Young is down to two international trips a year these days, she said.

"Flying is not like it used to be," Young said, noting the "cattle car" atmosphere today makes traveling uncomfortable. "Passengers today are basically treated as a number. Once in a while you'll find a crew that cares. The food is awful. You can't even get a pillow without paying for it," she said. "There are so many fees that it makes you not want to fly anymore. I still have the romantic memories of what it was like."

Though she retired from the skies, Young did not leave the business. After moving to Chattanooga nearly 30 years ago, she became part-owner of a travel agency, eventually opening her own. She became semi-retired about six years ago and today is a personal certified travel counselor at her company, Experience Travel.

"I have only good memories of my days at Pan Am," she said. "It changed my life."