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Pan Am Pilots and the Revenge of the Flight Attendants

Pan Am pilots and the revenge of the flight attendants is about flight service’s sometimes prickly relationship with cockpit crews. We generally had good relationships with the pilots, but like every group in any industry, the captains had members that stood out for their bad behavior.

This story caused quite a stir among flight attendants on a Pan Am Facebook forum called  InFlight Crew Party, or Galley Gossip About You, or maybe,  Let’s Pour All the Leftover Wine In Bottles and Meet In My Room Later.

I heard that when flight attendants in this Facebook group got wind of this post and read it, the forum actually imploded on itself in shock and dismay. There were fragments of blue Edith Head fabric from old Pan Am uniforms scattered everywhere, splattered with coffee and airplane food.

My, my. One should learn to keep one’s wits about one in all emergencies.

The comments I received from a few of these former flight attendants were comically outraged. They told me to “Take my crazy stories down” among other things. Or what? I wanted to know. Will I get fired?

A writer has to invent very little; real life is quite enough to provide hours of entertainment.

They’d already banned me from this Sangria group (Sangria is a mish-mosh of all the wine that was left in bottles after first class service was over, which flight attendants would pour back into empty bottles and take off the airplane for crew parties–crew parties attended only by nuns, monks, and Puritans. Who wore blue, and flew for Pan Am), so there wasn’t much they could do to me.

Although one tried to get me disciplined, albeit retrospectively. A former purser, a public relations business owner, told me she’d have had me “Hauled into management,” for my sassy ways.

Hahahaha! I’d like to see anyone “haul” me anywhere. I hadn’t done anything wrong anyway; my offense was that I was thought it amusing another purser had deliberately touched Orthodox Jewish men in a goodbye gesture as they deplaned. She did this in retaliation for them thinking women were “unclean.” I still think it’s  hilarious and I wrote about the memory, now 38 years old, on the Facebook flight attendant page.

As a proud union member, no purser, supervisor, or anyone else had the authority to “discipline me.” I’d like to have gotten a gander at the letter she could have written, though. All about how I giggled at what another purser had done that was in questionable taste.

My relating this memory elicited much anger from her and she got me banned from the group. My heart was so broken, I took all my memories and put them in blog posts and then a book.

Besides, the pilot’s union refused to stand behind the flight attendants during our strike over the Pan Am management decision to hire foreign nationals and pay them $200 a month, thus threatening our job security. My memory is long, and Les Capitaines are on their own.

pan am captains and the revenge of the flight attendants
Alright, men. Here’s a crew list. There are a couple of flight attendants we need to watch out for.

Pan Am flight service would not hold back if someone wronged the crew, and frequently the person wronging them was the captain. The stories about Pan Am flight service getting revenge on a Captain Bligh became legendary and were discussed in galleys fore and aft.

I have no idea why some flight attendants think they’re outrageous lies, but that’s what some have told me.  From whom do they think I heard all these stories?

Maybe some of these accusers married some of the captains and won’t cop to getting revenge on a cockpit crew. We did have many captains that were a pleasure to work with. Others not so much.

An excellent joke about former Pan Am captains goes thus:

St. Peter, sitting at his usual post by the Pearly Gates, saw a Pan Am captain walk through the gates without signing in or showing his ID, so he investigated.

“Who was that Pan Am captain?” he demanded of an angel hovering nearby, who was trying to carry a full pot of coffee in one hand and balance a tray of cups in the other.

“Oh, that was God,” the angel replied. “He just thinks he’s a Pan Am captain.”

Our cockpits had a captain, a first officer, and an engineer, and later just a captain and first officer. The engineer disappeared, either after advanced technology made his job obsolete, or when the captain and first officer threw him out over the ocean for hogging all the Scotch.

If the pilots messed with us, flight attendants had little ways of getting even. It was almost always the captain who did the messing, because he was the captain and had absolute authority.  At least, he liked to think he did.

There’s a switch located in some cockpits labeled Master Caution. This is a switch that is designed to draw the attention of operating personnel to abnormal events or circumstances in the aircraft.

pan am captains and the revenge of the flight attendants on chezgigi. com
Read and heed.

I’d love a switch like this in my car, or kitchen, or computer, more as a reminder that I need to practice caution as a skill, rather than to sound a warning. I’d live a much quieter life without domestic drama. Whether that would be a good thing or not, I don’t know, but it would remind me of Pan Am captains, and their lack of caution around flight service.

One captain would take his rest break downstairs in first class and would yell at passengers for opening the window shades to peek out. He was the same pilot who yelled at a first class passenger for opening a bottle nail polish. Both of them hopped to and did as they were told.

Another captain insisted that the crew be fired for objecting to a bomb search of the plane after a rash of letter bombs had been placed on a few aircraft. I was on that crew; he wanted us to slide our hands into the seat pockets to see if we set off any letters infused with explosives.

Did we really have to remind him that should we be without our hands, there would be no one to serve him coffee?

This was a peek into the psyche of the pilot. They were former military, they were former officers, and you snapped to and did what you were told, dammit!

They were often the object of our cold-blooded rage and revenge.

A captain on one flight had been extremely demanding and rude to the first class flight attendant, wanting his roast beef cooked the way he insisted. We cooked and served Chateaubriand in first class and the crew ate the leftovers.

The flight attendant took him his dinner as ordered, but instead of the beef, on his tray was a Kotex napkin saturated with the juice from the beef, surrounded by veggies. Is this an inspired way to send a message, or what?

Godfather, indeed.

Another captain, known as the original Captain Bligh, would patrol the cabin, picking up Styrofoam cups and sniffing at the contents, on the lookout for liquored-up flight attendants.

This captain once declared an emergency, causing the entire flight crew to take up emergency positions, only to smirk and order a cup of coffee after the purser rushed to the cockpit for instructions.

He may have been the captain who shoved a flight attendant backward down the stairs from the upper deck. No necks were broken, but if it had been me who’d been pushed, someone’s neck would be in danger after I picked myself up and dusted myself off.

There wasn’t a great deal flight service could do to get revenge, but we did handle all food and beverages. If you’ve ever waited tables and had an extremely unpleasant patron, you know where this is heading.

Flight attendants would routinely doctor the cockpit’s coffee with Visine. If I was a pilot, I’d bring my own thermos and a lunch box from home. Eye drops give you terrible runs and makes a layover miserable. Why bring that down on your head? So to speak.

A Captain Courageous might get a little of the liquid in his coffee that flight service poured into empty ice buckets. We didn’t want to throw all the leftover liquids in the garbage containers because they leaked.

We threw them down the toilet instead, once the ice bucket was full. The ice bucket had a little of everything, much like a Minestrone soup: leftover coffee from passengers’ cups, other leftover beverages, old ice water, whatever.

Getting some of this vile concoction in every cup of coffee you drink makes spitting in a customer’s plate at a restaurant seem innocuous. Obnoxious cockpit crews were lucky flight crews didn’t get really mad at them.

When a passenger gave us too much trouble, we might, just might, point him out to customs and ask them to take our revenge for us. So many ways to get revenge, so little time.

Coffee, anyone?


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4 thoughts on “Pan Am Pilots and the Revenge of the Flight Attendants

  • June 17, 2016 at 6:00 pm

    747 SP…Ioved working the plane even though we had to climb the stairway to Heaven to get to the cockpit.

    • June 17, 2016 at 6:20 pm

      I loved the 747, too. And yet, I remember feeling cramped even on that plane when I was sitting in the back with a full load.

      That was nothing compared to the planes now! We had no idea how good we had it.

  • June 23, 2016 at 2:39 pm

    Perhaps your detractors were jealous because “you did it first” and so very divertingly. Perhaps you were much more observant! You gotta wonder what kind of literature they read if they are so easily shocked and dismayed. I only hope, that if I am on a flight with a disgruntled crew, they don’t put anything “distracting” in the captain’s brew. (Oh that rhymes!)

    • June 23, 2016 at 10:51 pm

      The great thing about Visine is that it takes awhile to work. And there’s always the first officer…
      These ladies were those who ‘Looked back in perfection.’ The Poisonous Pedagogy of history being made over.
      Ha! They didn’t allow for me!


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