Smoking, short skirts & no wedding rings: being an air-hostess in the '70s

As British Airways celebrates its centenary, Hugh Morris finds out from some staff of its predecessor what it was really like to fly in the Golden Age of air travel

05 May 2019 - 00:00 By Hugh Morris

"No one wanted to work at the back, because as soon as the plane took off, everyone would start smoking," says Linda Morrison, recalling the hazy rows at the rear of a BOAC 747. "The no-smoking sign would go off and you'd have people sat in the non-smoking cabin pop back for a cigarette."
Linda Morrison - nee Winterbourne - joined British Overseas Airways Corporation, BA forerunner, in 1970, at the age of 16. By 1974 she was a stewardess on one of the airline's jumbo jets, covering much of the globe during an era often referred to as the golden age of flying.
"In first class, the roast beef would be brought out on a trolley and carved in front of the passengers," she says, of a cabin in which women were forbidden from working.
For a drizzly Monday morning at Heathrow in February, Morrison had donned her old uniform, brought down from the loft, dusted off and the hem unstitched ("they were very short in those days"), for the arrival of a British Airways Boeing 747, freshly painted in the BOAC livery of the '70s as part of the UK flag carrier's centenary celebrations. "It's very emotional," she says.
And indeed she, like many others gathered to welcome the Queen of the Skies from Dublin, wiped away a tear as it touched down, transporting dozens of former stewards back 50 years.
"It was like a restaurant in first class," says Morrison.
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In a time when low-cost operators are placing traditional flag carriers under more and more scrutiny, it's hard to imagine a carrier being the darling of a nation.
"There was a great pride about BOAC," says Davies, who joined in 1966. "It had a strong tradition of elegance. "
That said, the state-run operator was not immune to criticism. As BA today has its detractors, BOAC was in the past said in jest to stand for Better on a Camel.
BOAC's place in aviation history was sealed, however, with the dawn of the jet age. In May 1952, it was BOAC that became the world's first airliner to introduce a passenger jet into service, in the guise of the de Havilland Comet.By 1970, annual passenger numbers had soared and BOAC was turning a profit under the stewardship of Sir Giles Guthrie. Popular routes included New York (on which the 747 first flew), south to Johannesburg and east to Tokyo, but its defining ticket was the Kangaroo Route, connecting London and Australia with a service that might stop as many as seven times.
But it was not under BOAC that the true impact of the 747 was felt, the humpbacked beauties bringing air travel to the masses as the airline morphed into BA in 1974. Indeed, had BOAC held on a little longer, it might have been the inaugural operator of Concorde, which took flight in 1976.
Yet the corporation still did enough to place itself at the centre of BA's 100th birthday party.
"It's an iconic piece of our history," explains Allister Bridger, director of flight operations at BA. "The history we have up to now has defined who we are and that will define where we go in the next 100 years."
The 747 will now be put into active service, first returning to where it all began on the route between Heathrow and New York's JFK, before moving to other jumbo-served destinations.
By the time the livery is ready to be retired, in 2023, so will the plane be, as BA continues the phasing out of its ageing 747s in favour of new, energy-efficient aircraft such as the 787 Dreamliner and Airbus A350.
At a time of remarkable innovation in aviation, in passenger comfort and the development of greener, quieter aircraft, it might seem curious to use as a benchmark for standards the days aboard a smoke-filled, government-owned gas guzzler. But nostalgia is a powerful drug.
"We were more disciplined then," says John Hitchcock, who joined BOAC in 1957, aged 23. "Everyone was keen, much keener in those days. It was a good job." - © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2019)..

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