My mile-high chaos! A young stewardess in the eighties reveals how she saw everything

The high life expectancy: Gretchen Ryan employed

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The high life expectancy: Gretchen Ryan employed

For a measure of how politically incorrect the eighties were, you need look no further than the name of the Mayfair night spot of football legend George Best. He called it Blondes.

Whatever your opinion was, there was no doubt that it was a nice place to be, as this blonde discovered during her first trip to London with South African Airways.

A flight attendant knew some George & # 39; s friends and one evening they sent a silver Bentley to our hotel in Kensington to take us to his club.

We drank a lot of pink champagne that evening, but George and our other hosts behaved like complete gentlemen, which is more than can be said of many of the pilots I worked with at the time.

At that time, & # 39; pre-flight checks & # 39; often the captain who explored beautiful passengers as they arrived at the foot of the flight of stairs.

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& # 39; There is a young lady with a high blonde ponytail and a red dress that has just been boarded, & # 39; he said to the cabin manager. & # 39; Ask her if she would like to sit in the cockpit to take off. & # 39;

You could not get away with that now, and not only because the cockpit doors remain closed. Just as the attitude of society has changed, so does the airline's staff. These days there is indignation when a passenger has one gin and tonic too much. But in my time it was the cabin crew you had to worry about.

A fellow caregiver got so drunk that he left the plane before the stairs were set in place and stepped into the air, fell 12 feet to the ground and lay in a crumpled heap until an ambulance arrived. He was fired before he even left the hospital.

Another big difference between then and now is of course that passengers are allowed to smoke. This caused major problems when chain smokers were put on non-smoking seats on long-distance journeys. Once I tried to stop an unsatisfied passenger who was snoring for a quick pull to the toilet, he offered to stab his cigarette in my eye.

I joined South African Airways in 1983, when I was 22, and was with them for ten years. Although I have since had a successful career in event management and am now married with two grown-up children, I look back with great pleasure on that time when passengers were carrying, hanky-panky was abundant and flight attendants needed nerves, such as the cutlery made of steel.

Lust is in the air

Gretchen joined South African Airways in 1983, when she was 22, and was with the airline for ten years

Gretchen joined South African Airways in 1983, when she was 22, and was with the airline for ten years

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Gretchen joined South African Airways in 1983, when she was 22, and was with the airline for ten years

Before each trip we were weighed to ensure that we could squeeze our tight pencil skirt. We were also examined by a & # 39; check hostess & # 39; who insisted that chignons be pulled tight enough to make us the jealousy of today's Botox brigade, plus so much makeup that I usually looked like one of the more exotic African lizards.

Even then we were often surpassed by the passengers. People were still dressing to fly, and in those days, before the safety striptease actions were implemented, the only passengers who took off their clothes were volunteers for the Mile High Club.

My first experience of dealing with those who fell in love with heights, came on a night flight to Lisbon. We named upper class business people and passengers the & # 39; Haves & # 39; and & # 39; Have Yachts & # 39; and the couple involved was a man and a woman in the & # 39; Haves & # 39 ;.

They started the flight as strangers, sitting in different chairs and keeping themselves to themselves, but many drinks later they left little to the imagination. Their intercourse only came to an end when my colleague Pieter shook the woman in question and she sat up, her hair and her clothes untidy.

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& # 39; Would you like something to drink? & # 39; he asked emphatically. Three of us stood behind him and stared at her.

A royal state of emergency

Gretchen said she wore so much makeup that she usually looked like one of the more exotic African lizards & # 39;

Gretchen said she wore so much makeup that she usually looked like one of the more exotic African lizards & # 39;

Gretchen said she wore so much makeup that she usually looked like one of the more exotic African lizards & # 39;

London was always my favorite destination, despite the nail-biting opportunity when we encountered a technical problem after leaving Heathrow. We had to return to the airport, but the full tank of fuel from the plane made it too heavy to land safely and air traffic control responded uselessly to our request to dump it, given our location just above Windsor Castle.

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& # 39; No permission. The queen is currently in residence. & # 39;

The pilot wasted no time: & # 39; Ask the lady if she only wants the fuel or if she prefers the entire aircraft. & # 39;

& # 39; Permission granted. About. & # 39;

Such problems were highly unusual, but I had my share of shockingly heavy landings. Once, when a co-pilot's first landing saw us slamming Tarmac at an airport in South Africa at such a rate that each oxygen mask fell from the panels above the passengers' heads, I wasn't sure if we landed or shot. The captain's attempts to calm everyone's nerves were also not very helpful.

& # 39; Ladies and gentlemen, every landing you can walk from is a good landing, & # 39; he announced about the PA.

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Trade secrets

Nobody flies halfway around the world for a cup of cocoa and an early night, and during our travels from home we often have a long evening drinking by decamping into someone's hotel room for an aeronautic version of strip poker.

Called & # 39; Feathers & # 39 ;, this meant forming a circle around a sheet, pulled tightly by everyone's hands, and a feather from a pillow laid on it.

Everyone started blowing furiously and those who fluttered closest to the feather had to take off a piece of clothing. I was slightly lightweight when it came to drinking, but some of my colleagues seemed to believe that a balanced diet consisted of a bottle of wine in each hand.

Flying Visit: Gretchen saw how he mingled with the locals after settling on Mauritius

Flying Visit: Gretchen saw how he mingled with the locals after settling on Mauritius

Flying Visit: Gretchen saw how he mingled with the locals after settling on Mauritius

For drunken passengers, & # 39; Rhoda & # 39; someone who spoke the language to throw a quarter of a sleeping tablet into the drink of an unsuspecting drunk and messy passenger – I have no idea where the term comes from.

At other times we just went for revenge. A man even annoyed me for taking off, and constantly interrupted the safety demonstration to ask for drinks. By the end of the flight, he had pressed the call button so many times that we used tactics that were subsequently deployed by many aircraft crews around the world.

This concerned the captain radiating to the airport, warned of a & # 39; suspect & # 39; passenger and added that it might be worthwhile to subject him to an intimate body guard on his way through customs.

Cockpit Casanova

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On my first flight from Johannesburg, the captain told me, in violation of his co-pilot, that I was the first pregnant flight attendant he had ever flown to Cape Town.

& # 39; But Captain, & # 39; I sputtered, & # 39; I am not pregnant! & # 39;

He raised his eyebrows suggestively, gave me a voluptuous grin and said: & # 39; Ah, but we are not yet in Cape Town. & # 39;

I fled from that cockpit faster than a pilot needed to remove his wedding ring, but not fast enough to miss the surly laugh that followed. I should have learned my lesson, but I got weak on my knees when the captain winked at me on another flight while I brought him and the rest of his crew cups of tea.

Gretchen (photo today) is the author of Secrets Of A Stewardess: Flying The World in the 80s

Gretchen (photo today) is the author of Secrets Of A Stewardess: Flying The World in the 80s

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Gretchen (photo today) is the author of Secrets Of A Stewardess: Flying The World in the 80s

I had dreamed of marrying a pilot, so maybe this was my intention.

& # 39; Gretchen, & # 39; he said, his tanned laughter lines shrinking slightly around his steel-gray eyes. & # 39; I bet you 100 rand that I can touch your breasts without you feeling it. & # 39;

That was only around £ 5, but the money was of course irrelevant. Most importantly, the man who might be my future husband flirted with me, so I played along and closed my eyes just to make him feel that he was stroking my breasts vigorously.

& # 39; Hey, I felt that! & # 39; I screamed, pulled back, and almost threw myself through the cockpit door.

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& # 39; Okay you win. This is your 100 rand, & he said and pretended to reach for his wallet. So much for romance with a flying ace.

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Gretchen Ryan is the author of Secrets Of A Stewardess: Flying The World in the 80s, now available (The History Press, £ 9.99).

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