Monday, January 26, 2009

The All Nighter

From time to time, Lady Skywriter readers respond to the invitation on my web site to send me their flight stories.  Here is one from another former "stewardess," Dee Savelkoul, who flew for United Airlines from August 1947 to August 1949.

FIRST FLIGHT, By Dee Savelkoul
I was ready.  I had survived the interview.  "One in a hundred," they said.  I had survived the physical.  "Healthy, happy girl," the doctor reported.  I had survived the training: three weeks in Cheyenne, Wyoming.  (I would never have made it through boot camp.)  Then graduation.
I received my first month's schedule.  The first flight was an all nighter, Denver to L.A. with stops at Grand Junction, Colorado and Salt Lake City. Great!  (We would call it the "red-eye" now.)
The airplane was a Douglas DC-3.  Twin engines.  180 mph cruising speed.  21 seats in seven rows; 2 abreast on one side of the airplane and singles on the other.
The passengers boarded.  A pleasant enough looking group.  Before takeoff, I collected tickets.  We had a leather booklet with slots for 21 tickets.  I walked up the aisle, stopping at each seat to take tickets and put them in their appropriate slots.  After checking seat belts and clearance from the pilots, we took off.
My adventure had begun.  My recollection is it was an eight-hour flight.  We must have left Denver around 10 p.m. and allowing for time differences, arrived in L.A. around six o'clock a.m.  
The passengers were experienced flyers.  They had taken this flight before.  What they were interested in was a blanket and pillow and a good night's sleep.  Within an hour the passengers were asleep and the airplane was silent.  I was puzzled.  I had at least seven hours to go.  What was I to do?  I sat on the jump seat at the rear of the airplane (our assigned seat) and thought about it.  And thought about it some more.
When we landed in Grand Junction passengers momentarily stirred as we picked up one passenger, then rolled over and went back to sleep.  I still had another six hours to go.  Six more hours of unrelieved boredom.  This was glamour?  This was exciting?  This was dreadful.
Then the pilots told me we would not be stopping in Salt Lake because there were no deplaning passengers and none getting on.  So we continued into the dark night.
Now I was a healthy girl from the Midwest. I was accustomed to going to bed at a reasonable hour, getting at least eight hours of sleep, in a bed, and getting up at a reasonable time.  I twisted and turned on the jump seat.  I could not have been more miserable.  Finally, as the hours passed, I could not keep my eyes open any longer and I was about to drift off when I heard stirrings and the dark sky was becoming light.  My gosh - could it be morning?  Passengers were still resting comfortably.  I had had no experience in my life at waking people up.  If you needed your rest, you needed your rest.  How gauche to go about rudely waking people.  Yet I knew I was supposed to serve 21 people breakfast before landing in L.A.
I jumped up and plugged in the food warmers containing scrambled eggs, sausage and toast. I trudged down the aisle with trays of food, coffee and juice, and offered cheerful greetings of "Good Morning" and "Did you sleep well?"  I removed blankets and pillows and stowed them in the overhead rack.  The scene was very pleasant, warm and friendly.  
Then to my astonishment, I felt the airplane's wheels touch down on the runway.
The L.A. passenger agent wheeled the rolling steps to the plane (no covered walkways then) and opened the door.  "Where is everyone?" he asked me, accustomed as he was to passengers crowding the door, anxious to get out.  He peered around me to see 21 passengers still in their seats with breakfast trays on their laps.  "They're just finishing their second cup of coffee," I replied.
He looked at me in disbelief and exploded in laughter.  "If this just doesn't beat all!  Well, I won't report you this time, " he said.  It was definitely not "according to the book" to allow passengers to keep food trays in their laps during landing.  
But when the smiling passengers handed their trays to me as they departed, they said "Thank you!" and "Great flight!"


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