Flying as a way of life

view from airplane

Carol Hall: Ron, back in the day, when we were much younger, you were a captain and I was a stewardess for Northwest Airlines. We worked crazy hours, missed scads of family holidays and spent an inordinate amount of time on layovers far from home. What does this say about each of us?

Ron Kenmir: That we were gypsies? Vagabonds? Just plain crazy?

CH: Yes, maybe all three. Crewing an airliner is a job like none other, and certainly isn’t for everyone. One thing that made it right for me is that I’ve always been adventurous.

RK: Same here. I never entertained — even for an instant — that I would be working in a cubicle or entertaining clients at an office lunch. I had more in mind chasing the sunset to Honolulu at nearly the speed of sound or enjoying the magnificent northern lights upon climb-out from Anchorage!

Ron Kenmir

CH: Each of us also needed a great deal of self-confidence. You couldn’t possibly take the controls of an airliner if you didn’t believe in your ability to complete your career with a perfect safety record.
I, likewise, couldn’t routinely direct a large bunch of people to follow airline emergency rules, or get them out of a burning airplane, if I were timid.

RK: We also had to have confidence in the abilities of our many co-workers on the ground. I’m talking about the Northwest meteorologists and mechanics as well as folks in the airport control towers and air route traffic control centers, who determined our compass headings, airspeeds and altitudes.

CH: And I can’t stress enough the importance of being flexible.

RK: Right. A person who requires rigid control of their work environment would never make it in our business. Remember all the flights with the “creeping” delays? Remember being blizzarded in a place like Fargo, unable to go anywhere until the weather lifted? I recall having checked in for a flight to Anchorage, only to be told it had been cancelled and I was being sent instead to Miami.

Carol Hall

CH: There was the “glamour factor” for us stewardesses, which was OK with me. A woman who was averse to wearing makeup, nail polish, heels — and, yes, a girdle — likely would never get hired.

RK: It didn’t hurt to be firstborn or an only child for us pilots. When our instructor discovered this was the case with two-thirds of our class, he smiled and said, “Just as I thought!” Apparently, a great many pilots fall into either category. (I’m an only child.)

CH: So, given the built-in irregularities and the sometimes discombobulation of being a pilot or stewardess, would you agree that crewing an airliner is more a way of life than a job?

RK: Yes — a unique way of life. You serving dinner in the cabin while traveling 600 mph above a flashing thunderstorm over the Everglades on Christmas Eve, and I in the cockpit “turning kerosene into smoke and noise” was all in a day’s work!


Learn more about the lifestyle of flight attendants back in the 1960s with this theatrical production, set against the backdrop of the Civil Rights Movement, the birth of feminism and Northwest Orient Airlines.

When: Through March 3

Where: History Theatre, St. Paul

Cost: $15–$42


Carol Hall is a longtime freelance writer and University of Minnesota graduate. Send comments and questions to [email protected].