Up in the Air by Betty Riegel
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Here we have a wonderful dream-come-true story, wherein a young woman in the UK with few prospects, no money, fairly pedestrian expectations, and only a vague dream ‘to travel the world’ finds herself doing just that, and being well paid for it into the bargain.
Betty Riegel (nee Eden) wasn’t particularly dissatisfied, or wretched, or restless growing up in wartime London, but once the war was over, and she went looking for work, she understood that there was much more to the world than her little burg could offer. She took a position with a small, puddle-jumping airline when she was just 18, and despite a bad case of airsickness, learned a lot more about what she wanted from life.
When the chance arrived to interview with Pan Am, at the time the world’s premier airline, she entered the interview with those same lowered expectations, but found herself in short order a newly hired ‘stewardess,’ which is, of course, what young women flight attendants were called in those pre-feminist days.
Betty Eden lived her dream thereafter, training in New York, passing one after another test, graduating from the Pan Am academy, and finally—pinching herself, and determined to be the best employee she could be—took her place in the cabin as a proud worker for Pan American Airlines.
The book outlines her charmed existence as a stewardess, her choice of domicile in San Francisco in order to fly the Pacific routes, and her interaction with other young women as they pioneered the business. After reading of Betty’s exploits on flights to Honolulu, Sydney, Tokyo, and even exotic places like Indonesia and Wake Island, we have a real picture of what early airline travel was like, and why it held so much appeal to young people like the author.
Also, reading of the way passengers were pampered in those early days highlights and contrasts with modern passenger air travel: The crowded cabins, minimal extras, shrunken seats, and especially the perfunctory attempts at inflight feeding compared with the lavish gourmet fare offered by Pan Am. Those truly were times when only the wealthy could afford air travel, and Betty Eden upheld the reputation of Pan Am as she pampered them, while she fulfilled her dream to see the world.
In the contrasting vision the author offers between air travel then and now, it’s easy to see why, with its laser focus only on passengers who could afford their service, the world’s premier airline no longer exists. Up in the Air
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