A new hit television show “Pan Am” on ABC prompted a local resident to reflect on her experiences as a stewardess in the late 1960s.
In 1968, Deborah VanTilburg, who was 19 at the time and stationed in Washington, D.C., started as a flight attendant and ticket agent for National Airlines. The Middletown native said she learned much in the two years she worked as a stewardess and said the new TV show gives a fair depiction of life during that erea.
“The new show is pretty accurate as to what it was like to work in that kind of atmosphere,” VanTilburg said. “It has changed so much since 40 years ago.”
After VanTilburg graduated from high school, she went to Miami University, where she studied business and elementary education.
Today, VanTilburg lives in Wapakoneta with her husband, Gary.
During her first year of college, VanTilburg was browsing through a magazine and saw an advertisement of an airline, which was currently hiring women for stewardesses.
VanTilburg said that the qualifications for the job included having reached the age of 19, being 5-foot, 3-inches or taller, single, be willing to travel and having knowledge of business and a foreign language.
During her second year of college, she spent her summer in Kansas City, Mo., where she graduated from business school, and while there, major airlines came to the school and chose girls for employment. VanTilburg recalled being offered a job with National Airlines.
As soon as she graduated, VanTilburg was flown to Miami, Fla. for training.
“My parents were hesitant, but knew I was strong-willed,” VanTilburg said. “I don’t regret it at all. It was a great experience.”
During her training, VanTilburg had to learn many different things before she was able to join the crew on board the plane.
“In our training with the airlines as stewardesses, we were taught proper attire, the proper way to walk, properly putting on make-up, manners, etiquette and how to be prepared for emergencies at all times,” VanTilburg said. “It was almost like learning how to become a lady.”
She said they were not allowed to wear slacks, only dresses, which were similiar to the ones shown in “Pan Am,” but she said her dress went past her knees.
“We had to wear white gloves,” VanTilburg said. “Although, we didn’t have to wear them all of the time, but we did when we worked first class.”
Also, while VanTilburg was stationed in Washington, D.C., she had to be on call and ready to fly when they needed a fresh crew to take over.
“We weren’t allowed to drink, because they could call you any hour of the day to come in to work,” VanTilburg said.
VanTilburg said the whole experience was something she will never forget, although there were a few times that were rough.
“The job was also stressful and dangerous at times — at that time we had to be aware of terrorists who would hijack planes to Cuba, even though I never had to experience that situation,” VanTilburg said. “The only incident I had was one time our plane’s landing gear didn’t light up and we had to prepare passengers for a crash landing, but it turned out the landing gear came down as we were landing.”
She remembers that objects were flying around inside the airplane, and the trays on the back the seats were falling off, but she said she had to stay calm for the passengers, even though she was very scared at the time.
Another instance where VanTilburg had to keep her cool, was when they were flying through a violent thunderstorm over an ocean.
“The pilot lost control, but was able to pull out,” VanTilburg said. “It was very bumpy and things were falling.”
Many times VanTilburg said she did not even realize she was in the air because she was so busy working and meeting new people.
The job also had a few perks, which included seeing the world and meeting famous people.
When VanTilburg was off-duty, she was able to travel across the country on her airline to anywhere she wanted to go, for a small fee of $5.
Two of her most memorable places she visited were Miami, Fla. and London.
She also had an opportunity to meet famous people, including senators, congressmen and TV personalities.
“I got to meet different people,” VanTilburg said. “I met a lot of congressmen since I was stationed out of Washington, D.C.”
VanTilburg said the experience was like being a part of one big family.
“We were almost like a family with brothers and sisters,” VanTilburg said. “Now, we are all married and scattered around the country.”
She had many many close friends during this experience, and said it was a great job for her since she enjoys traveling and history.
This job also taught her to become more outgoing and experience the world.
“This gave me a rewarding experience,” VanTilburg said. “I enjoy being around people and working with people. I saw the good and bad living in Washington, D.C.”
“Overall, the experience of the job was rewarding, exciting, educational and traveling the countryside was worth it all.”