Confessions of a former Air New Zealand and Ansett flight attendant
Queen Elizabeth II was apparently so enthralled by the sight of a 1991 descent in Queenstown that she stayed in the aisle for so long that cabin crew feared they would not be able to complete in-flight duty before landing.
Philippa (Pippa) Field describes being a flight attendant on the Ansett flight from Queenstown as the culmination of a career that also saw her crew make Air New Zealand’s very first flight to Rarotonga, share cabin space with the King and Queen of Tonga and South Africa. Springboks rugby team.
Responsible for coordinating service for the Queen and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh and other dignitaries aboard the British Aerospace 146 Whisper Jet, Pippa admits she felt intimidated. And nerves quickly became alarming when another crew member informed her that the carts could not be released for service in the back of the plane because the Queen had risen from her seat, had pinned his hat on a seat across the aisle. and looked out the window.
“Angela (the flight attendant responsible for serving the royal couple) didn’t think she could possibly bang Her Majesty on the buttocks and say ‘excuse me ma’am.’ I have to take the carts out in the back so that the other passengers can eat, ”explains Pippa, 75. And she wasn’t the only one holding on.
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“The chef on board was so nervous that he couldn’t get His Majesty’s appetizers out of the ovens because his hands were shaking! Eventually we found ourselves descending to the rear to complete the serve and clear before landing.
The late Duke also caused some grief to the crew, refusing to sit down before landing.
“Angela gave up trying. Captain John Bartlett told me later that he was very apprehensive about theft!
Pippa says the day is a bit blurry now, but she remembers then serving a hot meal to the crew to thank them for their hard work and convincing the captain to open a bottle of Krug Champagne.
“It is of course forbidden for the crew to drink while on duty for safety reasons. He said “okay”, but “after we landed okay”.
It was only thanks to Pippa’s daring and determination that she became a flight attendant (or “host”, as she puts it). When she applied for a job with Air New Zealand in the late 1970s after a nursing career in the UK, three things counted against her: she was over 30, married and had a child of three. years.
While the women’s liberation movement was gaining momentum in New Zealand at the time, the national carrier’s hiring policies had not caught up.
Convinced that the airline did not play fair when it refused her for “medical reasons”, she went to see her general practitioner, who “ordered a battery of tests” for her to submit. Luckily, his GP counted the Air New Zealand doctor among his contacts and called him to ask him why Field’s request was denied.
“(The doctor) had a very loud voice and the response came over the phone, ‘Well, she’s over 30 and married with a child. We can have our pick of 25-year-olds, so why would we hire him? In other words, I started with human rights and discrimination!
Her outrage served her well: the airline hired her as a cabin crew intern on domestic flights in 1979, the year after it merged with the National Airways Corporation (NAC).
Pippa believes she may have been the first married woman to be hired by the airline as a “host”, as well as the first with a child. She struggled at first, finding on her first day of work that she was terrified of the turbulence.
“My hands were sweating so much that I was worried about pouring tea and coffee in the wrong place due to the slipping of the hands. I was so scared that I thought I should give up on my dream, but in the end, the stubbornness overcame it all.
However, it was love at first sight. Flying to Wellington from Gisborne on the first day without her accompanying trainer, Pippa recalls standing near the flight deck of the Fokker plane and watching the plane approach for as long as she could.
“It was a wonderful and amazing experience watching the guys at work. And we were able to fly to Wellington on a good day.
There were a lot of things she loved about the role: regularly watching the sunrise and sunset 30,000 feet in the air and the long layovers in the Pacific Islands being the main one. But she never found him particularly glamorous, describing the job as a “tough yakka.”
“Cleaning up the vomit, emptying the sick bags, pouring in tea and coffee and emptying the trash bags – how glamorous is that?” It was similar to breastfeeding, but in a more rarefied atmosphere.
She also felt the pressure to make sure she was at her best every day because “it was a criterion that you had to be pretty to be hired for the job. A boss I had used to call it ‘face validity’ but I’m an Estée Lauder fan. There are no beautiful people, only lazy people.
Yet she has had experiences at work that she will never forget. Being on Air New Zealand’s first flight to Rarotonga was “incredible,” she said, despite the last-minute mess that saw the plane do a “go-around” before landing. A go-around is performed if a pilot is not satisfied that all the requirements for a safe landing have been met. Typically, this involves the pilot withdrawing from an approach, climbing higher, and circling around the airport before lining up for another landing attempt.
“It was a long flight for crews used to doing short trips or short jumps,” explains Pippa. “The pilots were bored throughout the flight, as were the numbers manually instead of relying on the data entered by the computer. I understand from snippets of conversation that the computer landed us 2 km from the runway, so we did a go-around and landed safely.
Pippa had another contact with royalty on a flight on which the then King and Queen of Tonga were guests of honor. She says two sheepskin-lined seats were removed from an international plane and placed in the front of the Boeing 737 so they could sit.
“They were seated in the front row with their own special host.”
Pippa worked in the back of the plane and therefore did not spend time with them during the flight, but was summoned to bid them farewell after landing.
DAVID WHITE / STUFF
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“They walked past us without even a ‘ta’. There was no acknowledgment from the king or queen of the special service rendered to them. I remember thinking ‘this is royal’. You kind of expect that we’ve all broken our guts. “
Pippa became something of a VIP herself after appearing in a high-profile Air New Zealand ad campaign with UK broadcaster Alan Whicker in 1979. Carrying the slogan “No one does better,” the ad was quickly taken down after the Mount Erebus disaster in November that year, which was – and remains – New Zealand’s deadliest air disaster.
Pippa was on duty the night the Air New Zealand DC-10 airliner crashed into Mount Erebus in Antarctica, killing all 257 passengers and crew on board.
“I heard the cries of a host who was engaged to a crew member on that flight. It was appalling… I was signed up to work the next day, and it all went off in a hazy way. There was no advice or manager talking to us, we just got started and got on with our job.
Catastrophe is something she and many others will never fully come to terms with, but overall Pippa looks back fondly on her career as a host, asserting her jobs with Air New Zealand and then Ansett, who turned collapsed in 2001 after Air New Zealand took over, it was the best it had ever had.
“I learned to love to fly, even in tough conditions – and there was a lot of it. I liked the hours of work, meeting with passengers and “service”, as limited as it was then: tea, coffee, crackers and cheese in packages that you had to put your feet up to open. It was a fantastic time. “