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In ‘Fly Girl,’ R.I. author Ann Hood remembers her life as a flight attendant in the 1970s

Ann Hood, the novelist and R.I. native, has written a memoir about the 1970s.Beowulf Sheehan

Growing up in West Warwick, R.I., Ann Hood dreamed of adventure, the romance of the open sky.

After a family vacation to Bermuda in 1973, she was smitten. Not by the tropical island — by Logan Airport.

“As the airport came into view, the sweeping Boston skyscrapers rose beyond Logan Airport and Boston Harbor glittered beside it. Iberia and Pan Am and TWA and Alitalia 747 waited at the gates,” the best-selling author writes in her new memoir, “Fly Girl.”

Hood’s memories of her time working a flight attendant in the late ’70s are a story she’s wanted to tell for years.

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The pandemic, she said, was the time to write it: “There’s nothing like not being able to go anywhere — even the grocery store — to get me thinking about the days when I could go anywhere.”

Of course, her dream job also came with rampant sexism.

Sex-kitten-stewardess was still a prominent stereotype. In the late 1960s, she writes, a magazine airline ad showed a group of dejected models. The ad copy reads:

Pretty good aren’t they? We admit it. And they’re probably good enough to get a job practically anywhere they want. But not as an Eastern Airlines stewardess … we look at her face, her makeup … her figure, her weight … her legs … her intentions …

Not much had changed by the late ’70s, when Hood, a newly minted URI grad, took to the sky.

For example, during their “probation” period, flight attendants were subject to surprise weigh-ins, hem and heel-height checks.

Despite it all, she says, she was a small-town girl who found the adventure she craved: Dined in Egypt, found romance in Lisbon, learned to deliver a baby, served ice cream to Richard Gere and dinner to Jodie Foster, even flew with Bill Cosby. (“It’s hard to reconcile the sex offender with the guy who took the microphone and riffed over the intercom about flying and Pudding Pops, to the delight of the whole plane.”)

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In a sense, this is a Bildungsroman of a girl who once told her guidance counselor she wanted to be a writer — “Ann, people don’t do that,” came the reply. While working as a flight attendant for TWA, she drafted her first novel, 1983′s “Somewhere off the Coast of Maine,” and went on to become the author of 14 novels, among many other writings.

New Englanders will appreciate the local reference points, including her apartment in Harbor Towers by Boston Harbor where “night’s out usually started at the new TGI Friday’s on Exeter Street.”

Suitors often rang at the apartment she shared with fellow flight attendants. “We went on their boats or zipped around in their Porsches or sat in their box-seats at Fenway Park (sometimes we had even better seats, since Red Sox players seemed to love to date flight attendants).”

As she readies for a string of Massachusetts and Rhode Island events throughout May (next up: Savoy Bookshop and Cafe in Westerly, R.I., May 12). I caught up with Hood via e-mail for a trip down memory lane.

Ann Hood's memoir was published in May.

Q. You mention seeing a woman who appeared to be breast-feeding her cat on board. What are some of the craziest things you saw?

A. Definitely that. I’d add the guy who flew four hours in just his tighty-whities so as not to wrinkle his pants.

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Q. What were some of the scariest moments?

A. Learning that a flight I worked the day before had been hijacked was pretty scary. The time we blew a tire on landing in a 707 and skidded off the runway. And when a passenger had a heart attack midflight, I had to perform CPR — a different kind of scary. Sadly, he didn’t make it.

Q. The sexism is shocking. Did you ever feel uncomfortable enough to think of quitting?

A. I think the sexism reflected the era. I started in 1978, which was a strange time for women. We had one foot in the old ways and the other moving forward. I never felt uncomfortable enough to even consider quitting. What I find most interesting looking back on it now is that despite the sexism, the job was really empowering for me. It gave me confidence, independence, and an ease with all kinds of people in all kinds of situations.

Q. You say Red Sox players flew often on your flights. Any you could mention?

A. Dennis Eckersley. That’s a blast from the past for Red Sox fans.

Q. You wrote that once you published a book, one interviewer asked: “Is it true you used to be a stewardess?” as if flight attendants “couldn’t possibly have the intelligence.”

A. People are still pretty surprised that I was a flight attendant, which kind of delights me. Maybe they’ll look at that person handing them a beverage a little differently now.

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Q. In a nutshell, what did you love about flying?

A. I loved everything. Except jet lag and sore feet. Honestly, there’s nothing like looking out an airplane window at clouds or inky night sky, hearing the hum of the engines, or walking down the aisle of a jet and feeling like you’re a person going somewhere. That’s what the job gave me — the confidence it takes to go anywhere, anytime, and feel at home in the world.

For a full list of readings see annhood.us/events

Interview was edited and condensed.


Lauren Daley can be reached at ldaley33@gmail.com. Follow her on Twiiter @laurendaley1.