Carolyn Jones was with American Airlines for 38 years. Being a flight attendant allowed her to visit major museums, see historic sites, take in plays and concerts, she said.
“One month, you’d fly to Europe, the next month, Asia, meeting people from all over the world,” she said. “It was a blast. … It broadens your horizons.”
The Kiwi Club was started in the 1930s by former American Airlines flight attendants and was chartered in 1952, according to the club’s website. During the group’s second meeting in New York, a member suggest they call themselves Kiwis, named for New Zealand’s flightless bird.
Many of the Las Vegas Valley members are Henderson residents, and they typically change meeting locations each month.
Kay Jennings began flying with American in 1956 and spent 11 years with the airline, based in Los Angeles.
“We were stewardesses, not flight attendants. We were something special. … That was the best time,” she said. “That was the time that we always wore skirts, white gloves and a hat.”
The transition from propeller planes to jets led to a major change in how they provided service, Jennings said.
“They were much bigger, a lot faster and involved a lot more service. … You had to do everything you’d done in five hours or six hours in two or three,” she said.
Donnita Gross was with American 40 years. She loved the free travel and flexibility in scheduling, she said.
“People are more demanding now. They don’t dress up. You can be casual and be in decent clothes. But these days? It’s a toss-up.”
Marietta Worrell, was with American for 40 years and was based in San Francisco. She recalled having actress Ava Gardner on a late-night flight from New York to San Francisco.
“She walked on the airplane without any makeup on, and I think she was one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen. We were told not to give her any alcohol. … She asked me for a beer, and I said, ‘I’m so sorry, but I’m not able to.’ She was very pleasant about it.”
Gardner slept the whole way and put on her makeup in the ladies’ room before landing, Worrell said.
Worrell said she has also been on planes with Bob Hope (“Nicest man you’d ever want to meet,” Worrell said.) and Rita Hayworth. Not all encounters happened on the planes.
Peggy Ganopole, formerly Peggy Russell, started working for Trans World Airlines in 1954 and flew for 10 years. She recalled being on reserve in Kansas City when she was called to get to the airport to work a flight.
“I could hear them calling my name over and over; ‘Peggy Russell, report to gate 34 as soon as possible,’ she said. “So I’m running down the hallway, and I see a group of men coming my way. I try to bypass them, but I bump into one man. His hat flew off; my hat flew off. He looked at me, and I looked at him and I went, ‘Oh, my goodness, President Truman.’
“He said, ‘How are you, my dear? Are you Peggy Russell?’ … He had two guys take me to the airplane, to the ramp. The captain is looking out and he asks, ‘Who were those two men escorting you?’ And I said, ‘President Truman’s security men.’ The passengers started to clap when they heard.”
Sandy Coe was 21 in 1965 and flying for American. She recalled getting to Los Angeles early for her nonstop to New York City, so she went to a coffee shop. There were no seats available, but a young boy waved her over. Coe ended up sitting with him, his sister and their nanny. Their dad, the boy explained, was checking on when mom’s flight would arrive. They chatted for about 10 minutes, then Dad walked over.
It was Paul Newman.
“I about fell out of my chair,” Coe recalled. “Those beautiful eyes and that smile. Not bad.”
Lillian Larson began her career in 1955 and flew 46 years with American. In the days of propellers, the Douglas DC-7 aircraft had slots along the sides of the plane. The flight attendants would hand out stationery so passengers would write letters during long flights, she said.
“We told them that we would mail them for them,” Larson recalled. “After every trip, we’d have to check all the air-conditioning slots. They thought that was how they mailed the cards.”
On one flight, Larson said, a woman kept ringing the call button from the bathroom. Larson asked if everything all right. The woman complained that someone might be able to see her using the lavatory.
“She said, ‘There’s no curtain on this window,’” Larson said. “I said, ‘You know where we are?’ And she said, ‘Yes, but there are other planes that go by us.’”
The Kiwi Club has 19 members in Las Vegas representing TWA and American Airlines, but flight attendats from other airlines are welcome. Visit thekiwiclub.org.
Contact Jan Hogan at email@example.com or 702-387-2949.
First in their field
German Heinrich Kubis is recognized as the world’s first flight attendant, working aboard Zeppelin airships starting in 1912.
Ellen Church is recognized as the first U.S. flight attendant of conventional aircraft. The 25-year-old registered nurse was hired as a “flight nurse” by United Airlines (then Boeing Air Transport) in 1930.
Church was assigned to work a May 15, 1930, flight from the Bay Area to Chicago. The 20-hour flight had 14 passengers and included 13 stops.
United Airlines Historical Foundation
It’s always a blast to connect with the Kiwi ladies. They have fun personalities, they love to laugh, and they have crazy, you-can’t-make-this-stuff-up stories.
Walking into the private room where they meet is like being greeted on a flight. “Come on in.” “Good to see you.” “Can I take your coat?”
I half-expected one of them to slip up and say, “Welcome aboard” or “Be sure and fasten that seat belt before takeoff.”
I took a seat and looked around for a placard to direct me to the nearest exit. Not there, but at least I got a window seat.
Classy ladies, all, and you can see the flight-attendant creed still at work — hair in place, makeup light but flawless, stylishly dressed and with that perpetual smile, smile, smile. They could step aboard a 777 tomorrow and get right to work, never missing a beat.
Relating to them was easy. I flew for TWA for five years.
The first time I met the Kiwis, around 2014, I had just finished writing my first whodunnit, “Coffee, Tea, or Murder?” (The heroine is a fiesty flight attendant with a secret life.) We talked shop and had a lot of laughs.
It was a blast to revisit those high-in-the-sky days and recount memorable passengers. It was an even bigger blast when my book earned honorable mention out of a field of 13,200 contest entries, an ego boost after being published in nonfiction. In November, I reconnected with the Las Vegas Kiwis . They gave me new stories, new insights and, as always, new ideas for putting Abbey Gaddett (rhymes with cadet) in even deeper peril. And throughout our visit, we smiled, smiled, smiled.