Five former airline attendants back to the golden age of aviation
Meet the women of The Flight Path Museum at LAX.
- Written byDarren Elms
- Photographed byKristin Anderson
Ethel Lund Pattison wearing her 1950s United Airlines uniform
As one of the few aviation museums housed in a major commercial airport, Flight Path Museum and Learning Center operates at the LAX Imperial Terminal with a mission to preserve the legacy of aviation pioneers and milestone events and to encourage aviation and aerospace education and careers. With the help of dedicated volun-teers, the museum has welcomed more than 150,000 visitors—including students, teachers, travelers and local residents—since 2013.
“I thought I would only be a stewardess for a few years, but I ended up staying for 16!”
Flight Path also offers one of the largest collections of airline flight attendant uniforms anywhere. These uniforms, from both current and legacy airlines, date back to the 1940s when passenger service first began at LAX. The uniforms are rotated for display and are among the museum’s most popular exhibits.
But it’s rare that you get to see a uniform worn by the attendant who once made a living in the outfit. Thus the fortune of having five of these women together in one place, sharing their stories and modeling the styles of their time.
Lynne Adelman, who wore her own TWA uniform designed by Valentino, is also the chairman of the board of directors and president of Flight Path. Originally from a small town in New York near the Vermont border, she worked as an educator but knew something was missing.
“The wanderlust was calling, and I was yearning to continue my education,” she says. “In 1972 I became a TWA flight attendant. In fact it was that very year that the position name changed from stewardess/hostess to flight attendant because the airlines were now also hiring men in those roles. It took a while for the airline industry to comply with the 1964 Civil Rights Act in many aspects.”
She started out based in Chicago but also did stints in Los Angeles, New York, St. Louis and Las Vegas. “Just about every passenger smoked on the flight, enjoyed a very large variety of cocktails and had friendly chats with each other in the aisle,” she remembers. “Very seldom did anyone get out of line. Back then the captain would come out of the cockpit, walk through the cabin saying hello and handing out pilot wings. Then even every adult acted like the perfect child.”
She also remembers an evening flight to Denver in a blizzard. Instead of diverting, the plane circled for hours waiting for the airport to open. “I was working first class and the lead flight attendant when 880 Captain John threw open the cockpit door and summoned me up there,” she recalls. “He said firmly, ‘Get this baby buttoned up, and I mean tight. The airport isn’t open, but we’re goin’ in.’ We landed perfectly while it was snowing in over a foot of snow … and on fumes! Whew!”
Felicia Borsari always wanted to be a flight attendant and was thrilled to get accepted by TWA in 1965. “My life felt perfect,” she says. “I loved every aspect of this job. Lots of things developed during my career. I was what we termed a ‘returning mother’ after a lawsuit that allowed me to return to the job. I had to resign due to the company’s requirements at the time when one became pregnant. I was recalled after three years and continued my career while juggling three kids, a divorce and all things ‘life.’”
At 92, Ethel Lund Pattison is the most senior of the women gathered. A native of Los Angeles, she flew for United Airlines from 1951 to 1952. When “grounded” by marriage, she was hired by the Los Angeles Department of Airports in public relations and worked for the city for more than 62 years, becoming the historian for LAX. She’s also been involved with Flight Path Learning Center since its inception in the mid-‘90s and was integral in all aspects of the museum opening.
Her fellow United attendant, Carolyn Wood, served for Capital Airlines before it merged with the bigger company in 1961. Through her several-decade career, she flew Military Airlift Command charters, domestic flights and the occasional trip to Paris, London and Honolulu.
“My career spanned the end of the pistons and the beginning of the Jet Age,” she says. “These days I don’t do much flying, but I do enjoy coming to Flight Path a few days a month to meet people and be around aviation.”
Agnes Huff, PhD, a PSA employee from 1976 to 1992, remembers her job as both glamorous and exciting.
“I thought I would only be a stewardess for a few years, but I ended up staying for 16! During that time I was able to earn my master’s and doctorate degrees in psychology—studying on layovers. Once I got my degree, I provided family assistance and post-crisis debriefings for victims of major airline accidents.”
Wearing her pink and red uniform to meet the other women, Agnes says it was a sad day when she gave up her wings to start her own PR business. But she loves her role on the board of directors for Flight Path Museum. “I always smile when I see the PSA uniform I wore on display there.”
Flight Path Museum and Learning Center offers free admission and parking. For more information, visit flightpathmuseum.com