Stillwater News Press

Local News

October 9, 2011

Stillwater woman recalls her time as a Pan Am flight attendant

STILLWATER, Okla. — A recently premiered ABC show based on Pan American World Airways has brought one Stillwater woman back to her experiences with the famous airline.

Kimberly Berry was a flight attendant for Pan Am from 1988 to 1991. She said the airline pioneered many routes around the world.

“They built runways all around the world and, when they started flying, they were flying into places that didn’t even have airports,” Berry said. “They started out with flying boats that would take off from the water.”

The 1950s, ’60s and ’70s were the heyday of the company, she said.

“It was just real luxury at the beginning,” Berry said.

She said flight attendants had certain requirements and expectations to work for Pan Am.

“You had to be young,” Berry said. “You got to a certain age, you were finished. If you got married, you were finished. Pregnant, finished. You just couldn’t do it.”

A weight requirement that was present in the airline’s heyday was still found in 1988 when Berry began.

“If you went over your weight, you got grounded until you got back to the right weight that you were supposed to be,” Berry said. “When I started in ’88, they still had the weight requirements. ... I have the letter that says what my weight was when they hired me and what my maximum weight could be. I don’t think that they were being as strict about it then, because I think there were probably some lawsuits going on at the time.”

She said she thinks the requirement still existed was because the job was still in demand.

“People still wanted to do it, so they would put up with quite a bit,” Berry said.

Berry, who graduated from OSU with a marketing degree in 1987, said it was “really just sort of happenstance” that she got a job with Pan Am.

“I was interested in being a flight attendant, and that’s what they called them post-women’s lib era,” Berry said. “I was wanting to be a flight attendant, and I just happened to be bartending at a hotel in Denver, and I had applied. I think I applied for United already and also for TWA.”

A man and woman came up to the bar and began to chat with her, she said. They asked if she knew a foreign language.

“I just said, ‘No, but I’d love to learn one because I want to be a flight attendant,’” Berry said. “And they just said, ‘Really? Because we’re recruiting for Pan Am.’”

The next day, she had forgotten about the conversation, but the two people came back and told her they had some good news for her, she said. After talking to their supervisors, they said they wanted to interview her for a job. Within a day or two, she was interviewed and hired.

“It’s not necessarily something I should be proud of, but I was the first flight attendant hired for Pan Am without a second language,” Berry said.

While she wasn’t certified, she said she later learned some Spanish, French and German.

After her hiring, Berry packed everything she could fit into her vehicle and made the drive back to Stillwater, where she unloaded her belongings at her mother’s house. She then drove to Oklahoma City to fly to Dallas and got on a Pan Am flight to Miami to attend a monthlong training session. After training, she flew to New York, where she was based.

Her first few months in New York was a “rough start,” she said.

“There were six of us that went together,” Berry said. “I think there were three girls and three guys, and we got together and found an apartment in Queens.”

The apartment was $1,200 per month and with another month’s rent required to start, everybody had to squeeze all their money together, Berry said.

The men and the women had their own rooms.

“We didn’t have beds or anything to start with, so the guys went and bought a futon, and each of us girls wanted our own bed,” Berry said.

She said despite the low pay, there were perks to the job.

Berry was able to visit places such as Paris, Frankfurt, Germany, London and Rio de Janeiro.

The average layover time was 36 hours, she said, enough time to explore and grab dinner. She recalls one trip to Athens, Greece, with co-workers.

“We all just sort of made a pact (not to sleep),” Berry said. “We’re like, ‘We don’t get to go to Athens very often.’”

Berry and crew perused through the market, went to see the Acropolis and other sights before dinner.

“(We) just ordered everything on the menu and shared,” Berry said. “Nobody ordered any particular thing, but just this big table of food, and we all just shared. That was one of the most memorable times, I’d have to say.”

The crew flew to Frankfurt, Germany, the next morning.

During her time working for Pan Am, Berry and her friend and co-worker, Kelly, moved to Arlington, Texas, where they commuted to New York. When Pan Am closed in December 1991, her friend began to work for Delta but Berry did not. She was going to school again at Tarrant County College, working toward a degree in media communications.

“I was enjoying being a flight attendant, but I just felt like there was something else I was going to want to do,” she said. “It wasn’t going to be something I was going to want to do forever. For me, it was kind of a lonely life. I had good friends. In Arlington where I lived, I’d made good friends and flying, but overall it was just a lot of time by myself.”

Now a wife and mother of two, Berry substitute teaches and is expecting to start a new job soon. However, the recent ABC show “Pan Am” has rekindled interest in her former profession.

“This show is really sparking my interest in really trying to get reconnected with some of my friends,” Berry said.

Berry used to be involved in World Wings International Inc., a philanthropic organization of former Pan Am flight attendants. She said she plans to get involved with the group once again because of the show.

As for her own experiences, she said her time with Pan Am was “wonderful.”

“I get real nostalgic when I think about Pan Am,” she said. “I always have. I remember the great places that we got to go.”

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