A "steward" is defined, in part, as "an official appointed to...keep order at a large, public event." And long before they were considered "buses in the air," a plane's ascent into the sky was, indeed, a public event. It was an occasion, to which stewardesses, like the planes themselves, routinely rose, with their impeccable serving skills and extensive safety training, and for which passengers wore new outfits. As airline flight paths began to stretch farther and farther across the globe, it was stewardesses who guided the passenger's transition from the comfort of home to the excitement of foreign ports beyond. Far from being "sky waitresses," stewardesses were ambassadors to a great, wide world.
This meant sky-high standards for applicants, especially for those eager to work for the famed Trans World Airlines, or TWA, the one favored by movie stars of the sixties and seventies. They were narrowed down to a select few based on their poise, grooming, manners, disposition, demonstrated skills in CPR and safety training, (originally, stewardesses were required to be registered nurses), and, yes, beauty. Because of this they represented to many, including a young Lucien Samaha, who first became fascinated by them when they would deliver him safely and happily between Beirut and Dhahran for family visits, "international glamour and adventure." So much so that he himself joined TWA in 1978 to become, as the acceptable term was by then, a flight attendant. These photos tell the story of his time there.
One need not have worn the uniform to feel wistful at these images. Perhaps more than any other profession, the job of a flight attendant the literally enacts what of what it feels like when you're young and lifting off into your life. Miles are stretched out in front of you and every new experience is waiting for you when you land. It's this spirit that makes a shot where trainees are simulating a water emergency in a pool look like a scene from summer camp. Co-workers, each other's constant companions for months at a time, lean into and drape over each other with the ease of people tethered together by their desire to live untethered to the rest of the world. They anchor each other down amidst the constant current of strangers passing through every day. While the rest of the world sleeps, a crew of friends step onto the tarmac, and watch the sun come up while they wait for the van that will take them to their hotel beds to sleep. Just past the peak of the glamour years and long before the tense paranoia of the post-9/11 world, Samaha's time between 1978 and 1986 was rarefied air.
The Flight Attendant Years: 1978-1986 will be on display at New York's Lombard Freid Gallery from June 6 to August 2, 2013. More info can be found at http://www.lombard-freid.com/home.htm