Get On Board – Flight Attendant Memorial Day (July 24)



(thanks to Confessions of a Trolley Dolly )


Every piece of aviation legislation that we have to know during our excruciating exams has truly stemmed from one of our own colleagues – in direct danger. Intrigued? Let me explain.

Overwing exits and briefings, strip lighting, lifejacket clips and crew seatbelt design… megaphones and smokehoods and our evacuation drills. They were not always around in the early days of aviation a hundred years ago. It took trial and the most heartbreaking of error and the loss of some crew.


We know the regulations by heart, but there’s a problem: we need to bring heart back to the theory.


Flight Attendant Memorial Day gathers us all, past and present, to remember those who never came home. Those suitcases now sitting unused, that uniform never worn again, those wings so hard-earned now a memory and part of us.


July 24 commemorates the sacrifice that our colleagues made. What can we do? Read on to learn how to get involved!


We know that some managers introduce us as the most important safety feature on the aircraft (which we crew are). We know that us crew spend every day asking passengers to comply with safety, sometimes to be met with eye rolls and sighs. We keep asking though, as our job requires – but when the chips are down, we know that every second counts, for their lives – and our own.


We love watching those fascinating slides inflate, are intrigued by clips of timed drill evacuations and we all laughed ourselves silly when doing the wet raft in sodden overalls during initial training. But it’s all for the passengers we have signed up to protect.


And our beloved colleagues. We may forget some names after briefing (guilty!), we may call them ‘babe’ or ‘love’ all shift and we may never work with some again. The hellos and goodbyes are in the hundreds in our line of work. You’re not alone.


Though it’s bittersweet, let’s take some time each year to remember the bravery of the cabin crew who signed on as we do, boarded the passengers as we do and some we owe our legislation (and future survival) to.


Here are a couple of examples I have been reading about recently to open our eyes – and put a human face to our story:


  • On a normal flying day, Barbara Harrison was planning her upcoming 23rd birthday celebrations. It was 1968 and her two year flying anniversary was fast approaching – as they always do! About two minutes into her flight from London to Zurich, horror struck. The right wing of her 707 caught on fire. The 116 passengers were terrified to see melting windows and onlookers gaped helplessly on the ground. After a perfect landing, Barbara’s priority was to deploy the rear slides. One slide burned, the other twisted then was punctured and was destroyed. Once assistance was rendered and her life was in imminent danger, the Captain screamed at her from the ground to jump to safety. But, choking on smoke, at the last minute she tuned back to face the horrendous scene. She went back to help an elderly passenger that she didn’t feel right about leaving behind. Her body was found next to his.


  • 583 people perished in a matter of minutes one foggy day in Tenerife in 1977. Pan Am’s Dorothy Kelly saved countless lives though, due to her sheer bravery and professionalism. The Pan Am B747 was taxiing and a KLM B747 was just taking off – though both approaching each other from opposite directions. What makes it chilling is that they were mistakenly on the same runway. The KLM jumbo was already airborne when it sliced across the other jumbo and its right engines penetrated the upper deck. Kelly was forced down through the main deck floor into the cargo hold. Once she came to, she pulled herself up and barefoot, screamed through the cabin directing passengers to jump to safety. She says she had ‘nightmares for many years’ recalling what she saw that day. She did all this with a bleeding head injury and later discovered she had a broken arm, while helping at the hospital they were all admitted to. The other Pan Am and KLM angels need to go down in history as giving their lives for the job they loved so much.


  • There was also a miraculous near miss for our crew – a 747 bound for Kuwait from Bangkok was held hostage with guns and grenades for sixteen days in 1988. After days of uncertainty and witnessing torture and the execution of two passengers, those on board were finally rescued. Crew were credited with assisting in a situation of horrifying international turmoil.


Though I have chosen a few examples spaced out from days gone by, these disasters happen still as you know and our colleagues are still close to us in terms of their hopes and dreams and passion for flying.


It’s important to recognize how aviation has changed – but for the better – as a result of past experiences of these Angels of the Sky. We will also play our part in future understanding of our industry – hopefully more though feedback than experience.


As you read this there are actually around 3300 planes in the skies – and our hardworking colleagues are right up there above us. Those who have passed on were just like us – doing their review, scoffing desserts, confessing secrets behind the curtain with aching feet and gritty eyes – and mustering bright smiles just like us. Just like us they had their lives ahead of them.

paper plane love

How to be part of this day – it’s easier than you think! Just wear a black ribbon on July 24. (If you’re not working, even better – no uniform rules to break!) Try and get this cleared by your airline in advance – start today! We hope to make this year bigger – and to show solidarity and love for our colleagues who never signed off or touched the ground.


(If your company isn’t really into the PR of reminding passengers of the real risks of aviation on board – or if management would find the concept less than comforting to reluctant flyers, you can still be involved of course. Wear the ribbon pinned secretly over your heart within your uniform and take a moment on your way to work.) If you prefer not to dwell on a possibly confronting concept, I totally empathise – so flip the thinking to honor those who fly higher these days.


Please help spread the word amongst your colleagues and share on social media – and treat our role with fresh eyes this July 24. Us crew are worth it.


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