In 1982 I was contracted by a major airline to help in the hiring of Portuguese speakers to become Flight Attendants for the new Dallas-Rio de Janeiro route. In the process I was hired to be a Flight Attendant myself. About 100 applicants came from all over the country and only 50 had all the qualifications to enter training, but this was no guarantee that they would be hired. Many had given up jobs and some had driven from all parts of the U. S. to Dallas, once they were notified that they had been approved for the training program.
The 6-week/7 day per week training was excruciatingly hard and every day one or two of people would disappear from class. They had been told to pack their bags and leave without saying goodbye to the rest of us.
No one knew what the criteria was for not being able to complete the training, except that we had to make no less than a score of 100 on all Exams, and we took several of them each day.
During the 5th week, my training partner, Elizabeth, was sent home. She had been a Flight Attendant with Braniff before the airline went bankrupt. She spoke Portuguese and Spanish and had flown for years all over South America, including Brazil. I contacted her to ask why she had not made it, and she said that in her evaluation she was told that she did not “smile enough during evacuation exercises.”
Almost immediately, however, I heard that the “senior” flight attendants resented the “newbies” because we got the most coveted travel route, only because we spoke Portuguese. The word was out that they were going to get us fired, one by one, starting with the oldest, me! Due to my seniority, I got first choice in scheduling my trips and this was resented by the seasoned flight attendants who wanted to be able to travel to Rio, but had less opportunities to do this because they didn’t speak Portuguese.
The flight attendant crews had to be 50-50, “speakers and non-speakers.” The Portuguese speakers got to work the isles, whereas the others had to work in the galley with food preparation, setting up the carts, cleaning up and so on. The excitement about flying to Rio, dissipated quickly with the rough treatment we received from our senior crew members. We had 8 months of probation and could be fired “without cause” during this time.
The good part of the job was that we had 2 and 3 – day layovers in Rio! I became friends with the some of the senior flight attendants and several of the pilots, who loved to hang out with me on our layovers. Due to the fact that I had grown up there and was a tall Portuguese speaking blonde, I was very popular everywhere we went. We always got preferential treatment, the best tables, service, in fact we were treated like celebrities. My new friends assured me that they would “have my back” and that my job would be safe.
I loved being in Rio again. It was more beautiful than I remembered. We had great times during our layovers, sunning on Ipanema beach, sight seeing in the most beautiful city in the world, dancing in Clubs, eating out at the best restaurants…the exchange for the Brazilian “cruzado” was about 10/1 dollars, which meant that we could eat at the Churrascarias, Brazilian Steak Houses, for about $5.00 a person. The crews thought that Rio was the most exciting and romantic city in the world.
The pilots could not get over how beautiful Brazilian women were. There eyes would pop out of their heads, there was so much to see on the beaches. The women wore the tiniest of bikinis, with just a string in the back, and their “bundas,” booties, were beautiful.
There was plenty of “eye candy” for the women as well. Brazilian men would exercise on the beach, play volleyball and “futevolei,” which is a mixture between volleyball and soccer. Everyone had a “natural tan,” due to the mixture of races, and were called the “beautiful people.”
On one of the trips I met a man who was known as the “Brazilian Johnny Carson,” because he had a late night TV talk show, was silver-haired and very good looking. He started meeting us when we would arrive at the Rio Palace Hotel on Ipanema Beach, where we stayed on our layovers, and would escort me and some from “my group” all over Rio. I also got to go to his show one night.
A romance began between us and this made flying down to Rio even more exciting. Those were the days…until about seven months later, I met Roberto, who was the head flight attendant on one of my trips.
To be continued… in Part II.