The Mile-high Club and Other Airline Legends
Former air stewardess YVONNE LEE debunks and, in some cases, confirms popular myths about her former profession, writes ALEXANDRA WONG
MY FIRST MEETING with Yvonne Lee took place at an MPH bookshop, aptly enough. A former airline stewardess who had scored a best-seller with her first foray into writing, The Sky Is Crazy, she obviously made perfect interview bait for me, a then-aspiring journalist.
Yet I didn’t bother to introduce myself, all for the pettiest of reasons. When I was 19, an air-stewardess friend told me I would never make it as one because of my Plain Jane looks. I never forgave nor forgot that slight.
Raking in her porcelain complexion and pin-up looks from a safe distance, I was certain Lee would turn out to be similarly catty, and scrupulously avoided her at subsequent author events, until a mutual acquaintance played inadvertent matchmaker.
“Yvonne Lee would like a second opinion about her upcoming manuscript. Would you like to have a go at it?” he asked.
I pushed aside my personal prejudices. Business was, after all, business.
To my surprise, she came across as genuinely down-to-earth in email, but still, I was taken aback at our first meeting—she wanted to personally pass me a copy of her freshly printed second book, Vanity Drive. “I thought you might enjoy them since you like to write about food,” she said with a smile that was as warm as her gift of curry puffs.
At our second meeting, she confessed, “I feel that I’m so boring compared to my sister [songstress Janet Lee]. I hardly go out except to run errands and pick up my kids. My life revolves around my kids and my husband only. So I told myself this year, I will accept all invitations to tea from my girlfriends!” she laughed ruefully.
I had a lump in my throat when she shared how she gave RM100—about half of her writing fee—to an old beggar she wrote about for a local daily. This was leagues apart from the image of the high-tea trawling, designer-goods toting tai-tai I had imagined her to be.
She surprised me again with her cheerful yet tongue-in-cheek takes on her former profession as a trolley dolly, which she chronicles in her new book, Madness Aboard!
An air stewardess once remarked that when she says that she works as cabin crew or an air hostess, people assume she’s a bimbo. Do you know of any air stewardess with a high IQ who decided to become an air stewardess? There are numerous successful former stewardesses who are doing very well in various fields. I know of some former cabin crew who are big names. There is a male Member of Parliament, hotel general manager, news anchors and business people in various industries. But, no thanks to the misconceptions that fly girls are bimbos, very few of these famous people want to admit that they were former stewardesses, except for some singers, models, ex-beauty queens and actresses.
Lee makes no apology for being an ex-hostie. She is in fact milking her past experiences in the sky and smiling all the way to the bank!
Air stewardesses lead glamorous lives. Fact or fiction?
Oh yes, we wine and dine in Paris, have breakfast in London and shop in New York. But the truth is, due to minimum stay or even short turn-around flights, we are more likely to be seen grabbing a brown bag takeaway at Burger King in London or shout for “McFish” in Paris.
Have you ever had a gag order, or a plea or threat from an ex-colleague not to tell all?
Whaddya mean put a gag to my tell-all? They’re practically begging and bribing me to tell the world about their ‘suffering’. These unsung heroes in the sky need someone to tell their tales of woe. My book is like payback, from those in this industry to the nasty passengers. I’m hailed as their voice, to disseminate the truth and pains the cabin crew usually goes through in order to bring chicken and beef onto their laps!
Did you get propositioned a lot during your heyday? What’s the most outrageous proposal you’ve ever received or heard of?
I wonder if you’ve heard about this ex-stewardess from Singapore who wrote about the hijinks from her flying days. According to her, after more than a decade with the airline, she had received about 20 propositions. Me? I’ve lost count, if you consider ‘propositions’ from Ah Kow, Ah Tu and Ah Beng passengers flattering at all. But if you’re talking about invitations from the ‘count-worthy’ ones, those with the looks of Justin Bieber, the abs of a bodybuilder and a bank account of a hot entrepreneur, well ...
Give us the deebs on the mile-high club. Does it still happen these days and are you a member of this club?
Oh no, I’m not going to be a spoiler. You have got to read The Sky is Crazy and Madness Aboard! to find out. Anyway, I’m afraid to disappoint those passengers with voyeuristic intentions. The number of participants attempting to join the Mile-high Club (MHC) has taken a big dip, no thanks to the emergence of low-cost airlines. A low-cost flight means crammed seats and full-house flights, resulting in lower libido for passengers who had earlier planned to be anointed to the MHC. As for me, I was a member many times over—in my dreams!
Let’s talk about the daily minutiae. Do you brush your teeth on overnight flights? How do you keep your breath fresh all the time? How come your mascara and eyeliner never run? Do you wear special shoes? We mere mortals can’t possibly stand in heels for hours!
We were trained how to remain supermodel-like in appearance after a 10-hour flight, when most passengers would have looked like a typhoon had swept through them. The secret: Use a good long-lasting base for foundation, use powder paper to blot away oiliness every hour, replenish fading lipstick on lips, spritz face with mineral water regularly to avoid dehydration on a long flight as the cabin air is very dry, dab on the perfume when freshening up, brush teeth after meals, use breath freshener and never forget to plaster on a smile! Stewardesses always wear a good pair of tights (those specially made for flight attendants) as it provides better support while making the legs look good when the sarong slit flips.
Someone has terrible BO, flatulence or continually burps on a long-haul flight. The passenger (in the window seat section) next to this person is practically crying for help. How do you handle this situation diplomatically?
I read, not too long ago, that one can be booted out of a flight for being smelly. On February 6 last year, an Air Canada Jazz flight from Charlottetown created news when it off-loaded a passenger because he had bad BO. I suppose that’s a wise move—better to upset one passenger than the whole planeload! But, I had worked at a time when the passengers were always right. I took it as part and parcel of the job. You can imagine how I felt when on a KL-London flight, a passenger who had woken up from his sleep, pulled me to his seat and spoke to me with the foulest breath. Since then, I learnt to rub Vicks into my nostrils every time I had to do an overnight flight. Most passengers use the morning juice offered by the cabin crew as their mouthwash.
How is it that all air stewards or stewardesses have the magical ability to fit all their belongings into one small cabin bag?
We practise mix and match, making us pros at clothing and pros at packing for travel. Anyway, we are allowed one check-in baggage. Those hard-cased Delsey or Samsonite luggage that cabin crews usually use are so sturdy one doubts they can be detonated!
Reproduced from the April-June 2011 issue of Quill magazine