Flight attendant soars through 45 years on the job

From celebrities to soldiers, Ann Marcoux has seen a lot in the friendly skies

Mountain View resident Ann Marcoux is set to take her last journey as a flight attendant this month after more than four decades on the job.

Marcoux spent her entire career with American Airlines. She was hired in 1968 when airlines had strict standards for stewardesses, as they were called then. Marcoux fit the bill: she was unmarried, without a child, and not too tall or too short or too thin or too heavy. She says she beat hundreds of other applicants for the job.

"It was a glamorous job, the best thing a woman could do," Marcoux said.

She says she works only nine days a month, though those days can be intense. Marcoux has been assigned regular routes to all corners of the world, but her latest gig involves a regular commute to Chicago, which takes four hours, before working a flight to Beijing, a 13-hour trip.

When she began her career, stewardesses were fired if they got married, had kids or got older than 32. Women's rights advocates finally got airline officials to change their ways in the 1970s, but weight restrictions remained in place until the 1990s. She was able to keep her job and still get married and have two children, who are now adults. She and her husband, tech company founder and inventor Phil Marcoux, live in Mountain View's Waverly Park neighborhood.

Thanks largely to her career, Marcoux says she's been to 80 different countries. Seeing the world wasn't without some danger. With her friend Ruth at her side, the pair of flight attendants adventured around Morocco in the 1970s, where a crew from Pan-Am was famously kidnapped and enslaved. Another time they took a 300-mile cab ride across Africa to Nairobi when they couldn't get on a plane.

After describing the time she rode horses around the pyramids in Egypt with Ruth, she said, "You would just die if your children did something like that -- nobody knew we were there."

While providing plenty of opportunity for adventure, the job hasn't been without some frustration. She laughed at the mention of the flight attendant who quit after telling off a rude passenger over the loudspeaker, then left the plane via the inflatable exit slide with a beer in hand.

"There are days when you are ready to just strangle (people) -- it's just tough," Marcoux said.

She had no qualms about discussing cultural differences in working with passengers from various countries. Japanese passengers are "wonderful and easy going" she said, while with Chinese passengers, "it's beyond them that they should have to wear seat belts." She added that among many Indian passengers, "we are servants, as far as they are concerned." Americans aren't much better in that regard, she said.

Marcoux recalls that when she began her career, airline flights were mostly for the rich. In those days, she said that she felt more like "someone special" and less like "the hired help." Marcoux had the chance to meet many famous people: Natalie Wood, Gerald Ford, Robert Redford, Robert Wagner, Bob Hope, Dolly Parton and Jerry Lewis, among others. "All of them were really, really nice except Jerry Lewis," she said. She once watched Estee Lauder market herself and her products to the passengers on the plane.

"People underestimate flight attendants," she said. There are former dentists, doctors and lawyers working as flight attendants, she said. One of her fellow flight attendants was married to the president of the Chicago stock exchange. A passenger who was particularly rude to her said he was getting ready to interview for the "job of a lifetime" -- which turned out to be as assistant to her husband. Needless to say, he didn't get the job.

Her family has had the benefit of being able to take flights on standby for free, which has made for some surprising vacations. Her family learned to pack clothes for any climate, which came in handy for the time when they found themselves skiing in Canada and then, when the snow was not good, jumping on another plane to China. Her kids have been to over 25 countries, exposing them to shocking beauty but also to children living on the streets alone in dire poverty -- eye-opening experiences which Marcoux hopes makes them more socially conscious as adults.

Marcoux was on the last flight in United States airspace before all flights were grounded after the attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Her captain refused to land outside the U.S., and she recalls the plane being escorted by fighter jet to its runway. A photo was taken of her hugging her daughter when she finally landed, which ran in a local newspaper. She said she knew several of the flight attendants on the planes used in the attacks, which caused her and others to become "more hyper-vigilant" about passenger safety.

Not long afterward she volunteered to work on the airline flights that brought U.S. troops home -- weapons and all during the early stages of the Iraq war. She said she heard from the first ones there that there were no weapons of mass destruction found in Iraq, which was ostensibly the motive for invading the country.

Marcoux's husband held a retirement party for her at the Hiller Air Museum on Saturday. On Sept. 29, she returns home from her last trip as a stewardess.

"It's hard to give up what I really enjoy doing," she said.

To make the transition easier, she asked her husband if they could travel every other month in their retirement. He said yes.


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