The story started with a flight attendant’s (FA) final take off and ended with her last landing. In between are 192 pages of clever anecdotes, gossipy bits and humorous insights into the life of a Cathay Pacific cabin crew member who spent 20 years shuttling the globe. “I had breakfast in Taipei, dinner in Osaka and lunch the following day in Hong Kong,” she wrote.
In her sharp and witty writing style, the author, Ana Algabre-Hernandez, spilled the beans on the unique lifestyle of FAs and the “myths about ladies who fly.” Binibining Stewardess, Mga Kwento ng Flight Attendant at iba pa, takes the reader with her as she journeys around the globe.
Airline travel spelled glamour and adventure for the elite troop of attractive, young ladies otherwise known as stewardesses. But it wasn’t all Hermes, Gucci or Chanel and chateaubriand steaks for them. Ana recalled countless horror stories, gross things, “hardtime,” and toxic passengers from hell, or of cunning swindlers who made it their lifetime mission to get refunds or complimentary upgrades from airlines.
She enumerated other characters like the flirty husband and his suspicious wife; kleptomaniacs who stole headphones, bar cart items and toiletries from the plane; the “territorials” who hogged the armrest or occupy a whole row to sleep; the irritable ducks who cursed at everything just to exit ahead through the plane doors. Included in her “waitlist” are insensitive passengers who would pass through the aisle while the food cart was in place, and the wine and food connoisseurs who extended the meal service till descent.
In conversational Tagalog, Ana devoted several chapters on life’s small annoyances, most of which will make the reader grin.
Ana is the wife of Philippine Ambassador to South Korea Raul Hernandez. As such, she is part of the diplomatic corps family. “I wrote in Tagalog because initially, I wanted this to be a very nationalistic book,” she said. It is her first attempt to write in the language. She recalled that when she arrived in Manila, she realized her kids couldn’t speak Tagalog very well. So in the course of helping her son with his homework in Tagalog, she was inspired to write in the vernacular. “It’s a beautiful language, we just have to patronize it,” she said.
Writing though has always been her love. Her journals came to about 500 pages. “I started when I was in high school. I was editor of Republic Central Colleges’ Annual,” said the Pampanga native.
Ana explained that she wanted to dispel the myth of the stewardess, who, thanks to the 1967 best-seller, “Coffee, Tea or Me?” was portrayed as a globe-trotting party girl in endless pursuit of rich men and good times.
Her mentor and adviser, Dr. Jimmuel Naval, chair of the University of the Philippines Department of Filipino and Philippine Literature, said Ana was able to paint the body of the aviation industry including the culture of flight and those who dream of becoming flight attendants. He added that this manuscript may be considered the first written work about what happens inside the big metal flying on top of the world.
TV host Boy Abunda, her husband’s province mate, said, “No one can write this book better than Ana Hernandez because it is her story. It is her truth and a truth so naked it is almost like yours. Her words are sure and succinct. Her humor is delicious, sometimes, sardonic. Her disclosures are truthful and unapologetic. Her candor is disarming. I am a fan of Binibining Stewardess.”
Particularly giddy is her account of how her husband, identified in her book as passenger 88C, courted her. She had met him at a Thai restaurant in Hong Kong and quite remembered him for his immortal pick-up line, “Hello, are you Pinays?” But it was his good looks that made the three seasoned FAs swoon and had them kicking each other surreptitiously under the table.
The group exchanged life stories and phone numbers. Ana didn’t give hers at first because she thought they would take different roads after good-byes have been said. But the guy lingered and waited. While walking in Hong Kong to places where Filipinos hang out, the statuesque Filipina heard comments like, “Jackpot si Inday!” (Inday hit the jackpot) or “Ate, ang gwapo ng kasama mong Tsino.” (Big sister, your Chinese companion is so handsome).
He told her once, “Pangarap kong makasakay sa eroplano na ikaw ang stewardess ko.” (It is my dream to ride an airplane with you as my stewardess.) The next thing she knew, he was onboard her flight. She was rattled by his presence in the galley while her life’s bane, pesky passengers on board, were waiting to be served. He tried to help and deftly prevented supplies from falling out of the overhead bin and hitting her. It was at that moment when cupid’s arrow hit her. She forgot his remarkable good looks and zeroed in on his sincerity and goodwill. “At that time, it felt like the airplane stopped in mid-air and the two of us were left in the clouds,” Ana wrote.
Their love story led to church bells ringing and two infants’ cries. But it was her accounts of flying as a mother that were heart wrenching. Due to her intermittent flying duties, holidays and special occasions with the family usually never happened and remained dots in her calendar. So her kids became accustomed to “birth months” and alternative dates for celebration instead of actual birthdays. Ana described her thoughts and emotional pain each time she left for work. “My heart was heavier than my luggage,” she wrote. So she handed in her notice of early retirement. She relayed that her son asked if she was sad to leave the airlines. She answered, “Of course, but not as sad as when I have to go to work and leave you, daddy and your sister.”
Ana’s book, according to film and TV director Manny Palo, is “instructive and entertaining, insightful and hilarious – her book should be a required reading not only for those who dream of becoming flight attendants but also for all of us who simply love to fly.”
Binibining Stewardess is available at all National Bookstore branches.