Above: Members of Delta Clipped Wings, (l to r) Susan Kraham, Bettie Wooten Asip and Sity Crews, model Delta Air Lines stewardess uniforms from different periods.
When Bettie Wooten Asip graduated from high school, she wanted to see the world. She lived in Florida at the time, back in the 1960s, and “I thought there was more to the world than Orlando,” she said.
She headed to Miami and applied for a job as a stewardess with Delta Air Lines. “They said, ‘We’d love to have you, but you’re too young,’” she recalled.
She was just 17. She found an office job working for another company and then, a couple of years later, aged 19½, she went back to Delta and tried again.
This time, she made the cut. She boarded a plane and flew to Atlanta for an interview—all stewardesses then had to pass an interview at Delta’s home office—and got the job. That trip to Atlanta, she recalled recently, marked her first flight on an airplane.
It would not be her last. She worked for Delta from 1964 until 2002 and flew across the world, to cities scattered around the U.S. and Europe to ones in South America and South Africa. “The only place I haven’t been is China and Japan,” she said.
She enjoyed working as a stewardess, and then, after the name for the job was changed to be gender neutral, as a flight attendant. “I loved it,” the 74-year-old said. “I loved meeting new people, going places.” And she liked spending time with other flight attendants. “We had camaraderie,” she said. “It was like a sorority. We always considered ourselves a sorority.”
Staying connected after retirement
When Asip retired from the airline, she wanted to stay in touch with her traveling pals. She joined Delta Clipped Wings, an organization formed in the 1950s to bring together former flight attendants for social events and to raise money for charities.
The group now raises money for Cure Childhood Cancer, Pets for Patriots through the Atlanta Humane Society, and The Breast Cancer Research Foundation, according to Clipped Wings’ webpage.
The club started with seven former stewardesses who called themselves the Dated Delta Dotties. They took the name from a promotional doll named Dottie Delta that the airline presented to women passengers in its early days, according to the Delta Clipped Wings webpage. (A companion doll, called Colonel Delta, was available for men.) The Dotties’ first official meeting was held in October 1957 at the Dobbs House restaurant in the terminal at Atlanta’s airport.
In 1962, members changed the group’s name to Delta Clipped Wings. “We just thought that was more current,” said Pep Greene, who was president at the time. The name, said Carol Ellington, who’s been a member since 1966, showed that members had retired from flying. “You had to have had your wings clipped [to be a member], which meant you couldn’t fly anymore,” Ellington said.
In those days, Ellington said, stewardesses were grounded when they married, so she was still in her twenties when she signed up. She started work as a stewardess in 1961. The 79-year-old said she joined Clipped Wings “because I wanted to be among my own peers,” she said. “When I joined, a lot of the members were girls that I knew.”
Clipped Wings camaraderie
Membership in the club rose and fell over the decades, then soared after the airline downsized during the early 2000s following a downturn in flying after the 9/11 attacks in 2001, club members say. The club now claims about 800 active members. They plan to hold a luncheon at The Country Club of the South on Sept. 26 as their first meeting on the 2019-2020 calendar. The club plans to host seven events though next May.
“We flew with each other so much. That’s why our Clipped Wings group is so close,” Clipped Wings co-president Suzi Modisett said. “We have known each other so long.”
Asip said the club also offers members a way to stay in touch with Delta. She was part of the wave that retired when the airline downsized in the early 2000s, she said. “A lot of us didn’t really want to retire,” she said. “It was sad time for those of us who loved flying.”
Flying days memories
Other Clipped Wings members also recall their flying days fondly. “I loved it, absolutely,” Ellington said. “It was just wonderful being with people, making sure everybody is safe. When you got on an airplane, that’s the first person you see. Welcoming [passengers] is important.”
“That was my dream job back then,” said Greene, who’s 87 and who worked as a Delta stewardess in the 1950s, was a founding member of Delta Clipped Wings and served as the club’s president in 1962-63. “It was so glamorous. … I loved it. I liked the whole idea of getting on an airplane and going somewhere.”
Greene said she was hired by Delta after she graduated from a private “stewardess school” in College Park. The school trained young women in the skills they needed so they could apply to the airlines, she said, although she remembers that only she and a handful of the other students actually found jobs as stewardesses.
In those days, stewardesses handled food service, but didn’t serve alcohol, Greene said. They wore hats and gloves. They could remove the gloves while working, but had to keep the hats on, she said. And there were physical requirements. “I’m very slight of build—petite—and I was 5 feet 1½ inches [tall] and you had to be 5’2”. I had to stretch like the devil and wear extra high-heel shoes.”
The Clipped Wings club gives them a place to gather with others who share memories of the days when flying was new and exciting and offered young women the chance to see the world.
“A lot of these people have been my friends for life,” Asip said. “I think the main thing is us staying together.”
For more information, visit deltaclippedwings.org.