A Lincolnton woman has put up her wings after spending the last 30 years as a flight attendant. A lifelong Lincoln County resident, Linda Taylor-Schultz recently retired from American Airlines. After graduating from Lincolnton High School in 1963, she attended Peace College in Raleigh where she had aspirations of being a history teacher but that didn’t quite work out.
“I changed my major a couple of times, then had to go to summer school because of that,” she said. “I never did go into teaching. When I got out of college I started working at First Citizens Bank as a teller.”
Taylor-Schultz worked her way up over 18 years from a teller to a bank auditor. She then worked for a few years for Dorothy Noe at Dorothy’s Ruffled Original Curtains in Charlotte.
“When I first started working for her, I told her I didn’t know anything about materials or curtains,” Taylor-Schultz said. “She said, ‘I’m hiring you because I can’t find a manager that takes care of money and knows how to balance my books.’ She had had some problems at her store with previous managers. It was long hours and hard work but I did it for a couple of years.”
Taylor-Schultz left Dorothy’s Ruffled Original Curtains and went to work for Piedmont Airlines in their loan department where she became friendly with the pilots and flight attendants.
“I got interested as I was talking to them and a lot of flight attendants were encouraging me to apply to be a flight attendant,” she said. “Because I was doing loans, I saw that a lot of them made a good bit of money.”
Taylor-Schultz was a single mother at the time and her uncle, who worked for Piedmont Airlines, told her, “Linda, you’ve devoted your whole life to Sherry (her daughter) and she’s going to college so it’s time for you to do something for yourself. You need to travel and see part of the world and I think you should be a flight attendant.” Her uncle also said that he asked Piedmont and was told that they hire “old broads.”
When she applied at 42 years old, Taylor-Schultz was one of the oldest applicants during the interview, which is referred to as a “cattle call.” There were approximately 500 people at that first interview.
“Part of it is luck and part of it is maybe something that you say because they divide you up in different rooms with 75 or 100 people,” she said. “You just go around the room and stand up and tell your name, where you’re from and why you want to be a flight attendant. I can’t remember what I told them.”
When she went to the interview, Taylor-Schultz had some strategy in mind. She looked up the colors of Piedmont Airlines which at that time was white, royal blue and red so she wore a royal blue suit, a white blouse and a red and white scarf. She went back for two more interviews, the last one being one on one. She didn’t think that the answers she gave to some of the questions were what they were looking for but maybe they appreciated her honesty.
“I was surprised when they called me back and hired me,” she said. “I started training in April. My daughter graduated in May and went to college in the fall and I started as a flight attendant.”
Things have changed considerably for flight attendants from what they were when Taylor-Schultz first started. Flight attendants were weighed every day in training and they had to be a certain height and weight. When they were “on line” which is the term used for flying, a flight attendant could be walking through the airport and a supervisor might make them go downstairs and weigh in. If they were pounds over the designated weight, they’d be taken off the flight without pay.
“If you didn’t lose the weight in a certain amount of time, they’d fire you,” she said. “Of course, this would be considered discriminatory these days.”
Piedmont, being a southern airline known for their hospitality, really only wanted to hire southern people to promote that image.
“They wanted you to treat the people right and like people wanted to be treated,” Taylor-Schultz said. “That’s the way I was trained. If you talked mean to a passenger, they’d fire you.”
As times changed and airlines became less customer-service minded, it was difficult for Taylor-Schultz and other “Piedmont girls” to change.
“It became all about the dollar,” she said. “At Piedmont, when we served a drink, we gave the can and a glass of ice to the customer. That was one of the biggest things when US Airways merged with Piedmont. We tried to rebel against it until they put ghost riders on the plane that would write flight attendants up. Unfortunately, US Airways didn’t have very good management and there were a lot of problems with the business in the beginning.”
On Sept. 11, 2001, Taylor-Schultz was on a Boeing 757 on a flight from Charlotte to Los Angeles. This is the same type of plane that crashed into the Pentagon and crashed into the empty field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania that ill-fated day.
“The only thing we got was the directions the towers were giving to pilots because they didn’t have time to tell them what was going on,” she said. “We thought our country had been attacked by a foreign country, which we eventually found out it had been. The captain called us up to the cockpit and told us that we had 10 minutes to land in Dallas, Texas. He said that the President said that every plane in the United States has to be landed.”
This was back when flight attendants prepared meals for passengers so they had to quickly prepare the cabin for landing. They told the passengers to slide their trays under the seats in front of them and that they’d collect the beverages.
When they landed, there were no gates to go to because so many planes had landed at the airport at the same time. It was a good hour before the passengers could get off. It took a week before Taylor-Schultz could get a flight out to leave Dallas. While the four planes that were involved in the 9/11 tragedy were from United Airlines and American Airlines-owned planes, Taylor-Schultz said that a US Airways plane carried the terrorists on a one-way flight from Vermont to Boston. Now, one-way tickets are flagged and scrutinized, but not then.
“I wasn’t afraid of the flying but of what could happen during a flight,” she said. “The first flight I took out of Dallas was to Pennsylvania and when they told us all the things we had to start checking, I got nervous. Then, they didn’t have any security with the catering. A terrorist could put a bomb on a tray. There was virtually no security at all back then. We went in and out of the cockpit. We had a cockpit key but the pilots never locked the door. People could get off the plane and get back on. It’s crazy when I think about it now. It was nuts.”
While Taylor-Schultz wasn’t afraid of flying, a lot of other people were and airlines had trouble filling flights. After 9/11 US Airways laid off some 6,000 flight attendants, many never returning to their jobs. They gave the remaining flight attendants the choice of either taking a 30 percent pay cut or they’d have to close the doors.
“It was 11 years before they gave us our 30 percent pay cut back,” she said. “I had to get a second job.”
At one time, customer service was 50 percent of the training, Taylor-Schultz said. Now, 95 percent of the training is safety of customers versus a small mention of customer service. The passengers were extra nice to flight attendants after 9/11 but that changed in a few years. They seemed to forget the tragedy and became difficult to deal with.
“They always want your name so they could complain about you and most of the time it’s so they could get a free ticket,” Taylor-Schultz said.
It’s hard for Taylor-Schultz to know how many miles she’s flown over the past 30 years. For the first 20 years she worked, she averaged 22 days a month flying. Each day that she flew, she averaged five flights per day. The furthest she’s ever flown was to London, a location that she enjoyed visiting. She’s always flown out of Charlotte.
US Airways filed for bankruptcy in August 2002, exiting bankruptcy in March 2003. They filed for bankruptcy once again in Sept. 2004 exiting in a merger with America West in Sept. 2005. The airline merged with American Airlines in 2013 and because American Airlines was larger, that’s the name that was retained.
“I still loved the job and it was bittersweet to leave,” she said. “It was very emotional on my last flight which was to Cancun, Mexico. I physically could have likely done the job until I was 80 but mentally, I didn’t want to ruin my health. The job was very stressful and much harder than it used to be.”
Sept. 11, 2001 is still very fresh in Taylor-Schultz’ mind and she’s still sad about it.
“My family cried for joy when I was able to call home and tell them I was okay,” she said. “I still can clearly remember everything I did on the plane and what was said to passengers when the captain told us all planes must land and that we were landing in Dallas, Texas. It’s still emotional to think about.”