Cover detail from Up in the Air by Betty Riegal

Up in the Air by Betty Riegal

One of my best friends, Catherine, has the most amazing knowledge of planes and flying. If you are jetting away on holiday and you tell her your flight number. Catherine can tell you not only what type of plane you will be flying on, but details such as the seat plan, what treats to expect and even what films you will be watching. This encyclopaedic knowledge hasn't come from nowhere, because for many years Catherine was scared of flying. With a Finnish husband and a Canadian family, she needed to confront this fear, so set about finding out everything there was to know about flying.

Catherine can tell you what speed you will be at when you take-off, what those funny changes in engine noise mean and best of all will track you as you are flying. There is something especially comforting about this, like having a Guardian Angel watching over you who happens to be obsessed with flying. When we flew to Singapore, she sent a message 'You're at the top of India, night night' and first thing in the morning'You're still in India!'. It was Catherine who lent me Up in the Air by Betty Riegal and I loved this too.

Born in 1939, Betty grew up in Walthamstow, London during World War Two. With her loving parents and brother, she was encouraged to follow her dreams and so at the age of 22, Betty answered an advert for the Pan Am training programme and began a career as a stewardess on the world's most glamorous airline. Packed choc full of stories and anecdotes about the rigorous training and stipulations that all Stewardesses must adhere to, this provides a fascinating insight about foreign travel in the 1960s.

I loved this book and Betty is very inspirational. At an age when most women were settling down and starting a family, Betty knew she wanted to travel and see the world. And she received no greater encouragement than that from her family. In some the ways the book felt like a love letter to her close-knit family, thanking her parents for their love, nurturing, and encouragement that they gave her. Certainly growing up during the war seemed to have given her and her family the belief that life is too short, not to put off living and never be afraid to chase your dreams, even if it is something 'different'.

Betty earned her place in the Pan Am training programme as one of 17 girls chosen from over a thousand. The training programme is fascinating - learning how to cook a meal from a Michelin starred chef, having her hair done at a top New York hair salon and a uniform made by a designer who also coutured for the top Hollywood stars of the day and costing roughly £600 in the 1960s. Every aspect of the Stewardesses appearance was scrutinised and they were even weighed before every flight. Something that would not be done today!

What clearly shines throughout the book is her passion for working at Pan Am who ensured that their flyers got the very best; best food, a seven-course meal, and as much alcohol as they wanted. Even more interestingly, the Stewardesses were also expected to be 'good company' for the passengers, playing games of cards, knowing all of their names. Having conversational skills was as much a part of the training as dress. Everything was done with the passengers comfort at the forefront and this makes a refreshing change from a very different industry that exists now. Betty comes across as warm, unflappable and fascinating. The work sounds gruelling and often Betty had travel sickness during the flights but powered through with her passion for travel, visiting new countries and her love of Pan Am shining through.

This has been such an interesting and warm read, Betty is a great narrator, honest and proud of her career. And I really adored how she spoke of her loving family. This has been a great read and a wonderful insight into overseas travel in the 1960s told by a lovely lady. I am so pleased that Catherine lent it to me.