BOOK CLUB: Behind the Smile — During the Glamour Years of Aviation

The Bookworm Book Club has hosted many authors over the years but we have never booked an author as far in advance as Bobbi Phelps Wolverton. Bobbi was keynote speaker for a flight attendant reunion in The Villages, and we were delighted to have her as our guest prior to the event.

Raised in Darien, Connecticut, Bobbi graduated from Pine Manor College and Katharine Gibbs Secretarial School, and then drove cross-country to work as a legal secretary in San Francisco. In 1965, she left that job and became an international flight attendant for World Airways. She later pursued a degree from the University of Berkeley and then worked for Saturn Airways.

Bobbi’s book captivated club members with its harrowing stories of landings in bad weather, unruly passengers, sexual escapades, war zone experiences, and joyful experiences of babies born on flights. What delighted the group even more were the stories that were not in the book. The group was riveted by the accounts of flying servicemen in and out of Vietnam and shocked to learn how often the crew was the target of hostile fire.

To give us a greater appreciation of what charter flight attendants did, Bobbi brought the clothing she was required to wear and a full set up of the tray, dishes, cutlery, and glassware for serving meals. When Bobbi passed the tray around, members were amazed by how much it weighed. Bobbi told us in those days there were no carts to traverse the aisles. The ladies carried two trays each trip up and down the aisle. There was no reason for her to visit the gym, as her arms were the envy of many a weight lifter.

Her working flights took her to magnificent locales such as Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong, France, Germany, and the Netherlands, where she enjoyed every minute of the layovers. She was seeing as much of the country as possible and enjoying local culture. In addition, Bobbi vacationed in many other exotic places, one of them being Cairo, Egypt. Unfortunately, she arrived just as the Six-Day War broke out between Israel and Egypt. We were enthralled as she told us of the frightening events of that time as she journeyed to Alexandria to be evacuated by the U.S. Navy’s Sixth Fleet.

Several of our members were flight attendants on various airlines. An interesting discussion ensued about the differences between serving on charter flights and regular airlines. A number of members said they were enticed to be flight attendants by the best-selling novel “Coffee, Tea or Me.” The author later divulged the book was fiction unlike Bobbi’s true experiences.

Our members also had many interesting and even scary experiences during their airline flights and hearing about these lent much to our discussion. When we asked Bobbi about her favorite destinations, she didn’t hesitate with her list. Our members contributed their own favorites with Hawaii, Japan, and several locations in Africa at the top of those lists.

Bobbi proved to be a consummate storyteller and a very interesting lady who has pursued a myriad of other interests since leaving the airline industry. Her other career experiences included being a professional photographer, a successful entrepreneur, a fly fishing expert, a conservationist, and author of four books. Her newest book tells a heartwarming story of the challenges and dangers she faced to rescue a sick Labrador retriever named Black Empress from Iran despite cultural differences about the value of dogs.

Club chairwoman Kathy Porter can be contacted at 352.259.8196 or


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *