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Fair recounts decades of service as flight attendant

Carol Fair has spent 55 years as a flight attendant and has received several awards for her service. Above, she holds a book on the History of Piedmont Airlines in which she is featured. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

While some may travel by air more than others, it is rare to find someone who has done it with regularity for more than 50 years. Right here in East Tennessee resides someone who has spent 55 years traveling through the skies and she shows no signs of stopping any time soon.

Carol Fair has been from London, Kentucky, to London, England – and everywhere in between – and has been doing what she loves since 1963, even though it wasn’t what she planned originally.

“I tried to get a job at the bank, but the gatekeeper refused my application because my name was in the wrong place,” Fair recently told The Erwin Record.

Prior to applying at the bank, Fair worked as a babysitter. When her father found out that she did not get the job at the bank he told her to “get your best dress on and come on.” She thought he was sending her away. It was then that he took her to the airport to get a job working behind the counter.

The gentleman at the airport asked her what skills she had, and when she listed them, he stopped her at making coffee. He told her there is a flight leaving in a bit to go to Winston-Salem, go talk to Jim Bradley and get a job with Piedmont Airlines as a stewardess.

Already her aviation family was growing. She glows proudly when speaking of her aviation family, which included Erwin native Charlotte Jones-Rynders. Rushing to fill out the application, Fair asked Sluder how to spell stewardess, and he responded, “I don’t know, just put down hostess.”

So, according to Fair, “Piedmont hired a hostess that day, not a stewardess.” Little did she know that this day would change the rest of her life.

“I was dating someone and was going to get married,” Fair said.

She had planned to work six months and make her money and return home. While away, she realized that the relationship would not work out. Even if she wanted to get married, during this time in history she could not be married and continue to fly.

“The stewards could be married and have children, but stewardesses were not allowed to,” Fair recounted.

She did find love later on and they patiently waited for the law to change so they could get married. She had five very happy and loving years with her husband, Kenneth Dean Fair, who passed away in 1975. Fair had no children and did not wish to remarry, so she decided to remain in flight.

Fair flew for Piedmont for 25 years and then became part of the U.S. Air family once they bought out Piedmont. From there, U.S. Air became U.S. Airways. During this time, the London flight was sold to British Airways.

“It took three years to pick up another international route, so some crews flew for British Airways,” Fair said. “That was fun.”

She flew on Piedmont’s historic inaugural flight from Charlotte to London. It was at this time she won one of her numerous awards, which was the Bronze Award for Leadership as Cabin Service Director.

Other awards she has accrued over the years include the Golden Wings Smile Award and the Piedmont Hall of Fame award. She has also been inducted into both the Tennessee Aviation Hall of Fame and the North Carolina Aviation Hall of Fame.

Fair has made numerous friends over the years from the famous to the infamous. One such encounter was with legendary actress and icon Elizabeth Taylor.

“I never asked for an autograph from passengers before, but she was my hero,” Fair said. “I just happened to have my book on Tutankhamun’s Treasure on that flight, so I slipped her the book to look at with a note stashed inside, and she signed it.”

One of the most challenging times of her career came on Sept. 11, 2001. On that day, Fair was on a flight coming back to the United States from London.

“It was a beautiful sunny day and in the cockpit we heard that a plane had hit the World Trade Center,” she recounted. “I thought, ‘How did that happen?’ It was so clear that day. Then we heard about the second one.”

The staff stepped into action. Their plane was grounded in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where there ended up being 42 jumbo jets, nose to tail on the tarmac grounded. The passengers and staff were forced to remain on the plane for 12 hours. Upon exiting the plane, they could only take what they had on and their carry-on bag. All of their luggage remained at the airport.

When asked about how the passengers handled the delay, Fair responded, “the passengers were wonderful. We ended up having to stay in Nova Scotia for several days. Upon leaving, the passengers gave a standing ovation for the crew.”

Only one passenger refused to travel back on the flight. After being stranded for five days the courageous crew and passengers flew back home. While stranded in Nova Scotia the airline staff watched the events unfold. Many of the employees from United had friends and family that were on the flights that hit the World Trade Center towers, so according to Fair, “you cried with them, you felt the impact too. It was really a hard time for everybody.”

Fair has been a lifelong advocate for women’s rights, as well as the rights for aviation workers. She fights hard for her aviation family and speaks out against any injustices she sees. Her fight for women has brought major change to not just the aviation industry, but to all aspects of American life. Fair uses her status to give speeches and raise awareness of aviation history.

Fair currently resides in Johnson City with her partner of many years, Felix Guignard. When she is not spending time listening to her accomplished partner’s piano playing, she stills flies three days a month. She only works on the non-stop European flights. This is a far cry from her days where she would have to make 22 landings in one day.

The aircrafts have changed over the years as well. They have gotten bigger and faster, but she still speaks fondly of the smaller DC-3.

“That is my baby, I still do fundraisers for my DC-3,” Fair said.

One interesting story she had about the flights on the DC-3 was in regards to the air conditioning. She said those flights could be hot in the summer, so the pilot would open a window in the cockpit and the crew would open a vent in the back of the plane to achieve a breeze.

“That was your air conditioning,” Fair joked.

So if you board a flight to Europe you may just be lucky enough to notice a wild, untamed, and welcoming personality on board with you. The type of personality that embodies the spirit of East Tennessee. It is then you will know that you are flying with family, you are flying with Carol Dobyns Fair.