The airline company and the Independent Federation of Flight Attendants, representing nearly 6,000 TWA employees, failed to come to an agreement on wages and workplace conditions.
According to reports at the time, TWA hired and trained about 1,500 new flight attendants to take the place of the workers on the picket line.
It was during that time that many of the flight attendants on strike formed a new organization, Silver Wings International. Over the past three decades, Silver Wings has transformed into a “family,” members say, and has met for a convention every year since 1989.
This year, on the 30th anniversary of the first convention, Silver Wings International convened at the new TWA Hotel at John F. Kennedy International Airport. More than 1,000 people attended the convention, which took place last weekend.
“Everybody’s in heaven,” said Anita Ridpath, the webmaster and convention coordinator for the organization, upon seeing the hotel for the first time. “They’re in tears.”
“Literally, people walked in and started crying,” added Beth Holcombe, president of Silver Wings International.
The typical convention, which meets at a different city every year, usually gathers about 300 people. But this year, everyone wanted to come and stay at the new TWA Hotel, which pays homage to the Eero Saarinen Jet Age design.
Holcombe said they originally only booked 125 rooms, but quickly realized they would need nearly every bed at the hotel. Luckily, the staff obliged.
“They have been fabulous,” she said. “They opened the entire hotel to us and we filled all the rooms.”
The annual reunion serves as an opportunity for the now-retired flight attendants to reminisce on their decades of flying, serving customers and forming bonds with each other over “jump seat talks.”
“We’ve grown up with everybody and we see them every year,” Ridpath said. “We love them, we are very close.
“We have gone through boyfriends, fiances, husbands, divorces, children, old age, death,” she added. “We’ve run through the whole gamut.”
Holcombe said she enjoyed the camaraderie, but also the independence of taking off and flying to Europe. She said they went to museums and art exhibits, went shopping, and ate together.
Every month, TWA paired different flight attendants together for a new crew, so they got to meet and know many people.
“So if you didn’t get along with somebody too well, that was all right,” Holcombe said. “Next month was going to be different.”
The Silver Wings president added that the organization consists of people from all walks of life who come from different races, cultures and religions.
They’ll meet next year in San Antonio and the following year in Denver. The board has already started planning those conventions as well.
“We’re brothers and sisters,” Ridpath said. “It’s the family that some people didn’t have, and now they have a big family.”