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Healey recalls fondly her life in the skies

By Don Fennell

Published 11:19 PDT, Fri October 1, 2021

It was 1968 and Helen Healey wanted to see the world.

And she did, taking to the skies in a memorable career as a flight attendant.

During one of the most tumultuous years in history, marked by the war in Vietnam, civic unrest and social change, a young and adventurous Healey desired a move to the West Coast. So she packed up her 1956 Austin and despite less than ideal road conditions, armed with her little poodle, she set out for a new life in Vancouver.

“I stayed over with my cousin in Revelstoke and recall him saying, ‘You came through the Rogers Pass in that?’,” referring to the little British sports car that also bore her surname.

The rest, she says, was easy.

Having already signed on for training with Canadian Pacific Airlines, Healey and her classmates stayed at the old Skyline Hotel in Richmond to study aircraft safety, food and beverage service, grooming, first aid, wet ditching (a water emergency technique), and addressing the public among other things.

While still in training, she recalls there was a bad early morning crash at the Vancouver International Airport featuring a leased plane and pilots from Seattle and a Canadian Pacific Airlines cabin crew.

“We lost our purser in the Department of Transportation building,” she says.

Upon completing the courses, Healey started flying.

“We had three routes, depending on seniority,” she says. 

But the B.C. landings weren’t always a breeze—particularly in the winter when snow and ice frequently presented a challenge.

“We (were fortunate to have) had great pilots,” she adds.

Other Canadian routes included overnight flights to Montreal with stops in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Toronto. And of course there were several international flights to such destinations as Amsterdam, Honolulu, Mexico City, Fiji, Sidney, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Acapulco and Buenos Aires.

“I started flying on the DC3 and finished on the Boeing 747 which was huge,” Healey says. “We also flew on DC6s, DC8s, stretch DC8s, Boeing 737s and Boeing 727s. I loved seeing other countries and meeting and helping people. Some of the crew became lifelong friends and I now belong to Air Canada’s Pionairs Club.”

The in-class lessons she learned during training school would also prove to be invaluable.

“We used to fly a lot of prisoners who sat in the last row, as well as stretcher patients, babies in incubators, and unaccompanied children,” Healey says. “I had a lady who had been badly burned who needed a lot of help. These flights were mostly on B.C. district routes.”

But at least one international flight—from Honolulu to Vancouver—also stands out. The DC8 plane lost an engine that forced a return to Hawaii, where the crew waited for two days at the AlaMoana Hotel for a new engine to arrive.

The day legendary crooner Harry Belafonte boarded a flight from Toronto to Vancouver (with the Canadian Pacific Airlines photographer insisting she and others in the crew be included in a photo) is also among her treasured memories.

After eight years of flying onboard both short and long flights, Healey took a break to have a daughter before resuming her career for a short time with Pacific Western Airlines.

Looking back, Healey says being a flight attendant was mostly enjoyable and fulfilling, though she says there were a few things she could have done without. Starting out, she was on 24-hour call, and the air on board wasn’t always the best with aircrafts permitting smoking in those days.

“But I was a very lucky girl to have this exciting career of service and safety,” she concludes.

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