Flight Attendants' History

The Flight Attendant Members of the Board of Trustees share their experiences and perspective on the science for diseases caused to non-smoking flight attendants and humankind. Their total flying time experience equals more than one hundred fifty years.

PATRICIA L. YOUNG—Flight Attendant Trustee and former Class Representative (flew for American Airlines for 37 years)

My flying career started in mid 1966, and soon after I began my huge, multilayered fight to have smoking banned on all flights because of what I was seeing and hearing from the non-smoking Flight Attendants. From the start they told me how wonderful the job was because I would be meeting intelligent, interesting people and going to exciting destinations. Some of them also told me that they had the lungs of smokers…and they had never smoked. Some ended up with lung cancer and died. When I repeatedly asked the medical professionals how a non-smoker could have smokers’ lungs and the diseases of smokers, they had no answers. We know now…people who are forced to breathe second hand tobacco smoke suffer and die from the same diseases as smokers. The Flight Attendants are the canaries in the coal mines and are the major power in the world who forced the no smoking issue into a global movement.

Our research is breathtakingly comprehensive in finding cures for conditions, diseases and disabilities we, as non-smoking Flight Attendants, have suffered and continue to suffer from as a result of cigarette smoke in our work place. Investigations through FAMRI funding of stem cells and cell therapies as well as DNA repair are bringing us closer to the treatment and cures we seek.

LANI BLISSARD—Flight Attendant Trustee and former Class Representative (flew for American Airlines for 36 years)

For those non-smoking Flight Attendants who flew before the smoking ban, the cabin conditions were horrific. Indelibly stamped in our minds are images of this intolerable situation…smoke so thick after the no-smoking sign went off that you could not see from the aft jump seat to the front of the cabin, fires started by dropped cigarettes, teeth and light hair discolored by the smoke—and the pungent smell of your uniform after every flight. Beyond the images, there were burning eyes, bloody noses and frequent respiratory infections which impacted Flight Attendants down line.

The consequences were denied for decades by airline and medical personnel, misled in part by the faulty tobacco-funded studies. Now the truth is painfully clear—non-smoking Flight Attendants who flew in this toxic environment are paying a very heavy price with cancers, cardiovascular diseases, respiratory diseases and a myriad of other tobacco generated illnesses. One of our recent studies, for example, indicated that about half of these Flight Attendants are developing COPD/emphysema.

When FAMRI incorporated in 2000, we sought to fund research aimed at the earliest detection, treatment and cures of these diseases caused from smoke exposure. Today we are excited and proud of the excellent science and programs we have funded or established—from a formidable base of relevant cell biology, to stem cell research, to DNA repair, to state of the art testing centers across the U.S. and other initiatives

LEISA RICHARDSON—Flight Attendant Trustee (currently active as a Flight Attendant with American Airlines and has flown for over 28 years)

I remember the complete dread of waiting for the “No Smoking” sign to go off after takeoff. It was extremely difficult to get a 200 pound beverage cart ready for service with stinging eyes as the entire cabin quickly filled with toxic cigarette smoke. After my trips I would leave my uniform in the garage in order to not pollute my home. Thinking of it now makes the scenario seem ridiculous but the danger of that second hand smoke exposure was all too real. FAMRI has been devoted for the past twelve years towards our mission; to strive for early detection, prevention, treatment and cure of diseases caused from this deadly exposure. We are extremely proud of how far we’ve come and we look forward to make even more of an impact in the future.

KATE JEWELL, ND—Flight Attendant Trustee (flew for American Airlines for 37 years)

Kate is the newest member of the Board of Trustees. Kate replaces Kathie Cheney who died in August 2014 from complications due to tobacco-related diseases.

Today, it’s hard to remember what it was like to fly in a chimney. When I began my career with American Airlines in 1970, I didn’t realize my breathing would be impaired every time the “No Smoking” sign went off, instantly fogging the cabin with newly-lit cigarettes. That smoke permeated the cabin, my hair, my uniform…oh, and my lungs.

Today, it’s hard to remember that we were often forced to breathe in smoke from the table next to us while trying to savor a meal out…choke on the fumes filling the bar while trying to enjoy a drink with friends…be assaulted with smoke from the adjoining cubicle while trying to work.

Today, I realize how grateful we all can be to be able to enjoy many smoke-free environments. Much of the credit for this current ability began with Patty Young and other Flight Attendants’ tireless campaign to get smoke off the airplane. A lot has transpired since then: the landmark lawsuit won by the Rosenblatts, the formation of FAMRI and the scientific research it has funded, which has deepened our understanding of the hazardous effects of SHS exposure.

Today, I am pleased to serve as a FAMRI Trustee and excited about the possibilities as we continue to strive for discoveries, treatments, and cures that will serve those affected by diseases related to SHS exposure.

BLAND LANE (1929-2007)

Bland Lane, Flight Attendant Trustee and former Class Representative, retired from Pan American World Airways and United Airlines after 48 years of service. In spite of limitations from COPD that developed due to her smoke-filled years in airline cabins, Bland worked tirelessly with her fellow Trustees to advance FAMRI’s mission in order to achieve its position as a world-class scientific research foundation. Bland had applauded the work of FAMRI grantee, Margaret Crane, Ph.D., at Dartmouth, who changed career paths as a flight attendant for Pan American World Airways to become a scientific researcher to find answers for the injuries she and other flight attendants sustained due to exposure to second hand tobacco smoke, particularly epigenetic changes in cells that cause disease. Dr. Crane was a former member of the Flight Attendant Class Action and epitomizes the accomplishments of FAMRI once the settlement transitioned to a foundation to research for early diagnosis, treatment and cure of diseases caused by exposure to second hand tobacco smoke.

KATHLEEN S. CHENEY (1946-2014)

Kathie Cheney, former Flight Attendant Trustee and member of the class action lawsuit that formed FAMRI, flew for Eastern Airlines for twenty years, beginning in 1968 pre-ban; she never got to work on a smoke-free airplane. In 1987 she was diagnosed with a smoker’s throat cancer; having avoided cigarettes all her life but for the smoke- filled skies and other people’s tobacco smoke. After retirement and recovery, Kathie worked as an advocate for smoke-free work places and succeeded in having legislation passed in the State of Georgia to eliminate smoking from public spaces.

Kathie became a member of FAMRI’s Board of Trustees to fill a vacancy due to the death of Bland Lane and worked ceaselessly with fellow Trustees to fund research to build the scientific evidence on the reality of the damage done to never smokers because of exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke. Kathie died in August of 2014 due to complications from the diseases she contracted from her exposure to secondhand tobacco smoke as a Flight Attendant.

FAMRI’s wish and goal for the future is for the success of each of our researchers in eradicating some of the diseases suffered by mankind today.

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