Richard Layman found an old issue of the Washington Star from 1972 about a 23-year old bike-commuting stewardess flight attendant and her tribulations in trying to bike to National Airport.
There are so many interesting things in this article. The MVT was originally gravel (and they don't even call it the MVT in the article). The airline discouraged her from bike commuting and from wearing her uniform if she did. Check out the bike in the photo with that big light and that giant rear view mirror (that's sweet looking). She had to get permission from the airport manager to ride her bike on airport roads! I've transcribed it below to make it easier to read and search.
She's Winning Bike Battle
By Mary Eisner
"I think cars are great, but if just half the people on the George Washington Parkway every morning rode bikes, we'd all be a a lot better off"
Cathy Gilbert, 23, a stewardess for United Airlines, has been struggling for the last 14 months to prove that her alternative to the parkway traffic works. After a couple of compromises with airline personnel and one brief confrontation with the police, she appears to be having some success.
Using the new gravel bicycle trail which has paralleled the parkway since May, Miss Gilbert pedals 5 miles each way between her apartment in Alexandria and United Airlines Hanger [sic] No. 3.
Soon she expects to install her own bicycle rack at the hanger, which she hopes will encourage other stewardess and airline employees to switch to riding bicycles.
Since she began pedaling to work, she's run into considerable opposition, Miss Gilbert reflected. Before the trail existed she rode on the parkway, bring forth numerous objections from United Airlines officials.
Refusing her request for a bike rack, the airline warned that it did not want to encourage employes[sic] to ride bicycles to work as long as no paths were provided alongside the highway.
"They (airline officials) said it wasn't safe, but I think it was a way out," Miss Gilbert said. "But I went ahead and rode anyway, until they told me I couldn't ride a bike in my uniform," she added.
Switching to street clothes, Miss Gilbert was soon informed by the airline that she needed to obtain permission from the airport manager to ride her bicycles on airport roads.
Although granted permission in August of last year, Miss Gilbert was stopped by police a few weeks ago for riding on the access road to the airport.
"They were tightening up on security and I was in civilian clothes. They simply didn't believe that I was an employe[sic] commuting to work and they forced me to walk my bike all the way to the hanger." she related.
Hoping to avoid further complications, Miss Gilbert now carrier [sic] with her a written statement of permission from the airport manager.
In bad weather, Miss Gilbert commutes by bus. But on a sunny day her bike has the edge, she claims, estimating her travel time at 22 minutes.
I know (on a bicycle) I can beat the bus," she adds, "and it's free."
I was able to find Miss Gilbert, now Gilbert-Silva and follow-up 42 years later. She said that the reason the article was written was that her boyfriend at the time was sitting next to a reporter while talking about how ridiculous it was that Gilbert couldn't bike to work. She had gotten into biking, in part for environmental reasons, and she was ahead of the curve on that. She was also recycling long before others were.
For my part, I tried to make my riding a positive thing for my airline because we had just purchased the DC-10’s and, at the time, they were the most fuel efficient and quietest airplanes made. I encouraged the airline to promote the DC-10 along with biking to work and other earth friendly endeavors at the airline in their print ads, etc. It was early 1970’s and there wasn’t news about global warming or saving the planet. Purchasing these airplanes was primarily to save fuel costs and to accommodate the noise complaints from airport neighbors. The airline wanted to bring the DC-10 into National Airport. At the time, the runways couldn’t accommodate most jumbo jets, but the DC-10 didn’t need as much runway length to land. The Airport Authority also felt their facilities, passenger waiting and baggage areas couldn’t accommodate the numbers of passengers on the jumbo jets. I don’t believe the DC-10 ever got landing rights at National Airport.
After the article came out, she got a letter from her CEO congratulating her on her fight for justice and her efforts to promote the airline. He spoke to people at the airport and she never was hassled again. Her street clothes, which previously would disappear while she was flying, were now always there when she got back. A bike rack later appeared near the hanger entrance that she used and she began to see mechanics and ground personnel using bikes to get around the property. She continued to ride to work until she moved farther away in Arlington.
Even then, I continued riding and often led bicycle tours into Washington D.C. Once my son was born, I purchased a “heavy-duty bike” that could accommodate the weight of a child carrier. We rode everywhere and as he grew older, our bikes were on the bike rack on the back of our van when we traveled.
I rode that bicycle even after we moved to the Delaplane, VA area but I didn’t feel safe riding on the country roads, especially alone. My ol’ bike finally gave up the ghost a few years ago and the price of a nice lightweight bicycle today is prohibitive for me.
She continued to fly for 34 years and became active in the push to end smoking on airlines. She wrote a letter to Congress in support of ending smoking on airplanes.
Cathy Gilbert-Silva, a flight attendant for 18 years, wrote Mr. Hatch, ``I will be so grateful when burning eyes, sinuses, and lungs, as well as headaches, nausea, lightheadedness, and blocked ears for flight attendants, will be a part of the past.''
And in June of 1989 she testified before the House Aviation Sub-Committee about how working on airplanes filled with smoke damaged her vocal cords (she did not smoke herself).
The airlines made attempts at separating smoking from non-smoking but, in reality, that was obviously futile. Here is a long aluminum tube with mostly recirculating air that just recirculated the smoke and other germs, etc. too. Passengers complained about that even more because it was impossible to make everyone happy. If they were a smoker forced to sit in the non-smoking section or vice versa, vehement objections were voiced. It was always up to the Flight Attendants to settle the matter in the effort of making everyone happy. The worst part for the Flight Attendants is that most of our jump seats were in the smoking section so we had to inhale all that nasty smoke and we always smelled like ashtrays. My little boy wouldn’t even hug me when I came home from a flight until I either showered or at least got out of that smelly uniform.
She eventually had to have vocal cord surgery as a result of smoke exposure. In 2003, when the airline went into bankruptcy, she retired.
I wasn’t willing to accept the pay and benefit cuts that I knew would come. I loved my job and loved meeting the world. I loved renting a bicycle in Europe and riding too.
On being an early bike commuter she said
I suppose I was, and am, a bit of a rebel, but it was always to right the wrongs. There was nothing wrong with riding a bicycle to work and it made no sense to me that people were battling it. To use a current expression, “Duh!!” What was the big deal and why was such a big deal made over nothing?!