‘Angel In The Blue Dress’

Published 9 years ago
‘Angel In The Blue Dress’

It’s not uncommon for flight stewardesses to attract the occasional – and often derisive – comment that they are nothing but ‘trolley dollies’ or ‘waitresses in the sky’. Having been an airhostess for over three decades, Neil Haasbroek should know.

But for Haasbroek and many others of her generation, these remarks didn’t matter. What did was that it was a profession they adored, and one that came with its own sense of pride, dignity and discipline.

Described as “the angel in the blue dress” during a tea party in her honor in Johannesburg, South Africa, Haasbroek, now 80 and settled in the city, is one of the longest-serving airhostesses of one of Africa’s oldest airlines – South African Airways (SAA).


She began her career in 1957, when SAA was known as SAL (Suid-Afrikaanse Lugdiens) and the country was ruled by the apartheid government. The airline wore a different look then: the tail of its body was orange and it sported a leaping navy blue springbok.

She had joined at a time when being an airhostess was seen as a short-term career option for women before entering their next phase of life – marriage.

But not for Haasbroek. She broke stereotypes and ended up working with SAA for 36 years.


“I had never thought that I would become an airhostess because I thought that I was too short at the time, and not as beautiful as I imagined an airhostess should be,” says Haasbroek.

It was only after she saw a newspaper advertisement that she thought it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Little did she know then she would spend almost half her life in the skies.

Haasbroek talks of how she moved up the ranks after a two-and-half year stint as a domestic flight attendant to later serve on international routes.

“I remember for the first six months, we only traveled to Australia, those were long flights – 23 hours,” she laughs.


“Thereafter, the world was my oyster. I spent 11 years traveling overseas.”

She then became a check-flight hostess, tasked with inspecting the conduct of the crew. Her most favorite role was as instructor and chief airhostess of the airline.

“It was very exciting to get a group of girls that I had to train and be like a mother to them, and solve their problems,” says Haasbroek. Part of her job was to make sure the crew looked the part.


“Before every flight, I had to check their hair, make-up, nails and weight. They had to be well-groomed at all times. It was a wonderful career. I loved interacting with people, every flight for me was special and I could leave all my worries at home.” While many of her colleagues got married and had children, Haasbroek was married to her work, and every year, as new aspirants joined the airline, she treated them like her own children.

“I always say one of my greatest regrets was not having children of my own, but the hostesses became my daughters,” she says.