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Flight attendants show skin to publicize plight

Some United Airlines workers are using placards and pamphlets to protest their pension loss, but a group of flight attendants is showing some skin to publicize their plight.
A photo from the 2006 "Stewardess Stripped" calendar.
A photo from the 2006 "Stewardess Stripped" calendar.Bruce Baker / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

While some United Airlines employees are using placards and pamphlets to protest the loss of their pensions, a group of flight attendants is taking a more risque tack — showing some skin to publicize their plight.

The five women, ranging in age from 55 to 64, posed for a 2006 calendar that depicts them in various states of undress in front of a vintage plane, on a park bench and on a plane's wing, among other locations. Reflecting a mix of humor and anger, it was released to coincide with a bankruptcy court's approval this week of United's plan to terminate $9.8 billion in employee pension obligations.

While United is never named nor its airplanes shown, every photograph in "Stewardesses Stripped (Of Their Pension?)" is accompanied by a zinger related to the record pension default by the Elk Grove Village, Ill.-based airline.

"Coffee, tea, or me without a pension?" reads one. "Marry me, fly free — but don't expect anything from my pension," says another. And the cover shot: "Are your butts covered? We thought ours were too."

Retired flight attendant Connie Baker, the project's creator and one of its photo subjects, says it was inspired by the 2003 film "Calendar Girls" about the real-life story of a group of older British women who posed naked for a calendar to raise charity money.

"I thought if these English women can do this, we flight attendants can definitely do it," said Baker, 59, who lives outside Phoenix.

The real driving force, though, was United's announcement last summer that it intended to stop funding its pensions and dump them on the government's pension agency, which by law can guarantee just $6.6 billion of the total.

Baker, who started working for United in 1967 when flight attendants were called stewardesses, now is bracing for her $2,800-a-month pension to be cut roughly in half.

"You can't really live on that," she said. "How am I going to live on 50 percent of it?"

But Baker wants it known that this isn't all about being bitter. She hopes some good can come from it, and not just the percentage of calendar and T-shirt sales that the women will donate to charity.

"We wanted to create a little humor in people's lives, make it fun, while at the same time getting our message across," she said.

"I wanted to raise awareness for people out there that it can happen to you, and you have to take care of yourself. You have to take an active role in your retirement. Don't depend on a company to do it for you, even if you've worked there your whole career."

Her husband, Bruce Baker, took the photos. The other retirees photographed are Linda Andrews, 59, and Rosemary Esparza, 64. Baker did not want to name the other two since they are active flight attendants for United.