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A Slice of History: Duluth Airlines

Updated: 03/03/2014 11:51 AM
Created: 03/03/2014 9:32 AM WDIO.com
By: Brittany Falkers

Today's traveler has many options, but when heading out of state or even out of the country, many take to the skies.  It may seem like a common options to some, but when 86-year-old Audrey Cloutier gets on a plane it sends her back in time.  Back to a time before you were asked to turn off all electronic devices.

In 1946, when Audrey was just 19, she got an opportunity most girls her age couldn't dream of.  She was offered a job as a stewardess for Duluth Airlines.

"I hadn't even thought of it until my brother come and ask me, do you want to fly," Audrey said.  "Then I said, sounds good to me."

The young adult was looking for something new and adventurous, but she never thought too much about becoming a flight attendant.  In fact, Audrey took the job before she had ever stepped foot on an airplane.

"The reason they were kind of looking for another girls was the one they had got airsick," she said.

Lucky for Audrey, she was a natural.  She said serving coffee in the air wasn't easy at first, but after a little practice she got the hang of it. 

"I was just excited at 19-years-old ya know," she said.

You've likely never heard of Duluth Airlines, probably because it didn't last very long - just a couple of years before it was bought out.  But in that short time, Audrey made her mark.

"When I started they asked me if I had an outfit that would be suitable and I had just bought this suit," Audrey said.

Sonja Mitchell was a flight attendant in the late 1980s.  She says uniforms today bare a striking resemblance to what Audrey was donning in 40s.

"I thought, this woman created our flight attendant outfit and she didn't even know it," Mitchell said.

Aside from comparing and contrasting clothing, Mitchell says there are a lot of differences from being a stewardess then and being a flight attendant now.  She says it is women like Audrey who paved the way for others looking for independence.

"I just believe she started to much and she didn't even know it," Mitchell said.

Audrey says the two hour flight from Duluth to Chicago was filled with men traveling on business.  They were treated to coffee and sandwiches - a big difference from the choice of crackers or peanuts on today's short flights.

"It was a very choice job at that time," Audrey said.

A choice job for a young working woman indeed.  She took to the skies just after World War II.

"I had four brothers and a brother in law that were in the war," Audrey said. "A lot of worry."

It was a chance meeting during the war that would spark her next adventure - love and marriage.  During the war, her brother met a fellow Duluthian and decided to introduce him to the family back in Minnesota.

"When they came home, he came over to the house, we got acquainted. He was engaged to somebody else and I was too.  So, we had to switch fiancés," Audrey said.

It's a chance meeting and a story Audrey's son Lance Cloutier loves to hear.

"I just thank god that they met and things are meant to be. There's fate," Lance said.

Now, several years, five kids and many grandchildren later the family has fun looking back at Audrey's short lived career in the skies.

"It really always interested me, the fact that indeed there was a Duluth Airlines at one point in time," Lance said.

Audrey calls it a simpler time than today.  She says she doesn't look back often, but when asked if she'd do it all over again she had this to say.

"Oh I would, in a heart beat."

While she says she loved the people she worked with the most, her favorite memory from her time at Duluth Airlines happened with an overnight stop.  She brought her mother along with her for a ride.  It was her mom's first time ever on an airplane.

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