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How a PanAm flight attendant fell in love with a CIA officer on a plane

(CNN) — In September 1970 Jocelyne Nowaski was working as chief flight attendant on a Pan American World Airways flight from Paris to New York when her life changed forever.

In her two years at Pan Am the 23-year-old had made friends across the globe, served celebrities including Beatle Ringo Starr and featured with her coworkers in the pages of Paris Match magazine.

Pan Am layovers were spent exploring Morocco, on safaris in Nairobi, galloping on horseback on the beaches of Barbados, swimming in Liberia, and browsing the jewelry stalls of Beirut.

As she recalls it, her career happened almost by accident. Jocelyne had majored in biology at New York City’s College of Mount St. Vincent, intending to become a doctor.

But right before graduation, a friend knocked on her dorm room and told her the luxury airline was interviewing for flight crew at its famous Manhattan skyscraper.

Her friend insisted they should both try out, for a laugh.

“Why not?” agreed Jocelyne. She found herself recalling the glossy commercials: “Your Pan Am stewardess knows her way around the world like you know your way around the block.”

To become a Pan Am flight attendant, candidates needed a college degree, and to speak a second language. Jocelyne’s mother was French-Canadian, so she ticked both boxes.

She was hired — her friend wasn’t — and within weeks of graduating, followed by rigorous training, Jocelyne was working her first trip aboard a Boeing 727 to Nassau, in the Bahamas.

Jocelyne never became a doctor and never looked back.

“It was the best job,” she tells CNN Travel today. “It wasn’t a job; it was a labor of love.”

In September 1970, love was the last thing on Jocelyne’s mind. She’d ended a relationship with a pilot six months previously, and she was having a blast exploring the world with her girlfriends. Her focus was on her career.

In the interim, fire-arm qualified individuals from organizations like the CIA and FBI were seconded and assigned onto flights.

Traveling back to JFK from Paris in mid-September, Jocelyne recalls she and her crew were told that two security officers would be joining them: one in economy and one in first class.

Jocelyne in her uniform, including her gold wings.

Courtesy Jocelyne Harding

Jocelyne was heading up the economy cabin as purser, and they were readying for takeoff. All the passengers had boarded the Boeing 707, a narrow-body airliner used by Pan Am from 1958.

But the security officers were late, much to Jocelyne’s annoyance. She rolled her eyes even harder when she learned it was because they’d been buying Parisian scarves to impress girls back home.

Finally arriving on board, the economy cabin security officer introduced himself. His name was Tyler Harding, smartly dressed in a suit and tie, a tan overcoat over one arm.

Right away, Jocelyne recalls, she was struck by his charm and good looks, but she wasn’t interested in a relationship and didn’t think he was seriously interested in her.

“I was working with some Swedish girls and the Swedish girls were absolutely stunning,” she laughs. “I wouldn’t even think of competing against them.”

Tyler took his seat on the second to back row and the aircraft took off, bidding the Paris lights goodbye and setting off across the Atlantic Ocean.

Air marshals are supposed to blend in, so Jocelyne served Tyler as she would any other passenger, but unlike every other passenger he tried to strike up a conversation every time she came over.

“He was very flirty,” Jocelyne recalls. “I was not, because I thought: ‘Oh, he’s just doing this because he wants to talk to my colleagues.'”

This suspicion — plus the scarves — made her wary. She kept her tone terse, even teasing him about his drink choice. “He was very pleasant, in spite of my being snarky,” she says.

As the aircraft started cruising over the ocean, Jocelyne and her coworkers began their dinner service. Tyler continued to engage her in conversation whenever she walked by.

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Jocelyne and her Pan Am coworkers enjoyed their layovers in destinations across the world. Here they are on a safari in Nairobi.

Courtesy Jocelyne Harding

After she’d served the food, Jocelyne did her usual overview of the cabin. While walking down the aisles she glanced at Tyler. He wasn’t looking at her at that moment. But she felt herself stop in her tracks, struck suddenly with a thought: “I wonder what it’ll be like to be married to him?”

She recalls quickly shaking herself out of it. “What are you thinking? You don’t even know this man.”

But Jocelyne couldn’t explain it, even to herself. In that moment she’d been struck by this strange certainty that a future with Tyler was not only likely, but inevitable.

Sometime later, she was sitting up top of the plane on the jump seat, when Tyler sat down next to her. At which point he asked her out.

“I don’t date passengers,” she said. “And you’re probably married anyway.”

Tyler pointed out he wasn’t exactly a passenger, and when Jocelyne still looked unimpressed, he fished out his passport, which back then listed dependents — or in his case, absence of them.

He was 29, the black print said, and a resident of Alexandria, Virginia.

Jocelyne was relieved, but still wary about dating someone she barely knew. Apparently sensing this, Tyler relented and returned to his seat.

As the airplane approached Long Island, edging closer to New York City, it was time for Jocelyne to do the last drinks service, carrying a teapot in one hand and a coffee pot in the other.

She got to Tyler, who requested coffee.

“And as I’m pouring the coffee in his cup, he looked up at me with those amazing blue eyes,” recalls Jocelyne. “Naturally, I poured the coffee into his cup. Unfortunately, at the same time I poured tea into his lap.”

Mortified, Jocelyne grabbed cloth napkins from the back of the plane and handed them to him.

Tyler told her not to worry, but was laughing. “Now you have to go out with me,” he said.

Blushing, Jocelyne dodged the question and went to confide in her friend Mala, who was the purser in first class.

“As I’m pouring the coffee in his cup, he looked up at me with those amazing blue eyes. Naturally, I poured the coffee into his cup. Unfortunately, at the same time I poured tea into his lap”

Jocelyne Harding

Mala suggested they invite both the flight’s security officers to a crew party she was planning at her Queens apartment after they landed.

Jocelyne agreed and returned to economy to tell Tyler and hurriedly pass on the address before making preparations for final descent.

After landing, she couldn’t spot him amid the crowd, and felt disappointed as she traveled from JFK to Mala’s home. He was nowhere to be seen as the party got into full swing. Then the doorbell rang.

It was Tyler, with his fellow security officer in tow.

“It took my breath away. It really did,” says Jocelyne.

Right away, the pair went to the kitchen and started chatting over cocktails.

“I was leaning against Mala’s range with my back to the ring. He was standing in front of me and we must have talked for about three hours.”

The pair discussed their childhoods — hers in New York and his in California — their families, dreams, travels, careers.

The only thing off the table was the true nature of his job — Tyler couldn’t reveal he worked for the CIA. She found that out later.

Tyler and Jocelyne ignored the hubbub of the party around them, chatting incessantly.

“At the end of the evening, he looked at me, and he said: ‘Will you marry me?'”

Her answer, she says, slipped out instinctively, in a moment of clarity and assurance. “I said, ‘Yes.'”

Globe spanning romance

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Jocelyne and Tyler in December 1970, a few months after they met.

Courtesy Jocelyne Harding

After the party, Tyler and his colleague gave Jocelyne a ride back to her parents’ home in New York, where she couldn’t help but blurt out her fateful news.

“I just met the man I’m going to marry,” she told her mother, who laughed.

“Oh, you’re crazy. It doesn’t work that way,” she said.

But the very next day Tyler called round to see Jocelyne and meet her parents, hitting it off with them too.

Neither Tyler or Jocelyne had much time in New York City before they were heading on their next work trip — he to Tehran and she to Rome.

“I can’t actually marry you yet,” Jocelyne told him, before he departed. “That would be ridiculous.”

Tyler just smiled and left his 1968 Mustang parked in her parents’ driveway.

In Rome, Jocelyne had plans lined up with a man she’d been casually dating during her Italian layovers.

“He had a whole weekend plan to take me in his sports car up the Amalfi Coast,” she recalls.

Upon landing in Italy, she called him up and, despite his protestations, told him she wouldn’t be able to come after all.

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Jocelyne in Rome, 1970. This photo was taken on the first leg of her trip, right before she met Tyler.

Courtesy Jocelyne Harding

Instead, she spent the weekend in Rome with Mala and her other Pan Am colleagues, walking around the city, throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain, and enjoying pasta dinners.

When Jocelyne got back to New York, Tyler contacted her right away. Ostensibly, it was under the excuse he needed to collect his car, but they both knew that wasn’t the real reason.

The two started dating, spending all their time together when they weren’t traveling for work.

That October, just a few weeks after they met, Tyler asked Jocelyne to marry him — again. This time, she said yes with certainty.

They told their parents on Thanksgiving, and on Christmas Eve 1970, Tyler met her at JFK with an engagement ring.

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Jocelyne with her friend Mala (left) who was on board the airplane when Tyler and Jocelyne met.

Courtesy Jocelyne Harding

Jocelyne and Tyler got married March 1971, at the chapel of the College of Mount St. Vincent. For their honeymoon they flew to Fiji, taking advantage of Jocelyne’s Pan Am discount to travel first class and spend eight days relaxing.

Back in the US, she moved to Alexandria, Virginia, where Tyler was based, but still flew out of New York.

“We both travelled a lot,” says Jocelyne. “He went on assignment often for the CIA, and that first Christmas, I remember he was gone for three months on an assignment to Laos, and that was tough.”

When she could, Jocelyne tried to work round-the-world flights out of New York, so she’d be gone for weeks at a time too, traveling from New York to Tokyo and back.

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Jocelyne and Tyler on their wedding day on March 28, 1971.

Courtesy Jocelyne Harding

And towards the end of Tyler’s stint in Laos, she decided to surprise him with an unscheduled visit.

“I thought, ‘I can’t believe I’m doing this,’ because there was a war going on there then. But I did, and I met him, and we came home together after his assignment. And from then on, it’s just been a whirlwind.”

In March 2021, Jocelyne, now 74, and Tyler, 80, will have been married for five decades.

“I can’t believe it’s 50 years already,” she says. “I can’t believe it.”

The glamor of Pan Am

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Jocelyne fondly recalls working on the first Boeing 747 flight between Paris and New York. Here, a Boeing 747 is seen just after landing at London’s Heathrow airport, on January 22, 1970.

AFP via Getty Images

Jocelyne continued flying with Pan Am for a year after her marriage. Regulations had just recently changed to allow married women to continue working as flight crew.

But she left the company in 1972, when Tyler’s job transferred to Thailand.

Jocelyne said farewell to her wings with great sadness, but soon embraced the new adventure of a life in Southeast Asia, followed by a stint in Hawaii. The couple had their first child, a daughter, while living in Honolulu.

Tyler and Jocelyne then settled back in Virginia for a while, having a second daughter there, but before long they were living in Frankfurt, Germany.

“The kids loved it because we took them everywhere on weekends. We went to France, we went to all different parts of Germany, Switzerland,” recalls Jocelyne.

In the late 1970s, the couple bought some farmland in Maryland from the uncle of one of Jocelyne’s old Pan Am pals and built the home in which they live today.

Jocelyne’s still in touch with many of her friends from that time, including Mala. She’s part of World Wings International, the organization of retired Pan Am Flight attendants.

“We still entertain like no one entertains,” she laughs.

Pan Am’s glamorous reputation has lingered on, long after its last flight. That legacy is deserved, says Jocelyne.

“Everything was about making the customer happy and elegance on the plane,” she recalls. “We served the finest wines, the finest of everything. Paris Maxim’s [the famed French restaurant] did our catering. It was elegant, it was special, people dressed up.”

Jocelyne memorably worked the inaugural 747 flight between New York and Paris, a press flight where passengers sipped Moët Chandon Champagne and ate caviar from Tehran. That’s when she was featured in Paris Match magazine.

“We were interviewed when we got off the plane. It was terribly exciting, it really was. The 747 was amazing. I did love that plane, but I missed the ambiance of the 707.”

She recalls her team were given special buttons promoting the 747, which they wore on their lapels. Uniforms were blue or tan, with Pan Am wings made of gold.

Alongside their two daughters Jocelyne and Tyler now have five grandchildren. Everybody in the family loves travel, says Jocelyne, with one of their daughters spending two decades living in France, Istanbul and Warsaw, and the other taking a year out to backpack the world after graduation.

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Jocelyne and Tyler pictured in 2014.

Courtesy Jocelyne Harding

The pandemic has grounded the family in the US for now, but despite their decades of travel, Jocelyne and Tyler still have spots left on their must-visit list. For Jocelyne, it’s Bhutan. For Tyler, it’s Australia, where the couple have family.

Tyler now has some memory issues, but he still fondly recalls that momentous 1970 flight from Paris to New York.

“I saw this cute girl and she was kind of snotty to me,” he says. “But we talked after we got off and after that, we never stopped.”

“It’s been an amazing journey I wouldn’t trade for anything,” says Jocelyne. She pauses and laughs.

“Oh, and I wound up with all those scarves he bought.”


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