June 15, 1987 12:00 PM

Like most flight attendants, Kate Linder has had her share of bumpy experiences. There have been unruly passengers, long layoffs, a few bomb scares and—at the conclusion of a flight to Italy—an Italian policeman waving a machine gun in her face while he searched the plane for fugitives. But Linder, who now works for United Airlines, claims she went through one incident last fall that was uniquely hers. As a woman suspected of transporting chemicals to make illegal drugs was being dragged off the plane by airport authorities, Linder says the suspect suddenly stopped, stared and shouted, “Aren’t you Esther on Young and the Restless?”

Fame among the freshly busted is fame indeed. And if the woman was surprised to see a soap actress checking the overhead racks, she hasn’t been alone. For the past five years Linder has held the distinction of being a steadily employed TV actress who also works as a flight attendant. Maybe it’s less than momentous, but it’s a distinction nonetheless. Two or three days a week, Linder, 39, is seen as Y & R’s bumbling maid, Esther. On weekends she strolls the friendly aisles of United, serving refreshments, shmoozing with her fans and occasionally taking the opportunity to chat up her career. “I tell them to write a letter to the producers and ask them to write up my character,” she says.

An effervescent 5’4″ woman, Linder became a flight attendant 12 years ago so she’d have time to find acting jobs. When she landed the Y&R role in 1982, it was only a walk-on with one line, “Dinner is served.” Linder has built the piddling part into one of daytime’s most familiar comic characters, and she gives some of the credit to her flight-attendant training. “I already knew how to pour the dinner wine, so I could concentrate on being creative.”

Born Katherine Wolveck, the only child of a Pasadena, Calif. CPA and a homemaker, Linder began acting in junior high school. (In a prescient skit that she and a seventh-grade classmate wrote, she cast herself as a travel agent who flew a tour to England.) Later, Linder’s drama studies at San Francisco State University left little time for earthly pursuits, even after her marriage at 20 to a department store executive. “He was fixated on me,” she says of her first husband, “but I was focusing on my career. It was sad, but it just didn’t work out. He wasn’t really behind me.”

Ron Linder was. A SFSU health sciences professor whom she met in 1974, Ron, 47, not only encouraged her to act but suggested she get a flight-attendant job to support herself. “I thought she was attractive and bright, a high-energy lady,” says Ron, who married Kate in 1976, four years after her divorce came through. “I thought she would benefit from getting into the world and meeting lots of people.”

Both have prospered since. Kate, who acted in Archie Bunker’s Place and Bay City Blues before The Young and the Restless, makes a reported $150,000 per year from the soap plus approximately $30,000 from United. Ron is a director of educational affairs of the Hospital Satellite Network, an $11 million-a-year operation that provides instructional videos to doctors and patients. One of the couple’s recent purchases was a home in Hollywood Hills—a 5,000-square-foot English Tudor once owned by Mark Lindsay of Paul Revere & the Raiders.

Granted that acting is a notoriously unstable profession, why is Linder still working on planes? “It’s a chance to meet fans,” she says, “and it’s a way to keep busy—I only act a few days a week. And just in case my character is ever killed off, I don’t want to lose my seniority with United.” Besides, she adds, having her head in the clouds keeps her feet on the ground. “Too many celebrities start to believe their own publicity, but that will never happen to me. When you’re up there pouring coffee, it’s hard to forget who you are.”

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