More than pilots, mechanics, and ticket agents, the job of an Airline Flight Attendant can get your travelling the world for free and an interesting career in aviation.

Friday, January 28, 2011

82nd Anniversary of the first female Flight Attendant

The first flight attendants were called "couriers," and their ranks included the young sons of steamship, railroad, and industrial magnates who financed the airlines. Stout Airways was the first to employ stewards in 1926, working on Ford Tri-Motor planes between Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Western (1928) and Pan Am (1929) were the first US carriers to employ stewards to serve food. Ten-passenger Fokkers used in the Caribbean had stewards in the era of gambling trips to Havana, Cuba from Key West, Florida.
During the early days of commercial aviation, a pilot or first officer on flights would often serve as cabin attendant, as well as assisting in flying the plane. But this splitting of duties proved inefficient, and airlines began to consider other options.
Boeing Air Transport, a forerunner of United Air Lines, was the first airline to hire women, beginning with Ellen Church on May 15, 1930. Airline executives believed that the presence of a female attendant on board would reassure passengers of the increasing safety of air travel. It would be difficult for potential travelers to admit fear of flying when young women routinely took to the air as part of an in-flight crew. Further, it was believed that women would cater to their predominantly male passengers. (Not everyone was enthusiastic about the idea, though. Pilots claimed they were too busy flying to look after "helpless" female crew members.)
Flying on Boeing 80s and 80-As, stewardesses would serve their ten passengers a cold meal, usually consisting of fried chicken, apples and sandwiches, which they would pick up at the hanger prior to passenger boarding. On flights out of Chicago, the famous Palmer House catered the food. In 1931, Eastern Air Transport hostesses served passengers in a hanger at Richmond, VA. On Curtiss-Wright Condor aircraft (which had no galleys) hostesses served their eighteen passengers coffee, tea, Coca-Cola, biscuits and coffeecake from a picnic hamper. United used fine bone china until turbulence made that economically unsound. Coffee was served from thermos bottles.
In addition to meal service, stewardesses were also responsible for winding clocks and altimeters in the cabin, and ensuring that wicker passenger seats were securely bolted to the aircraft floor. They were also required to advise passengers not to throw lighted cigars and cigarettes out aircraft windows while over populated areas and to ensure that passengers didn't use the exit door instead of the lavatory door! All this for an exciting salary of $110 (Eastern) to $125 (UA/Boeing) per month. As this was during the depression, no one received raises. At the start of the New Year in 1933, there were only thirty-eight stewardess in the United States. Twenty-six worked for United, on Boeing aircraft, another twelve for Eastern, flying on Curtiss-Wright Condors. On May 3, 1933, American Air Ways, predecessor of American Airlines, hired their first four hostesses and a week later, hired two more registered nurses. By the time Trans-Canada Air Lines (later renamed Air Canada) was created in April, 1937, the stewardess concept was firmly established.
In the beginning, airlines preferred to hire only registered nurses, not just for their medical experience, but also because it was believed that nurses led a disciplined life which would transfer well to the rigors of airline travel. During World War II, the airlines hired only men to work on the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) flights, thereby opening the market for women on non-military commercial flights.
The stewardess career went through many transformations over the decades. This job changed from something one only did for a few years prior to marriage, to a long-term career worth retaining until retirement. This has largely been a result of better wage and benefits packages secured by unions on behalf of various flight attendant work forces. In times past, stewardesses were required to quit when they married or became pregnant.
Airlines hired only young women and some preferred them to retire or transfer to a ground job when they reached a ripe old age between thirty-two to thirty five! During the 1960s and 1970s, through the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines and various lawsuits, these barriers gradually fell. Now airlines must hire people of all races, ages, marital status, and gender. As more men entered the workforce, the job title was changed from "steward/stewardess" to the current "flight attendant." There are some countries that continue to call them "steward/stewardess" or even "host/hostess," but even these are gradually changing to reflect a genderless job title. Now the average age is late twenties to mid-thirties. Average seniority is ten years with a very low attrition rate. Approximately one half are married, while many are single, divorced, widowed, parents and even grandparents!
The Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 was a significant milestone, opening the way for corporate greed. Airlines attempted to push salaries back to 1970 levels, bargaining power was weakened and over fifty-percent of airlines which existed in pre-deregulation times went bankrupt, merged, or were forced out of business. Outlook for the new millennium is uncertain, as more airlines are filing for protection under Chapter 11 of the bankruptcy code, even as this guide is printed. For persons considering a position of flight attendant as a long-term career, it is of utmost necessity that you study listings in this guide to make the most informed choice possible when selecting a carrier. Then research the history of the airline you're considering. Possible sources of information are business newspapers and magazines. You can find these at your local library and you may also discover your library has free internet access- if you're not yet connected at your home, school or business. The World Wide Web can be an excellent source of information on individual airlines, merely by visiting their web sites. This information can be valuable to you in the interview process- as you will learn later in this guide.
One of your best and most accessible sources can be flight attendants who work for your preferred airline. Spend a day out at your local airport, interviewing flight attendants while they're waiting for their flights. Ask them about working conditions, rates of pay, management attitude, job security, etc. They can tell you which of their domiciles are the most junior, or the most senior. Show them your copy of The Flight Attendant Job Finder & Career Guide and ask them any questions you might have about their airline's listing. (You will soon discover many flight attendants have used this guide when they were job hunting.)
For further reading on the subject of flight attendant history, there is no better book than Helen McLaughlin's Footsteps in the Sky. (See Appendix) Her collection of first-person accounts from the first stewardesses to present-day flight attendants, can give you a better insight and awareness of our rewarding career.

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