The story of in-flight cabin crew

Cabin Crew Throughout The Decades

If you want to see how society has changed over the decades, taking a tour of how flight attendants have changed is just as telling. From the earlier days of air hostesses being certified nurses branding pristine white uniforms to sky girls wearing revealing short skirts to the modern crews of today, all of these changes tell a story and reflect our society well. Take another journey with us and buckle up to learn about in-slight cabin crew and how their appearances and roles have changed over the years.

1920s – 1940s: From male to female and new jobs


Ani interesting start to the story of flight attendants is that the first flight attendant was actually a man. Although male flight attendants are as common as, well, taking a flight today, this was not the case in the first decades of aviation. His name was Heinrich Kubis and an interesting fact is that he survived an air tragedy by jumping out of the plane’s window when it got near to the ground.

In the 1910s, all of the USA and UK airlines employed boys to assist with passengers on planes. They were known as the cabin boys, but this soon changed when World War I broke out. At this time men were needed to fight in the war and left their aviation roles. They were replaced by women, and the rest, as they say, is history.

The first female air hostess was a registered 25-year-old nurse by the name of Ellen Church. She initially wanted to become a pilot but Boeing believed her nurse skills would make her a better flight attendant. This started a trend of only hiring nurses to act as flight attendants.

Church’s manager of the time suggested that women made better air hostesses because they were tidier, neater and better at serving passengers, as well as looking after their welfare. By the 1930s, this trend had taken flight and around 300 female flight attendants had jobs as air hostesses – but it should also be known that to get these jobs they had to be young and preferably single.

By the 1940s, the responsibilities of these female flight attendants had changed. Not only were they there to serve food and be attentive, but they also had to prevent passengers from disposing of litter from the aircraft windows, clean the plane and sometimes even help with refueling.

During the same period, cabin-crew uniforms became popular. Howard Greer, a Hollywood designer came up with the TWA uniform and included a ‘blou slip’. This was a type of garment which did not need to be tucked in. At the end of this period, in 1945, flight attendants set up what is now known as the Association of Flight Attendants Union. At the time it was known as Airline Stewardess Association.

1950s – 1970s: From elegance to hot pants and space helmets


In 1950, flight attendants grew and so did the demand to become them among women. As a result, airlines added age-related clauses to air hostesses’ contracts in a bid to make sure their hostesses were as glamorous as possible. In 1956, the age restriction was set at 32, but by 1957 this was amended and raised to 1957. In comparison, any male flight attendants were allowed to do the job until they were 60 years old. Other clauses in air hostesses’ contracts included a no-marriage clause, ensuring their attendants were on the market and approachable to male passengers. This was also the decade in which in-flight entertainment crept in, starting with song performances by attendants and even hula dancing.

In the middle of the 1960s, airlines were not permitted to set their own fares, which had been the case since they began. For that reason, their air hostesses became a marketing weapon showing off their sex appeal. Some slogans would be playful such as “does your wife know you are flying with us?”. They ultimately made their hostesses into sexual objects to attract consumers. As a direct consequence, their uniforms changed from military elegance to bubble space helmets and more enticing overcoats. These uniforms were fashionable, which contributed to an even bigger rise in air hostess job applications. It is reported that at this time the TWA would accept fewer than 3% of all applications received.

The 1970s were a crucial time for airlines with federal courts making certain contract clauses illegal, including the no-marriage clause. They also made it illegal for airlines to throw out applications from men, based on their gender. Despite this, flight attendants’ uniforms became even racier with revealing hot pants and alike.

1980s – 1990s: from air hostesses to mainstream air travel


During this post, we have switched between the terms air hostess and the more gender-neutral flight attendant, but the latter term was not used until the 1980s. It was estimated that there were 19 male attendants for every 100 females. It was also a time where airlines started enticing male business travelers with lower fares rather than the sex appeal of their staff.

In the 1990s, more career opportunities became available for flight attendants. People were getting jobs overseas and with luxury private jet companies. The roles on chartered airlines became the most prestigious and in the greatest demand.

One milestone was achieved in 1990 which is worth noting. George H.W Bush officially recognized the 19th July as day to honor flight attendants’ contributions and how they had helped the aviation industry to flourish.

Present Day: cabin crew in modern times


Even the visionaries of aviation could not have predicted the popularity and developments of air travel. The number of people flying today has exceeded expectations, and with it, the roles of cabin crew have changed. Today is less about playing the ukulele or fluffing pillows and is predominantly about ensuring the safety of passengers.

You could argue that the glory days of exceptional air travel attention for a host is over, which is especially the case on budget airlines that prioritize cheap travel – just like their customers. However, you can still experience this bespoke and personal service when you fly with the best airlines on long-haul flights, as well as on private chartered jets. The same way that engineers and manufacturers discovered ways of creating motorcycles that fit all budgets, the same is being achieved in the aviation industry. The jobs of cabin crew are thus being affected by these new priorities and changes.

How has the shift in in-flight needs changed the demographics of today’s flight attendants? The answer is a lot. A 2015 report from the Bureau of Labour Statistics states that the average age of today’s flight attendant is almost 47 and more surprising is that male attendants are younger than their female colleagues by two years. The report also illustrated the jobs they have to complete; today a flight attendant will spend between 75 and 100 hours in the sky per month and complete 50 hours of paperwork.

Ultimately, there jobs a more complex than the flight attendants of yesterday. They focus their attention on the safety and specific needs of passengers. They also have a more in-depth knowledge of weather and turbulence. Not to forget all the safety checks they must complete on their equipment and before allowing passengers to disembark the aircraft.

What About Private Jet Crew?

There is an argument that the roles of private jet crew and attendants working on commercial planes is different. Although they both concentrate their efforts on keeping passengers as safe as possible, private jet flight attendants are more likely to also provide a stellar service that goes the extra mile. They may be more attentive and more responsive to requests as well.

Most private jet flight attendants have a history of working on commercial planes. They use their experience to step up and progress into private jet attendants via specialized training. Many of the people who are selected to work for chartered jet companies are selected based on their experiences with other companies but also because they have useful skills and other service backgrounds such as being a personal chef or other high-profile roles in hospitality. Most private jet workers also need to work with discreteness and confidentiality because their passengers are celebrities and people in the public eye.

The world’s richest and most famous people often have high expectations from their flight attendants – and these attendants are up to the challenge. It requires dedication, hard work, professionalism, and great problem-solving skills. Just like the expectations placed on them, the sky is also the limit for earning potential in these roles.