Today May 16 or May 15 in the United States, we celebrate the 90th anniversary of flight attendant service after Ellen Church took to the skies as the world's very first air stewardess on board a fixed wing aircraft, a Boeing 80A. While "World Flight Attendant Day" is celebrated sometime May 29, today celebrates 90 years of the cabin crew.
While it is said that Heinrich Kubis was the world's first cabin crew aboard German Zeppelins during 1912, the flight attendant career did really begin after Ellen Church took to the skies.
It was in the 1930s when a registered nurse named Ellen Church wanted to be a commercial airline pilot. Unfortunately, the Boeing Transport Co. only accepted males as it was perceived that flying was only for men. This did not stop Ellen Church from fulfilling her dream and she suggested to Boeing Transport that flying nurses would be able to make passengers more comfortable since during that time, flying was fairly new and uncomfortable. The company liked the idea and Ellen Church recruited 8 other nurses. They took to the skies and the era of the flight attendant was born.
It was in the 1950s where the "ladies of the skies" no longer needed to be nurses as their role changed from being a flying nurse to a flying hostess. More and more airlines opening, competition was getting tough and air hostesses or stewardesses were the amunition. They were wearing the most glamorous uniforms, flying with celebrities and the rich. They had to remain trim and fit. If not, they were not allowed to fly. To attract more flyers particularly men, it was the air hostess who did the work. More than anything, the air hostess were not even allowed to get married! This was the golden age of air travel and it was dominated by the elite.
This was when the flight attendant job was equated as "glamorous". Travelling the world, flying with the elite, and being around celebrities.
The 1960s brought about the jet age.
Airlines had to make their stewardess even look more glamorous and beautiful as they know that men who have money would like to see pretty ladies. Having beautiful stewardesses on board was a unique selling proposition for the airlines. The stewardesses were even trained to walk like models while serving passengers!
As time went by, the role of stewardess have changed, especially in the wake of air disasters. They were trained to operate safety features of the aircraft. They were trained to evacuate passengers as quick as they can. Safety was placed above comfort and glamour. As this role has evolved also, males were hired as stewards, and the job of the cabin crew was not only for females.
This role also lead to the change of terms from air hostess to flight attendant, from stewardess to cabin crew. More than that, the female movement pushed to end the use of stewardess as a sex symbol to attract passengers. This was where flight attendants were given the primary role of ensuring safety, especially after some hijack incidents. From then on, flight attendants had to be perceived as very professional, as this concerns safety.
Over the past 90 years, the flight attendants role have greatly evolved. From just providing safety and comfort to a supposed 'sex symbol' in the skies during the 1950s, they now play major roles particularly in making air travel the safest mode of transportation that it is today. Flight attendants have become safety professionals, highly trained to carry important tasks like evacuating more than 100 passengers in less than 90 seconds during an emergency, providing first aid to passengers suffering medical conditions on board, and dealing with security issues on board. All these are on top their hospitality role of ensuring passenger comfort too throughout the flight.
Today in this time of a global pandemic, they are the frontliners in the sky, bravely facing passengers.
For 90 years the ranks of flight attendants have swelled from around a hundred in the early days of the profession to tens of thousands of flight attendants today. While their responsibilities and uniforms have changed over the years, their core mission have always been to make sure airline passengers are safe and comfortable.
Happy 90th anniversary to the flight attendant career!