Flight Attendants, also called Cabin Crew, Hostess, Stewardess or Steward, Trolley Dolly, Cart Tart and even glorified waitresses, are highly under-appreciated by passengers. What they don’t know, is that they are not there to simply serve them and attend to their every whim; they are there required by FAA law to lookout for the safety and security of passengers and to ensure that everyone follows security regulations.
Among their many duties on board they are in charge of: attending preflight briefings on details of the flight such as weather conditions, evacuation procedures (they must be able to evacuate a full aircraft of unrehearsed people in 90 seconds or less!) and length of the flight; ensuring that adequate supplies of food, beverages and emergency equipment are on board and properly working; assisting in cleaning the cabin between flights; demonstrating the use of safety and emergency equipment; ensuring all passengers have seat-belts fastened, seats are locked in the upright position, and all carry-on items are properly stowed in accordance with federal law; serving and sometimes selling beverages, meals, or snacks; taking care of passengers’ needs, particularly those with special needs; reassuring passengers during flight, such as when the aircraft hits turbulence; administering first aid to passengers or coordinating first aid efforts, when needed; and directing passengers in case of emergency, dealing with unruly passengers, directing evacuations and sometimes even fighting fires.
Doesn’t sound like a waitress’ job description anymore, right? Flight attendants actually have great responsibility and that is without mentioning that they are the ones who have to face the passengers, answer questions and listen to complaints. And we haven’t even started on all the requirements they have to meet to actually get hired by an airline. Let’s take a look at this noble occupation through history.
The first name for this position was “steward” taken from maritime transport terminology. Their job description was the same as stewards in ships and trains. Heinrich Kubis was the world’s first flight attendant, in 1912, caring for passengers on board a Passenger Zeppelin LZ-10 airship called Schwaben; way before fixed-wing airliners were large enough to actually carry a steward.
In the 1920’s, Imperial Airways (UK) had cabin boys, but it wasn’t until 1926 that the US Stout Airways employed the first stewards to work on Ford Trimotor planes on flights between Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan. In 1928, Western Airlines and then Pan American World Airways, in I929, employed stewards to serve food.
Up until the 1930’s, this position was occupied by men. But then, United Airlines hired the first female flight attendant named Ellen Church, a 25 year old registered nurse. Most other airlines followed this example and started hiring women nurses to serve as stewardesses or air hostesses.
By 1936 women had taken over the job. But it wasn’t an easy job to get; you had to be a single woman to be considered for the position. If while working on an airline you got married, you were fired. Women who were divorced or widowed were considered but only if they had no children.
However, despite having a proper nurse degree and marital status, there were also physical requirements you had to meet. The height and weight of each stewardess was fairly strict as well. A woman would have to weigh between 100-118 pounds and be between 5’ and 5’ 4” tall, she had to be within the ages of 20 and 26. In addition, she had to have 20/40 vision and not wear glasses.
These requirements have become more lenient over time.
Firstly, during WWII, nurses enlisted in the armed forces, so the “having to be a nurse” requirement had to be dropped and airlines opened the position for women in general. Then in 1968, the EEOC (Equal Employment Opportunity Commission) declared the age restrictions for the job to be Illegal sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The rule of only hiring women was lifted in 1971 and the marriage restriction was eradicated throughout the 80’s. Finally, in the 90’s, the weight restrictions were relaxed, although today, there are still height and weight restrictions due to safety reasons. An acceptable height for anyone working as a flight attendant (for most airlines) is between 4’11” to 6’1”. Overall, their weight must be proportional to their height.
Lastly, in the fall of 2003, Congress established a flight attendant certification requirement in the Vision 100-Century of Aviation Reauthorization Act. The Act requires that after December 11, 2004, no person may serve as a flight attendant aboard an aircraft of an air carrier unless that person holds a Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency (certificate) issued by the FAA. This certificate shows that a level of required training (through their employer) has been met and has passed a proficiency check. It has two ratings, Group I and Group II. Either or both of these may be earned depending upon the general type of aircraft, propeller or turbojet, on which the holder has trained.
Nowadays, flight attendants are trained in emergency passenger evacuation management; use of evacuation slides/life rafts; in-flight firefighting; first aid; CPR; defibrillation; ditching/emergency landing procedures; decompression emergencies; crew resource management and security for specific types of aircraft and must take new training for each type of aircraft on which they are to work. And as a result of the incidents on September 11, 2001, all flight attendants are now trained in physical protection in the events of emergencies and to be offensive during attacks, rather than obeying hijackers’ commands.
So, hopefully the next time you are on board a plane and feel the urge to start complaining about the flight attendant not bringing you nuts, you will think twice about this person’s true job and how they have prepared to be there.