Flight attendants or cabin crew (also known as stewards/stewardesses, air hosts/hostesses, cabin attendants) are members of an aircrew employed by airlines primarily to ensure the safety and comfort of passengers aboard commercial flights, on select business jet aircraft, and on some military aircraft.
The role of a flight attendant derives from that of similar positions on passenger ships or passenger trains, but it has more direct involvement with passengers because of the confined quarters on aircraft. Additionally, the job of a flight attendant revolves around safety to a much greater extent than those of similar staff on other forms of transportation. Flight attendants on board a flight collectively form a cabin crew, as distinguished from pilots and engineers in the cockpit.
The German Heinrich Kubis was the world's first flight attendant, in 1912. Kubis first attended the passengers on board the DELAG Zeppelin LZ 10 Schwaben. He also attended to the famous LZ 129 Hindenburg and was on board when it burst into flames. He survived by jumping out a window when it neared the ground.
Origins of the word "steward" in transportation are reflected in the term "chief steward" as used in maritime transport terminology. The term purser and chief steward are often used interchangeably describing personnel with similar duties among seafaring occupations. This lingual derivation results from the international British maritime tradition (i.e. chief mate) dating back to the 14th century and the civilian United States Merchant Marine on which US aviation is somewhat modeled. Due to international conventions and agreements, in which all ships' personnel who sail internationally are similarly documented by their respective countries, the U.S. Merchant Marine assigns such duties to the chief steward in the overall rank and command structure of which pursers are not positionally represented or rostered.
Nelly Diener, the first air stewardess in Europe, in 1934. She died later that year.
The first female flight attendant was a 25-year-old registered nurse named Ellen Church. Hired by United Airlines in 1930, she also first envisioned nurses on aircraft. Other airlines followed suit, hiring nurses to serve as flight attendants, then called "stewardesses" or "air hostesses", on most of their flights. In the United States, the job was one of only a few in the 1930s to permit women, which, coupled with the Great Depression, led to large numbers of applicants for the few positions available. Two thousand women applied for just 43 positions offered by Transcontinental and Western Airlines in December 1935.
Washing dishes during flight, 1949
Female flight attendants rapidly replaced male ones, and by 1936, they had all but taken over the role. They were selected not only for their knowledge but also for their characteristics. A 1936 New York Times article described the requirements:
The girls who qualify for hostesses must be petite; weight 100 to 118 pounds; height 5 feet to 5 feet 4 inches; age 20 to 26 years. Add to that the rigid physical examination each must undergo four times every year, and you are assured of the bloom that goes with perfect health.
Three decades later, a 1966 New York Times classified ad for stewardesses at Eastern Airlines listed these requirements:
A high school graduate, single (widows and divorcees with no children considered), 20 years of age (girls 19 1/2 may apply for future consideration). 5'2" but no more than 5'9", weight 105 to 135 in proportion to height and have at least 20/40 vision without glasses.
Appearance was considered as one of the most important factors to become a stewardess. At that time, airlines believed that the exploitation of female sexuality would increase their profits; thus the uniforms of female flight attendants were often formfitting, complete with white gloves and high heels.
Reenactor in Jet Age costume
In the United States, they were required to be unmarried and were fired if they decided to wed. The requirement to be a registered nurse on an American airline was relaxed as more women were hired, and disappeared almost entirely during World War II as many nurses joined military nurse corps.
Ruth Carol Taylor was the first African-American flight attendant in the United States. Hired in December 1957, on February 11, 1958, Taylor was the flight attendant on a Mohawk Airlines flight from Ithaca to New York, the first time such a position had been held by an African American. She was let go within six months as a result of Mohawk's then-common marriage ban.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's first complainants were female flight attendants complaining of age discrimination, weight requirements, and bans on marriage. (Originally female flight attendants were fired if they reached age 32 or 35 depending on the airline, were fired if they exceeded weight regulations, and were required to be single upon hiring and fired if they got married.) In 1968, the EEOC declared age restrictions on flight attendants’ employment to be illegal sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Also in 1968, the EEOC ruled that sex was not a bona fide occupational requirement to be a flight attendant. The restriction of hiring only women was lifted at all airlines in 1971 due to the decisive court case of Diaz vs. Pan Am. The no-marriage rule was eliminated throughout the US airline industry by the 1980s. The last such broad categorical discrimination, the weight restrictions, were relaxed in the 1990s through litigation and negotiations. Airline still often have vision and height requirements and may require flight attendants to pass a medical evaluation.
As there will be 41,030 new airliners by 2036, Boeing expects 839,000 new cabin crew members from 2017 till then: 298,000 in Asia Pacific (37%), 169,000 in North America (21%) and 151,000 in Europe (19%).
The majority of flight attendants for most airlines are female. Photo shows female flight attendants traveling to an airport in Japan.
The primary role of a flight attendant is to ensure passenger safety. In addition to this, flight attendants are often tasked with customer service duties such as serving meals and drinks, as a secondary responsibility.
The number of flight attendants required on flights are mandated by international safety regulations. For planes with up to 19 passenger seats, no flight attendant is needed. For larger planes, one flight attendant per 50 passenger seats is needed.
The majority of flight attendants for most airlines are female, though a substantial number of males have entered the industry since 1980.
Prior to each flight, flight attendants attend a safety briefing with the pilots and lead flight attendant. During this briefing, they go over safety and emergency checklists, the locations and amounts of emergency equipment and other features specific to that aircraft type. Boarding particulars are verified, such as special needs passengers, small children traveling as unaccompanied or VIPs. Weather conditions are discussed including anticipated turbulence. Prior to each flight a safety check is conducted to ensure all equipment such as life-vests, torches (flashlights) and firefighting equipment are on board, in the right quantity, and in proper condition. Any unserviceable or missing items must be reported and rectified prior to takeoff. They must monitor the cabin for any unusual smells or situations. They assist with the loading of carry-on baggage, checking for weight, size and dangerous goods. They make sure those sitting in emergency exit rows are willing and able to assist in an evacuation and move those who are not willing or able out of the row into another seat. They then must do a safety demonstration or monitor passengers as they watch a safety video. They then must "secure the cabin" ensuring tray tables are stowed, seats are in their upright positions, armrests down and carry-ons stowed correctly and seat belts are fastened prior to takeoff. All the service between boarding and take-off is called Pre Take off Service.
Once up in the air, flight attendants will usually serve drinks and/or food to passengers using an airline service trolley. When not performing customer service duties, flight attendants must periodically conduct cabin checks and listen for any unusual noises or situations. Checks must also be done on the lavatory to ensure the smoke detector hasn't been disabled or destroyed and to restock supplies as needed. Regular cockpit checks must be done to ensure the health and safety of the pilot(s). They must also respond to call lights dealing with special requests. During turbulence, flight attendants must ensure the cabin is secure. Prior to landing, all loose items, trays and rubbish must be collected and secured along with service and galley equipment. All hot liquids must be disposed of. A final cabin check must then be completed prior to landing. It is vital that flight attendants remain aware as the majority of emergencies occur during takeoff and landing. Upon landing, flight attendants must remain stationed at exits and monitor the airplane and cabin as passengers disembark the plane. They also assist any special needs passengers and small children off the airplane and escort children, while following the proper paperwork and ID process to escort them to the designated person picking them up.
Flight attendants are trained to deal with a wide variety of emergencies, and are trained in first aid. More frequent situations may include a bleeding nose, illness, small injuries, intoxicated passengers, aggressive and anxiety stricken passengers. Emergency training includes rejected takeoffs, emergency landings, cardiac and in-flight medical situations, smoke in the cabin, fires, depressurization, on-board births and deaths, dangerous goods and spills in the cabin, emergency evacuations, hijackings, and water landings.
Flight attendants for Germanwings performing in flight service duties
Cabin chimes and overhead panel lights
On most commercial airliners, flight attendants receive various forms of notification on board the aircraft in the form of audible chimes and colored lights above their stations. Typically, the following chimes and colors are used:
Pink or Red - Interphone calls from the cockpit to a flight attendant and/or interphone calls between two flight attendants (steady with high-low chime), or all services emergency call (flashing with repeated high-low chime).
Blue - Call from passenger in seat (steady with single high chime).
Amber - Call from passenger in lavatory (steady with single high chime), or lavatory smoke detector set off (flashing with repeated high chime).
Green (non-standard) - On some airlines' Airbus aircraft, this color is used to indicate interphone calls between two flight attendants, distinguishing them from the pink or red light used for interphone calls made from the cockpit to a flight attendant, and is also accompanied with a high-low chime like the pink or red light. On some other airlines' aircraft, this color has a completely different meaning, and is used to indicate that the cockpit is no longer sterile after the aircraft is above a specific altitude.
The Chief Purser (CP), also titled as In-flight Service Manager (ISM), Flight Service Manager (FSM), Customer Service Manager (CSM) or Cabin Service Director (CSD) is the senior flight attendant in the chain of command of flight attendants. While not necessarily the most-senior crew members on a flight (in years of service to their respective carrier), Chief Pursers can have varying levels of "in-flight" or "on board" bidding seniority or tenure in relation to their flying partners. To reach this position, a crew member requires some minimum years of service as flight attendant. Further training is mandatory, and Chief Pursers typically earn a higher salary than flight attendants because of the added responsibility and managerial role.
The Purser is in charge of the cabin crew, in a specific section of a larger aircraft, or the whole aircraft itself (if the purser is the highest ranking). On board a larger aircraft, Pursers assist the Chief Purser in managing the cabin. Pursers are flight attendants or a related job, typically with an airline for several years prior to application for, and further training to become a purser, and normally earn a higher salary than flight attendants because of the added responsibility and supervisory role.
Flight attendants are normally trained in the hub or headquarters city of an airline over a period that may run from four weeks to six months, depending on the country and airline. The main focus of training is safety, and attendants will be checked out for each type of aircraft in which they work. One of the most elaborate training facilities was Breech Academy which Trans World Airlines (TWA) opened in 1969 in Overland Park, Kansas. Other airlines were to also send their attendants to the school. However, during the fare wars, the school's viability declined and it closed around 1988.
In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration requires flight attendants on aircraft with 20 or more seats and used by an air carrier for transportation to hold a Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency. This is not considered to be the equivalent of an airman certificate (license), although it is issued on the same card stock. It shows that a level of required training has been met. It is not limited to the air carrier at which the attendant is employed (although some initial documents showed the airlines where the holders were working), and is the attendant's personal property. It does have two ratings, Group 1 and Group 2 (listed on the certificate as "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.
There are also training schools, not affiliated with any particular airline, where students generally not only undergo generic, though otherwise practically identical, training to flight attendants employed by an airline, but also take curriculum modules to help them gain employment. These schools often use actual airline equipment for their lessons, though some are equipped with full simulator cabins capable of replicating a number of emergency situations. In some countries, such as France, a degree is required, together with the Certificat de Formation à la Sécurité (safety training certificate).
Most airlines have height requirements for safety reasons, making sure that all flight attendants can reach overhead safety equipment. Typically, the acceptable height for this is 150 to 185 cm (4 ft 11 in to 6 ft 1 in) tall.
Some airlines, such as EVA Air, have height requirements for purely aesthetic purposes. Regional carriers using small aircraft with low ceilings can have height restrictions.
The first flight attendant uniforms were designed to be durable, practical, and inspire confidence in passengers. In the 1930s, the first female flight attendants dressed in uniforms resembling nurses'outfits. The first female flight attendants for United Airlines wore green berets, green capes and nurse's shoes. Other airlines, such as Eastern Air Lines, actually dressed female flight attendants in nurses' uniforms. Both male and female flight attendants for Hawaiian Airlines wear aloha shirts as their uniform.
During the 1960s, Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) was known for brightly colored female flight attendant uniforms that included short miniskirts. In the early 1970s, the uniform changed to hotpants Photo shows PSA flight attendants in 1960s.
Perhaps reflecting the military aviation background of many commercial aviation pioneers, many early uniforms had a strongly military appearance; hats, jackets, and skirts showed simple straight lines and military details like epaulettes and brass buttons. Many uniforms had a summer and winter version, differentiated by colours and fabrics appropriate to the season: navy blue for winter, for example, khaki for summer. But as the role of women in the air grew, and airline companies began to realise the publicity value of their female flight attendants, more feminine lines and colours began to appear in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Some airlines began to commission designs from high-end department stores and still others called in noted designers or even milliners to create distinctive and attractive apparel.
Since the 1980s to present, Asian airlines, especially national flag carrier ones, usually feature the traditional dress and fabrics of their respective country in their female flight attendants' uniform. It was meant as a marketing strategy to showcase their national culture as well as to convey welcoming warmth and hospitality. For example, Thai Airways flight attendants are required to change from their corporate purple suits into traditional Thai costume prior to passengers boarding. While the uniform of Garuda Indonesia female flight attendants is a modified kebaya, inspired by the traditional batik motif of Parang Gondosuli, the motif is called Lereng Garuda Indonesia.Malaysian and Singapore Airlines flight attendants wear batik prints in their uniform. Vietnam Airlines flight attendants wear red áo dài and Air India flight attendants wear a Sari on all passenger flights.
During the mid-1990s, several US-based airlines required female flight attendants to wear shoes with heels. Minimum heel heights ranged from one-half inch to the two inches mandated by USAir. Flight attendants at times avoided censure by changing into more comfortable shoes during flights, since their supervisors were less likely to be present there.
In the 1960s and 1970s, many airlines began advertising the attractiveness and friendliness of their stewardesses. National Airlines began a "Fly Me"; campaign using attractive female flight attendants with taglines such as "I'm Lorraine. Fly me to Orlando." (A low budget 1973 film about three flight attendants, Fly Me, starring Lenore Kasdorf, was based on the ad campaign.) Braniff International Airways, presented a campaign known as the "Air Strip" with similarly attractive young female flight attendant changing uniforms mid-flight. A policy of at least one airline required that only unmarried women could be flight attendants. Meanwhile, many other airlines, including American Airlines, Braniff, and Northwest, had a mandatory retirement age of 32 for stewardesses because of the belief women would be less appealing and attractive after this age. In 1968, the EEOC declared age restrictions on flight attendants’ employment to be illegal sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Flight attendant Roz Hanby became a minor celebrity when she became the face of British Airways in their "Fly the Flag" advertising campaign over a 7-year period in the 1980s. Singapore Airlines is currently one of the few airlines still choosing to use the image of their female flight attendants, known as Singapore Girls, in their advertising material. However, this is starting to be phased out, in favor of advertising which emphasises the modernity of their fleet.
Flight attendant unions were formed, beginning at United Airlines in the 1940s, to negotiate improvements in pay, benefits and working conditions. Those unions would later challenge what they perceived as sexiststereotypes and unfair work practices such as age limits, size limits, limitations on marriage, and prohibition of pregnancy. Many of these limitations have been lifted by judicial mandates. The largest flight attendants' union is the Association of Flight Attendants, representing nearly 60,000 flight attendants at 19 airlines within the US.
Originally female flight attendants were required to be single upon hiring, and were fired if they got married, exceeded weight regulations, or reached age 32 or 35 depending on the airline. In the 1970s the group Stewardesses for Women's Rights protested sexist advertising and company discrimination, and brought many cases to court. In 1964 United States President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act into law which prohibited sex discrimination and led to the creation of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in 1968. The EEOC ruled that sex was not a bonafide occupational requirement to be a flight attendant. For stewardesses, this meant that they had an official governing body to report offenses to and allowed them to successfully challenge age ceiling and marriage bans in relation to their effectiveness as employees.
In 1968, the EEOC declared age restrictions on flight attendants’ employment to be illegal sex discrimination under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The restriction of hiring only women was lifted at all airlines in 1971 due to the decisive court case of Diaz vs. Pan Am. The no-marriage rule was eliminated throughout the US airline industry by the 1980s. The last such broad categorical discrimination, the weight restrictions, were relaxed in the 1990s through litigation and negotiations. By the end of the 1970s, the term stewardess had generally been replaced by the gender-neutral alternative flight attendant. More recently the term cabin crew or cabin staff has begun to replace 'flight attendants' in some parts of the world, because of the term's recognition of their role as members of the crew.
Roles in emergencies
Actions of flight attendants in emergencies have long been credited in saving lives; in the United States, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and other aviation authorities view flight attendants as essential for safety, and are thus usually required on Part 121 aircraft operations. Studies, some done in light of British Airtours Flight 28M, have concluded that assertive cabin crew are essential for the rapid evacuation of aeroplanes. Notable examples of cabin crew actions include:
British Airtours Flight 28M, the two forward flight attendants, Arthur Bradbury and Joanna Toff, repeatedly crawled into the smoked filled and burning cabin to drag a number of passengers to safety, and were subsequently awarded the Queen's Gallantry Medal. The two rear flight attendants, Sharon Ford and Jacqui Ubanski, who opened the rear doors but were overwhelmed by fire and smoke were awarded the same medal posthumously.
Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 529, whose sole flight attendant, Robin Fech, provided emergency briefings, brace and evacuation commands to the passengers when the Embraer EMB 120 Brasilia aircraft sustained serious damage to one of its engines and crash landed. The NTSB accident report commended "the exemplary manner in which the flight attendant briefed the passengers and handled the emergency".
British Airways Flight 5390, in which a flight attendant was able to prevent a pilot from being lost through a cockpit window that had failed.
Southern Airways Flight 242, on which the cabin crew provided safety briefings to their passengers, and on their own initiative, warned passengers of the impending crash by commanding passengers to adopt the brace position. At least one flight attendant is known to have assisted in rescuing trapped passengers.
Air Florida Flight 90, in which Kelly Duncan, the lone surviving flight attendant, passed the only lifevest she could find to another passenger. She is recognised in the NTSB report for this "unselfish act."
TWA Flight 843, when a TWA Lockheed L-1011 aircraft crashed after an aborted takeoff in 1992. The aircraft was destroyed by fire. Nine flight attendants, along with five off-duty flight attendants, evacuated all 292 persons on board without loss of life. The NTSB in their after accident reported noted, "The performance of the flight attendants during the emergency was exceptional and probably contributed to the success of the emergency evacuation."
Flight attendants on Qantas Flight 1737 prevented their plane from being hijacked by a passenger with mental health issues. Two of them were taken to hospital with stab wounds.
Aloha Airlines Flight 243 suffered a decompression which tore an 18-foot (5.5 m) section of fuselage away from the plane. The only fatality was flight attendant C.B. Lansing who was blown out of the airplane. Flight attendant Michelle Honda was thrown violently to the floor during the decompression but, despite her injuries, crawled up and down the aisle reassuring passengers.
Flight Attendants on Air Canada Flight 797 (Sergio Benetti, Judi Davidson, Laura Kayama) used procedures which were not specifically taught in training such as moving passengers to the front of the aircraft to move them away from the fire and smoke, and passing out towels for passengers to cover their nose and mouths with while the cabin was filling with smoke.
Flight Attendants on US Airways Flight 1549 successfully evacuated all passengers from the aircraft within 90 seconds despite the fact that the rear was rapidly filling with water.
Nine cabin crew members aboard Air France Flight 358 successfully evacuated the aircraft within 90 seconds after the A340-300 overran a runway at Toronto Pearson International Airport. The NTSB stated that the actions of the cabin crew contributed to the 100% survival rate.
The flight attendants of Philippine Airlines Flight 434 kept the passengers calm after a bomb exploded during the flight from Cebu to Tokyo. Though one passenger was killed during the explosion, they took care of the injured passengers.
1947: The Vicki Barr: Flight Stewardess book series, in which Vicki's career "brings her glamorous friends, exciting adventures, loyal roommates and dates with a hand some young pilot and an up-and-coming reporter", sells well in the US.
1950: In Batman #62 (December/January), it is revealed that Catwoman is an amnesiac flight attendant who had turned to crime after suffering a prior blow to the head during a plane crash she survived. The name of the airline she worked for was Speed Airlines.
1955: Out of the Clouds, British drama film directed by Basil Dearden, and starring Anthony Steel, Robert Beatty and James Robertson Justice. An Ealing Studios production, the film is composed of small stories dealing with the passengers and crew on a day at London Airport (the name of Heathrow Airport 1946–1966).
1956: Julie, starring Doris Day may be the first film to feature a flight attendant piloting a plane to safety, later used in Airport 1975 (1975) and parodied in Airplane! (1980).
Neerja Bhanot, was a flight attendant for Pan Am airlines, based in Bombay, India, who died while saving passengers from terrorists on board the hijacked Pan Am Flight 73 on September 5, 1986. She received India's highest civilian award for bravery, the Ashoka Chakra.
Skye Chan, 2008 Miss Hong Kong First Runner-up and Miss World 2008 contestant, artist with TVB
Gabriele von Lutzau (born Gabriele Dillmann) was a flight attendant on hijacked Lufthansa Flight 181 and was credited for her loyalty to the passengers and crew. In the aftermath, she was named "Der Engel von Mogadischu" (The Angel of Mogadishu)
Vesna Vulović, Guinness World Record holder for surviving the highest fall without a parachute
On August 9, 2010, Steven Slater gained immediate global fame when he claimed he was injured by the luggage of a passenger whom he had confronted on an arriving JetBlue flight at New York's JFK Airport for disregarding his order to remain seated. Passengers dispute his account of this confrontation. As the incident continued, he cursed at the passengers over the aircraft's public address system, grabbed a beer, opened the evacuation slide and left the aircraft. He was later arrested and charged with several crimes.
On August 30, 2014, Robert Reardon of Delta Air Lines retired at the age of 90 after having eclipsed Ron Akana of United Airlines as the world's longest serving flight attendant and also having been the world's oldest active flight attendant. Reardon said the timing of his retirement was "not of his choosing."
^Barash, Stephanie (August 10, 2010). "Enraged JetBlue Flight Attendant Set Free On Bail". WPIX, Baltimore Sun. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011. Retrieved August 11, 2010. Steven Slater, 38, was arraigned Tuesday morning before Queens Criminal Court Judge Mary O'Donoghue on charges of first-and second-degree reckless endangerment, second-and fourth-degree criminal mischief and third-degree criminal trespass. Slater, of Belle Harbor, Queens apparently lost his cool after getting into a heated argument with a passenger. He slide down the emergency chute and ran to his parked car. Police later tracked him down at his Queens home where he was apparently engaging in sex
^Miller, Michelle (August 12, 2010). "Slater's Story Discredited by JetBlue Fliers". CBS News. Retrieved August 12, 2010. Slater said he was injured by a passenger who slammed an overhead door on his forehead. Several passengers saw the injury, but none saw how it happened. "When I first saw it, I thought he had just cut his head and was on his way to the bathroom to wash it and Band-Aid, and he didn't, and I thought that's weird; something's not totally right here," passenger Katie Doebler said
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