Sunday, March 11, 2007

A bit of flight attendant history

The Chicago Tribune has published an article about the history of flight attendants that is worth reading. Its title, Skies often were overly friendly, may give you a clue to what it's mostly about: Sexism.

Here's a sample:
In the 1960s and '70s, flight attendants unions used the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to initiate some of the most significant shifts in the profession. For starters, union contracts of the era began replacing the term "stewardess" with its unisex substitute, "flight attendant," reflecting the fact that greater numbers of men were entering the field.

Through negotiation and litigation, the no-marriage rule, no-pregnancy requirement and age restrictions were struck down, and body-weight policies were liberalized.

In the 1960s and '70s, when airlines were competing to lure male business travelers, they sought to capitalize on the attractiveness and attentiveness of their flight attendants. National Airlines launched its sexually suggestive "Fly Me" ad campaign, and Braniff International Airways unveiled its "Air Strip" marketing ploy, which featured flight attendants peeling off layers of clothing in the aisle.

"The '80s and '90s saw the shift back to professionalism in public perception, and after 9/11, I think people recognize that the flight attendant's primary role is safety, not serving lunch," [author Johanna] Omelia says.

"I think the airlines downplayed our safety duties prior to 9/11 so people wouldn't focus on potential dangers," [AFA historian Georgia Painter] Nielsen says. "Heaven forbid that the public think flight attendants do more than serve you the best martini you ever had."
The article winds up with a timeline citing major events in the history of flight attendant profession.

Read it in the Chicago Tribune.