Sunday, January 20, 2008

A Short History Of The Flight Attendant

Been doing a little research, and of course you know I'm going to pass the misery on to you, the reader. Here's everything you already knew you didn't want to know about the crazy history of flight attendants:

The first flight attendant happened in 1911, and back then he was a 'steward' aboard the German zeppelin Schwaben, a civilian transport. That zeppelin was destroyed a year later on an airfield in Düsseldorf. It was probably his fault.
Airlines in the US and UK began hiring stewards soon after that, but none of them were female until Ellen Church came along in 1930. She was a pilot and a registered nurse from Iowa, and originally wanted to fly planes. Boeing wasn't interested in a female jet jockey, but they did listen to her suggestion that a nurse would be a good thing to have on board, and so she became the first 'stewardess.' For a while, airlines only hired nurses as stewardesses, but when WWII broke out, they ditched the requirement so nurses would enlist. She died in 1965, and now if you land in Cresco, IA, you land at Ellen Church Field.


Steward uniforms started out military, because most things on a plane are based on maritime tradition. The first United Airlines uniforms, as seen above, included berets and capes. By the forties, however, airlines picked up on the fact that girls look hotter when you put them in girl clothes, and that male passengers liked hotter girls, and so they started having department stores design their uniforms. During this phase of the research, I discovered that there is such a thing as a 'milliner.' That's someone who makes hats, and the name stems from the word 'milaner,' meaning someone who sold stuff from Milan. You see, I told you you didn't want to know this stuff.


By the seventies, things were a little out of control. Professionally designed uniforms had given way to go-go boots, and airlines were subjecting their stewardesses to advertising campaigns like "Fly Me To Chicago." Braniff actually had a thing called the 'Air Strip,' and you can just about imagine what that entailed (if not, look up 'naked'). Even though unions had been formed in the forties to prevent just this sort of stuff, major airline policy frequently called for all stewardesses to be under 30, single, not pregnant, and not wear glasses. Not only did you have to get weighed in and tape-measured every time you went to work, it was your pilot who did the weighing and taping. In fact, it actually took part of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to get people to realize that stewardesses were there to haul your ass off a burning plane and not just look pretty. Still, it was the mid-eighties before stewardesses could be married.
Ironically, sometime during all that mess in the seventies, we became 'flight attendants.'
During our 97-year run, FAs have defeated hijackers, assisted in search and rescue, pulled pilots back through broken cockpit windows in flight, stopped bombers, and in some cases given their lives to protect passengers. And this one lady... Vesna Vulović, a Yugoslavian flight attendant, survived a 33,3oo foot fall after her plane was destroyed by a bomb. 33,300. Let's put that in perspective. Find a ten foot ladder, climb to the top of it, and then jump off and fall on your head. Now do that nine more times. Now do that ten times. Now do that thirty-three times. Amazingly, Vesna recovered enough to walk and talk, and now holds a Guinness record for highest fall without a parachute (and randomly, was given the award by Paul McCartney).
You know, as I look over that long and interesting history, I realize one thing: as an FA, it's going to be really hard to do something that stands out now. But then again, I think I'm quite comfortable standing in the shadow of that last one.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As long as it did not happen at noon!

7:16 AM  
Blogger AkuTyger said...

Flight attendants in skimpy clothes always make me think of "Almost Famous."

You are a major blog slacker. Worse than me because you back date your posts to make yourself not look like a slacker. I shake my finger at you!

1:30 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

People don't remember the here and now. They remember written history. In sixty years, you won't be able to prove I was a slacker. All you'll be able to do is get your grandkids to read you my perfectly chronologically contiguous blog, and they'll NEVER BELIEVE YOU MOO HA HA HAAAA!
Though I'm betting terminators wipe us all out way before then.

4:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

How is it that you posted what you will write 1 year from now? Now we know why you mentioned the Terminator, Mr. Time Traveller...

5:53 PM  
Blogger Phil said...

Yeah, I finally caught that I accidentally posted from 2009.
That's OK. I'll be back.

7:30 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wearing Gargoyles again, no doubt...

7:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Interestingly the only woman to ever win a George Cross (the highest non-military medal in the UK), who was not a spy, was an Airline Stewardess. She was Barbara Jane Harrison, and was a Stewardess on a BOAC (now British Airways) 707 out of Heathrow when it (literally) lost it's No. 2 engine. Her citation reads
"Miss Harrison was a stewardess in the aircraft and one of her duties in an emergency was to help the steward at the aft (rear) station in opening up the escape route for the passengers at the rear of the aircraft. When they landed, Miss Harrison and the steward opened the rear gallery door and inflated the chute which became twisted on the way down so that the steward had to climb down to straighten it before it could be used. Once out of the aircraft he was unable to return; hence Miss Harrison was left alone to help the passengers out of the aircraft. She encouraged some to jump from the machine and pushed out others. With flames and explosions all around her, escape from the tail of the plane became impossible and she directed her passengers to another exit while she remained at her post.

She was finally overcome while trying to save an elderly cripple who was seated in one of the last rows and whose body was found close to that of the Miss Harrison.

Miss Harrison displayed courage and duty far beyond what was expected".

So, yes, although we joke about FA's being just there to serve us drinks, sometimes, sometimes, they really dod save lives.

Thanks for letting us into your life Phil.


8:58 AM  

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