A Short History Of The Flight Attendant
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.
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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.
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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.