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.
Heinrich Kubis was the world's first flight attendant, in 1912.
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.
Imperial Airways of the United Kingdom had "cabin boys" or "stewards"; in the 1920s. In the US, Stout Airways was the first to employ stewards in 1926, working on Ford Trimotor planes between Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Western Airlines (1928) and Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) (1929) were the first US carriers to employ stewards to serve food. Ten-passenger Fokker aircraft used in the Caribbean had stewards in the era of gambling trips to Havana, Cuba from Key West, Florida. Lead flight attendants would in many instances also perform the role of purser, steward, or chief steward in modern aviation terminology.
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.
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.
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 it disappeared almost entirely during World War II as many nurses enlisted in the armed forces.
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 the 1970s.
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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. 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, water landings, and sea, jungle, arctic, and desert survival skills.
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:
Some Airbus aircraft also add a fourth color (green) to indicate a cabin interphone call from another flight attendant station, distinguishing it from the pink or red light used for cabin interphone calls from the cockpit.
The Chief Purser (CP), also titled as Inflight Service Manager (ISM), Flight Service Manager (FSM), Cabin 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.
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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. 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.
Safety training includes, but is not limited to: 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.
In the United States the Federal Aviation Administration requires flight attendants on aircraft with 20 or more seats to hold a Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency. This is not considered to be the equivalent of an airman certificate (licence), 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 airline at which the attendant is employed (although some initial documents showed where the holder was working), and is the attendant's personal property. It does have two ratings, called Group I and II. Either or both of these may be earned depending upon the type of aircraft (propeller or turbofan) 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).
Multilingual flight attendants are often in demand to accommodate international travellers. The languages most in demand, other than English, are French, Spanish, Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Arabic, Slovak, German, Portuguese, Italian, Turkish and Greek. In the United States, airlines with international routes pay an additional stipend for language skills on top of flight pay, and some airlines hire specifically for certain languages when launching international destinations.
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.
Flight attendants are also subject to weight requirements as well. Weight must usually be in proportion to height; persons outside the normal range may not be qualified to act as flight attendants.
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.
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 featuring the traditional dress and fabrics of their respective country in their female flight attendants' uniform. It was meant as marketing strategy to showcase their national culture as well as to convey the 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 also wear batik prints in their uniform.
Flight attendants must not have any tattoos visible when a uniform is worn. These requirements are designed to give the airlines a positive presentation.
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. 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 attendant, 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 sexist stereotypes 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.
The Association of Professional Flight Attendants represents the flight attendant of American Airlines, the world’s largest carrier. APFA is the largest independent flight attendant union in the world.
In the UK, cabin crew can be represented by either Cabin Crew '89, or the much larger and more powerful Transport and General Workers' Union.
In Australia, flight attendants are represented by the Flight Attendants' Association of Australia (FAAA). There are two divisions: one for international crews (long-haul) and one for domestic crews (short-haul).
In New Zealand, flight attendants can be represented by either the Flight Attendants and Related Services Association (FARSA) or by the Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU).
In Canada, flight attendants are represented by either the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) or by the Canadian Flight Attendants Union (CFAU).
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. The age restriction was eliminated in 1970. The restriction of hiring only women was lifted at all airlines and men were able to be hired as flight attendants 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 eliminated 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.
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 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:
The role of flight attendants received heightened prominence after the September 11 attacks when flight attendants (such as Sandra W. Bradshaw and CeeCee Lyles of United Airlines Flight 93, Robert Fangman of United Airlines Flight 175, Renee May of American Airlines Flight 77 and Betty Ong and Madeline Amy Sweeney of American Airlines Flight 11) actively attempted to protect passengers from assault, and also provided vital information to air traffic controllers on the hijackings.
In the wake of these attacks, many flight attendants at major airlines were laid off because of decreased passenger loads.
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