Flight attendants are a part of the history for work equality

When the Lily Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed this week, there were echoes of women in the past who have worked for equitable pay and fair work practices. Flight attendants have a long history of pushing for such fairness.

One of the first flight attendants, one might say, was Katharine Wright a suffragette, and the Wright brother’s sister. She was the second woman to ever fly when she accompanied Wilbur on a flight in Pau, France to show that flying was safe for everyone. If it wasn’t for her, their success may not have been as great as it was. As women cast their eye upwards, they became part of the fabric of social and economic justice.

Here’s a timeline of flight attendants breaking the glass ceiling of the sky:

1945– First labor union of flight attendants in the U.S. was formed. The Air Line Stewardess Association (ALSA) worked for pay raises, duty limits and the right to see personal records among other things.

1957– Mohawk Airlines hired the first African American stewardess. Ruth Carol Taylor was the first African American stewardess, paving the way for others. TWA was the first major airlines to hire a black stewardess after Mohawk Airlines’ action.

1960s– Fought against airlines’ policies that flight attendants retire at age 30 to 35, but without success. Made some headway with the passing of Title VII, The Civil Rights Act. One part of the act forbade discrimination in the work place based n sex. By the late 60s, airlines dropped the age discrimination policy and the policy that said flight attendants couldn’t be married.

1972– A group of flight attendants formed Stewardesses for Women’s Rights and began to protest sexist treatment of stewardesses. Airline campaigns like “Fly Me,” (National’s) were seen as deeming and the sexy images of stewardesses being pushed to sell flying were seen as a way to keep women from being treated as equal to men and affected their ability to do their job effectively. What was their main job? Assure passenger safety.

1974 – Association of Flight Attendants formed in a separate union from Transport Workers Union which was male dominated. Union began to challenge airlines policies on maternity and weight restrictions.

Also in the 1970s, continued their long battle to be seen as recognition as safety professionals. There was a continued push for flight attendants to have some sort of certification program to prove their qualifications as having specialized skills.

2003– After September 11, 2001, proof that flight attendants were indeed safety professionals was evident. Congress mandated a licensing program for flight attendants.

So, now we know why Gadling’s own Heather Poole can save our lives, and have a child, and be married, and not have to worry about losing her job as she gets older–just because she’s getting older or gains a few pounds. Not too shabby.

[Facts found in Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants, page on “Flight Attendants & Labor History.”]