Association of Flight Attendants champions female employees

pan am flight attendant associationThe Association of Flight Attendants-CWA wants to point out that a lot has changed since the days of girdle and weight checks.

The world’s largest Flight Attendant union, recognized the season premiere of Pan Am as a reminder of the extraordinary accomplishments of Flight Attendants at the forefront of the jet age, but noted that despite the glamorization of these women in the television series, “it also highlighted the myriad of social injustices overcome by the strong women who shaped a new career. Weight checks, girdle checks, the no marriage rule, sexism, gender discrimination, racism – all of this was challenged by intelligent, visionary women who helped to usher in the call for social change throughout the country and around the world.”

We think they might be taking it a bit far by saying that Pan Am stewardesses ushered in a call for social change around the world, but the general gist of their statement seems correct – flight attendants and stewardesses have certainly evolved from the “coffee, tea, or me” age into today’s role of safety professionals certified by the FAA.

“The fictional, glamorized world of Hollywood‘s Pan Am is a far cry from today’s realities of air travel that ditches high fashion for ‘low cost,’ jam-packed airplanes and massive cuts to Flight Attendant staffing,” the association stated.

That’s for sure. After seeing the season premiere, we’re pretty sure we’d much rather have been a flight attendant in the “jet age” than in current times. Girdle checks and all.

[Flickr via The Convention Fans Blog]

Galley Gossip: A letter to the producers of Project Runway regarding flight attendant uniforms

Dear Project Runway Producers,

Have I got a challenge for you! With the premiere of the new television show Pan Am airing September 25th on ABC, there’s been a lot of talk about airlines in the news lately. One can’t help but compare stewardesses of yesterday to flight attendants today, and yet the job rarely resembles what it once was so many years ago. Long gone are the days of glamour when stewardesses had strict age, weight and height requirements, and only averaged 18 months on the job. Nowadays flight attendants are allowed to be married, grow old, and gain weight – just like the rest of society!

Image is important to an airline. This is why most airlines have established very strict grooming standards flight attendants must abide by. I’ve been told passengers have more confidence in an airline when its employees look good. That makes sense considering when I look good, I feel good, and that in turn has a positive affect on passengers. But in America we come in all different sizes, shapes, and colors, opposed to our foreign counterparts who are hired because they are a specific size, shape and color. This is why it’s more difficult for US carriers to design a uniform that looks good on everyone.

Since 9/11 airlines have had to reduce expenses to stay in business. I’ve been working as a flight attendant for sixteen years, so I’ve experienced first hand just how much travel has changed in the last decade. Food was the first thing to go, followed by magazines, pillows and blankets. Even a few colleagues and a couple of airlines disappeared. This might explain why our polyester uniforms are no longer quite as impressive as they once were when air travel was considered a luxury and only the wealthy could afford to fly. Needless to say our uniforms have to be cheap enough to outfit tens of thousands of employees.

What most people don’t realize is that flight attendants today work ten times harder than ever before. A 12-14 hour work day followed by an 8 hour layover is not uncommon. Nor is working three back to back trips in a row. This adds up to a lot of wear and tear on a uniform in a short period of time. That being said, durability should play a major factor in our uniform design. Comfort would also be nice. Remember being able to move, stretch, bend and work in a cabin that alternates between hot and cold is very important.

The pencil thin, girdle wearing stewardesses of yesterday have evolved. Even so we, too, would love nothing more than to walk through the airport terminal with the same pride they felt by wearing a distinguished uniform that is fashionable, but also age appropriate and practical to work in. Why not take on this challenge for those of us who work the not so friendly skies and design stylish coordinating uniform pieces that are affordable and comfortable and will look good on your daughter, son, wife, brother, mother or father. Not an easy task, I know. This could be your biggest challenge yet. Think you can do it? Millions of flight attendants would be forever grateful if you could at least give it a try.

Sincerely,

Heather Poole

Photo courtesy of JFithian

Galley Gossip: Age, weight and height requirements for flight attendants (and why Christina Ricci could never be a Pan Am stewardess)

“In this male-dominated world, in that famously openly chauvinistic culture, these women were really taking the reins and running their lives in a way most women didn’t,” Christina Ricci said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter about her upcoming television show, Pan Am, a night time soap opera revolving around the lives of flight attendants and pilots in the 1960’s. Think Mad Men at 30,000 feet.

Christina Ricci has been cast to play Maggie, a head stewardess. What’s funny about this is Ricci wouldn’t have been hired to be a stewardess back in the day. At five foot one, Christina is too short. Pan Am required its stewardesses to be at least five foot two and weigh no more than 130 pounds. They also couldn’t be married or have children. On top of that the mandatory retirement age for flight attendants was 32. So even if Ricci had managed to squeak by Pan Am’s minimum height requirement, she wouldn’t have flown for long. The actress, born in February, is already 31 years old. With Pan Am scheduled to air in September, Christina only has five months to travel the world before being forced to hang up the uniform and retire. That’s not enough time to establish oneself as a head stewardess for a major airline. At my airline it takes six months just to get off probation! But back in the 60’s stewardesses averaged eighteen months on the job. A year and a half. By those standards, Christina Ricci would already be three-quarters of the way through with her career. Sad, but true.

Thankfully a lot has changed since 1960…




HEIGHT: Today US airlines have height requirements for safety reasons only. Flight attendants must be tall enough to reach overhead safety equipment. Typically flight attendants range between five foot three to six foot one. There may be a lower height restriction at some regional airlines where the aircraft type operated has a maximum height allowance of 5’10”.

WEIGHT: In 1990 all US airlines dropped weight requirements for flight attendants. The only requirement today is that weight must be in proportion to height. If a flight attendant can not sit in the jump seat without an extended seat belt or fit through the emergency exit window, they can not fly.

AGE: Most airlines have a minimum age requirement, usually between 18 and 21 years old. There is no maximum age limit. As long as a flight attendant can pass their yearly recurrent training, and does not have any health or physical problems that would prevent them from flying, they can continue to work for as long as they like.

NOTE: Foreign carriers still follow strict height, weight, and age requirements.

Photo courtesy of ABC


Galley Gossip: Funny flight attendant book – Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase!

Ever since reading the book Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase: Hilarious Stories of Air Travel by the World’s Favorite Flight Attendant, written by Betty N. Thesky with Janet Spencer, I’ve been tempted to do a spin in the middle of the aisle as soon as I’ve finished serving my three rows to alert the flight attendant working on the other side of the cart that I’m ready to move. Normally we’ll patiently wait for our partner to finish serving or we might fill a few cups with ice, restock the cart or offer to make a few drinks, but in Betty’s hilarious book two flight attendants add a touch of disco pizazz to the boring beverage service routine. One of these days I’m going to do it – the spin.

If you’re looking for a book full of funny stories about flight attendants, pilots, ground crew and even passengers this is it! Reading it is like going to dinner with your favorite crew on a fun-filled layover. The crazy stories just keep on coming! While the book is full of laughs, there’s a lot to learn, too. Throughout the book Betty answers common questions asked by passengers every day. For instance…

The reason you have to stow your carry-on items and put away your computers is to avoid the possibility of having them act like airborne missiles.

The reason you have to return your tray table to its upright and locked position is so you won’t impale yourself on it if the plane crashes

The reason you have to return your seat to its upright position is to make evacuation easier in event of a disaster, to minimize whiplash, and to prevent you from slipping under your seat belt in the event of a sudden stop.

By far my favorite thing about the book is all the interesting facts at the bottom of each page, and there are 139 pages!

10 FUN FACTS FROM BETTY’S BOOK…
1. Around 25% of first class passengers pay full fare. The rest are upgrades, frequent fliers and airline employees.

2. Airlines update the fares in their computers about 250,000 times daily.

3. 12 million free tickets are issued annually due to frequent flier miles.

4. Airplanes take off and land every 37 seconds at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport.

5. The first airplane toilets were simply a hole in the fuselage of the plane through which one could see the countryside passing below.

6. The Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro, Alabama, sells about 10 million items from lost luggage annually.

7. One of the biggest planes is the Boeing 747. If set upright it would rise as high as a 20 story building

8. Air travel is the second safest mode of transportation. Only the elevator / escalator is safer.

9. Tolerance for alcohol drops by about 30% when you’re at 30,000 feet, so a few drinks will go a long way.

10. The longest flight in the world is the nonstop flight from New York to Hong Kong which travels 8,439 miles over the North Pole in 15 hours and 40 minutes.

Betty N. Thesky is a flight attendant who works for a major airline and the host of the popular podcast Betty in the Sky with a Suitcase. You can read more about Betty on her website BettyInTheSky.com

British Airways offering a crash course to retrain pilots as flight attendants

Faced with another threat of a flight attendant strike, British Airways is preparing for the worst. The airline asked everyone within the company to voluntarily sign up for a 21 day training program to turn them into temporary flight attendants.

As of right now, only 216 volunteers signed up for the initiative, which falls quite a bit short of the 13,500 flight crew members that will walk out when a strike takes place. Five of the nine retraining courses are designed for pilots – which would turn them into the best paid cabin crew members in the world. The average BA pilot earns a just under $200,000 per year.

Of course, the union behind the flight attendants is not impressed, and they are quick to point out that the 21 day course is much shorter than the normal 3 month training a flight attendant receives, and could be a serious safety issue.

It makes sense for them to say this – as the public perception of the union and this strike is very negative. The same union almost shut down British Airways over the Christmas period last year, but a British court blocked their efforts at the last minute.

A union spokesperson said “Not only does this show contempt for the crew, what message does it send to passengers who have paid to be cared for by a premier airline?”. Personally, I’d rather have a cabin crew with just three weeks of training than be stuck at the airport for a week because a union was unable to reach an agreement on new pay cuts.

The British aviation authority, CAA, has approved the measures and will be monitoring the safety aspects of the training, to ensure that passengers are never at any kind of risk when they fly on a plane with the new temporary crew members.

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