Some of you may remember that storied time long ago when flying was fun. People actually bathed and changed out of their pajamas before heading to the airport. There was no need to arrive two hours prior to boarding. No long security lines to traverse. No explaining to an angry TSA agent that, no, you’re not a terrorist and that you didn’t mean to leave a half a cup of liquid in your water bottle. There was actual food served on actual plates with actual utensils by smiling stewardesses.
Now that I’ve mentioned stewardesses, note that they don’t like to be called that anymore. They are flight attendants. Which is fine, especially since today many of them are men, but back in the early days of commercial flying no males could apply. United Airlines “invented” the stewardess in the 1930s, and in 1967 the airline bragged that they’d trained over “15,000 smiling reasons to fly the friendly skies…Everyone gets warmth, friendliness and extra care. And someone may get a wife.”
Stewardesses were incased in cute little outfits and held to exacting standards of beauty. Weight between 100-118 pounds. No shorter than five-feet tall, but no taller than five-foot-four. Between 20 and 26 years old. She had to be unmarried with no children. She had to be attractive with no visible blemishes. Her hair had to be her natural color—one wonders if there was some kind of test— which had to be neatly styled and worn no longer than shoulder length.
And, of course, she had to have a pleasant personality.
Considering the qualifications, it appears the primary purpose of a stewardess was to be a eye candy and a glorified waitress quite suitable for marriage, hence the reason the average “career” only lasted 18 months.
Last year, a lovely young woman came to stay with us. While she was here she became a flight attendant with United Airlines, so I had a professional sounding board the day I returned home from a trip seething about the way I was treated on a flight.
I had gone through rotator cuff surgery and had suffered a severely broken leg that had to be surgically repaired, both in the year-and-a-half prior to the day I walked onto the plane. The injuries required long periods of rehab. While I was doing well, there were still some restrictions. Like not lifting things. When I wheeled my bag to the back of the plane, I saw two flight attendants standing in the galley.
“Excuse me.” I smiled. “Could you help me put my bag in the overhead bin?”
One of them crossed her arms over her chest and yelled out, “If you can’t handle your own luggage you should have stowed it under the plane!” The other one just stood and stared at me.
I almost gasped. It’s hard for me to ask for help with physical things, as I spent much of my life working around men, where one didn’t want to show weakness, lest they be sized up for the next meal. Luckily, a male passenger appeared and quickly took care of the problem, still I was smoking mad.
When I explained what happened to my house guest, she calmly explained that I had the job of a flight attendant all wrong. “They’re not there to serve you,” she explained. “They’re on board to help you in case of an emergency.”
I squinted. “Then what’s with the outfits?” She looked at me quizzically, forgetting that she had recently complained about having to wear a skirt and pumps to work. “So, flight attendants are going to save me from the burning wreckage of a downed aircraft in heels and an A-line skirt? Really?”
I could see her brain whirring.
Here’s the thing, if the airlines want us to believe that flight attendants are there to rescue us in a disaster, I want them dressed like friggin’ Navy Seals, don’t you?
And a return to the pleasant personalities might be nice, too.
Anne Montgomery’s novels can be found wherever books are sold.
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