flight attendant history

Flight Attendant History – Ellen Church and the Original “Eight”


I was wondering when airlines first began using flight attendants. Who was the first flight attendant and what airline did she fly for? Thanks.


United Airlines was the first commercial airline to hire a female “stewardess” in 1930. Ellen Church, who was a registered nurse, was the first person to recommend that women could work as stewardesses. Specifically, she thought it would be appropriate to have nurses onboard a flight, since they could care for ill passengers. She pitched the idea to United Airlines which decided to experiment with the idea.

In May of 1930, 25-year-old Church worked a flight from Oakland to Chicago as the world’s first stewardess. She and seven other single women comprised the “original eight” stewardesses. Their primary role was to provide comfort to the traveling public. Minimum qualifications were such that the applicants had to be single, registered nurses. Marriage, pregnancy, or weight gain meant instant job termination and most stewardesses were forced out of the profession by age 32 due to “old age.”

Ellen Church

Thanks largely to the Civil Rights Act of 1964, airlines can no longer discriminate on the basis of race, sex, age, or marital status. This legislation helped transform the job from a short-term endeavor – strictly for young, single women – to a long-term career option for virtually anyone.

In the 1970s and 1980s, there was a large influx of men into the industry, which created the need for a non-gender specific term to describe the position. Hence, the term “flight attendant” was born.

Today, there are over 100,000 flight attendants in the United States; 70% are female and 30% are male (this gender gap, however, is narrowing and it is not uncommon to see all male crews on certain flights). Although it was originally a job for young people, airlines are now accepting many older candidates for the flight attendant position. That, coupled with the fact that many career flight attendants are now working well into their later years, means that the flight attendant workforce is aging. According to The Population Research Bureau, half of all flight attendants are age 45 and older, and nearly 22 percent of them are 55 and older. Over 60% are married and one-third have a college degree (although only a high school diploma is required); common majors include Communications, Business, Spanish and Teaching. Pay averages around $20,000 for the first year, but senior international flight attendants at a major carrier can earn as much as $100,000 after 20 – 25 years. A recent study by The Bureau of Labor Statistics shows the median annual wage for all flight attendants is $48,500. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earn less than $26,570, and the highest 10 percent earn more than $78,650.The turnover rate is high (especially among new-hires), but job satisfaction is equally high among those who manage to survive the first year. Average seniority is 15 years.


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