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Into the archives: Exploring the weird and wonderful history of Cabin Crew

Ever wondered about how the cabin crew job came about? There were traditionally similar positions on passenger ships and trains, so it made sense that the job extended to the air as flying became an increasingly popular travel option.

In the UK cabin crew started with Imperial Airways in 1926, more commonly known as “cabin boys” or “stewards”. In the USA Stout Airways was the first airline to employ stewards. Then in 1929 Pan American Airways (more commonly known as Pam Am) were the first USA carrier to employ stewards to serve food.

During 1930 in the USA a 25 year old nurse called Ellen Church was employed as a stewardess or “air hostess”, a term still used to this day. Ellen proposed that all cabin crew should be registered nurses so they could take care of any passengers that may become ill during the flight. As this became a popular idea amongst airlines many other carriers followed suit. This in turn became an integral part of hiring crew within the airline industry.

The cabin crew role soon became very popular for women and there were very strict restrictions for applying to the role which included:

  • Must be petite
  • Weight 100 to 118 pounds
  • 5ft – 5ft 4 in height
  • Age: 20-26 years of age
  • Vision without glasses
  • Passing a strict physical examination four times every year

In 1966 crew were required to be unmarried and if they decided to wed they were fired!

Although it was perceived as a glamorous occupation for younger women (and still is) earlier cabin crew members were generally underpaid. However, during the 1960’s, 70’ and 80’s airline unions were introduced and played a big part in changing the old regulations coupled with the equal rights movement.

Since 1970 the policy of most major airlines has been to hire both men and women. In accordance with fairness and equal opportunity policies there are now far fewer restrictions on personal physical factors and health (within reason). However flying as crew is a very physically demanding job and crew do need to be reasonably fit and healthy.

Airlines have long recognised that cabin crew are an important cog in a big wheel and are exemplary ambassadors to the airline. Although there have been many changes, one thing that remains consistent both then and now is the ultimate priority of safety and security for everyone undertaking this important role.

About Hannah Vallance

Hannah is a Chartered Occupational Psychologist specialising in recruitment, selection and assessment. This means she designs and assesses at selection days just like the ones airlines use, which is pretty handy experience for Go Cabin Crew!

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