A Nostalgic Look at Life as a Stewardess
-"You've come a long way, baby!"
As a 73 year-old woman, I’ve experienced a lot of "frequent flyer miles" in life.
This Women's History Month essay addresses my flight attendant experiences in the 1960s.
Once upon a time…
In 1956 my family relocated and flew to Seattle, Washington. We flew on a DC-6 propeller aircraft and at 10 years old, I met the stewardess on the flight and was enamored with the job.
Also in 1957, I saw the movie “Julie” starring Doris Day. Her role was flight ‘hostess’ and she ended up flying the plane to a safe landing. I loved Doris Day as well as flying.
I graduated from high school in 1962. My aspiration was to be a flight attendant and then a journalist.
Requirements--The nuts and bolts
In January of 1964, while studying journalism at San Diego State, I celebrated United’s required 20th birthday. United didn’t have a hub in San Diego but they provided interviews locally for the basic requirements; weight, height, academics, no glasses, no physical restrictions, no marriages, no children.
Additional requirements for airline school included two years of college, above-average grade point average, involvement in clubs and school activities, outgoing personality and “I love to travel and love people attitude.” Also required was enough cash for two month’s rent after graduation assignments to domiciles.
I boarded a plane to Chicago O’Hare airport and then shuttled to United’s training center. Six weeks later, trainees were tested on topics including emergency exits, all aircraft configurations to teabag placement and liqueur service. Training included simulations through fire, crash and other emergency scenarios.
We were trained to serve full meals and free cocktail service for 250 passengers in 1-2 hours. We ran trays out and back. We also distributed pillows, blankets, magazines, newspapers, hot wet towels, cigarettes, playing cards, pilot wings for children. Choices of chicken or fish offered in Coach, lobster or filet in First Class.
Grooming included modeling instructions for walking, sitting and stair climbing, makeup and haircuts (collar length.) We received tailored winter and summer airline uniforms, skirts (no slacks), jackets, hats, blouses, gloves, coats, purses, luggage, inflight aprons, inflight low heeled shoes, Heels were required for walking through airline terminals and boarding and deplaning. Only small earrings and a watch for jewelry. The “sugar scoop” hat had to be worn at all times. Even during the inflight meal services with your inflight smock/apron. The hat was recognizable as a person of authority during an emergency. White gloves were required worn in all airports.
The 1960’s provided a wonderful time for air travel. Passengers dressed wearing dresses or suits. There was time to complete the cabin service and visit with the passengers.
Downsides and details...
Downsides included the weight restriction rules, the requirement to be single, the lesser gender treatment regarding layover hotels with flight attendants two to a room. Many times you met the flight attendants for the first time that day.
While overnight hotels were paid for by the airlines, male crew members, typically the pilot, first officer or engineer stayed in their own hotel, each in separate room.
Regardless of how thin or how fit, the rules included wearing a girdle to hold up your nylons. The reason given explained that your backside shouldn’t jiggle as you wiggled up and down the aisles passing out trays, checking seat belts etc. As many of us experienced, elevation on an airplane causes swelling and the girdles were uncomfortable. Many stewardesses preferred to hold their nylons up by other means. Remember, this was pre-pantyhose. This prompted United’s female supervisors in various airports to do a ‘restroom check’ to see if you were wearing a girdle.
Weight checks were required frequently. If your weight exceeded the allowable range for your height, you were put on weight check and suspended until you were back at your recommended weight.
Flight attendants were highly regarded as the ideal career woman. Simultaneously they established a large and powerful flight attendant union. There were no male flight attendants or African American flight attendants.
Title VII. The Civil Right Act of 1964
“1964 was mostly concerned with addressing racial discrimination, but Title VII of the Act, which concerned employment, also forbade discrimination in the workplace on the basis of sex. For flight attendants, Title VII meant new leverage in challenging airline age and marriage rules in labor relations and in the courts...they eventually forced airlines to drop age and marriage restrictions (20-32) entirely by the end of the1960s...maternity restrictions and strict weight monitoring (which, like age and marriage rules, had never applied to other airline employees) took a while longer.” http://femininityinflight.com/laborhistory.html
Stewardesses were directed illegally to give up their jobs after Title VII passed. This resulted in a 20 year Class action suit to be compensated for lost seniority, cash and/or their jobs. I was directed to give up my job for marriage and was a part of that class action suit. It was finally settled in 1988. Currently there are married women, African American women, moms and male flight attendants. The Friendly Skies are much friendlier these days!
BIO:Dixie Shaw, 73, blogger/writer of richlyaged.com. Graduated from University of Texas, summa cum laud, 1981. Marketing Director, Senior Vice President for 20+ years. Retired independent marketing consultant. Wife, mother of two and grandmother to five. Writer, tennis player, and newbie blogger.
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Image credit, plane: https://Pixabay.com/