Airline Cabin Crew: History In The Making

For nearly 80 years, flight attendants have been playing a critical role in ensuring passenger comfort and safety on aircraft around the world. Hundreds of thousands of women and men crew aircraft representing a worldwide corps of flight attendants.

The First Cabin Crewmembers

Cabin boys or stewards reportedly served on some of the first passenger flights dating back to the 1910s and 1920s, but it wasn’t until 1930 when Ellen Church, a registered nurse, approached the management of United Airlines to propose using nurses to assist passengers. At that time, the experience of passengers flying commercial aircraft was one of discomfort. Miss Church believed that the care and comfort of nurse/stewardesses would help to assure passengers. United agreed and the first eight nurse/stewardesses were hired.

A Regulated Industry Empowers Flight Attendants

Over time, the airline industry has evolved to where jets have replaced turbo props and the title stewardess (or steward) became flight attendant. Government regulation of the industry strengthened the position of the cabin crewmember by mandating that at least one flight attendant be crewed for every 50 passenger seats. In a bid to set their standards higher, many airlines have chosen to have more flight attendants onboard aircraft then required.

Deregulation, Competition and a Changing Industry

Today, the industry has changed as deregulation and increased competition have put a lot of pressure on established airlines while allowing new ones to start up and thrive. Many of the long established airlines have shut down, merged, or scaled back their operations resulting in early retirements or mandatory layoffs of crewmembers.

As the industry has changed, new airlines with all new aircraft have taken flight, bringing new work opportunities for flight crew all around the world. Boeing and Airbus are two aircraft makers who produce some of the largest jets flown with Bombardier and Embraer as some of the developers of smaller, regional jets.

Pay Rates Are Still Low, But Niche Carriers Pay More

Pay for flight attendants who have ten or more years experience is between $25-35,000 annually. Regional carriers and some discount carriers pay the least while legacy carriers generally pay more, but those numbers have eroded considerably over time. Upstart carriers such as EOS Airlines

offer the highest pay rates as they cater to first class clientele only.

Overseas Opportunities

International opportunities present some of the best opportunities for flight attendants, at least as far as pay and a variety of flight destinations go. Some air carriers based in the Middle East, such as Emirates

, offer a good salary and tax-free work — especially appealing to young people who want to travel extensively and enjoy tax-free living.

In all, the role of the airline flight attendant remains appealing to thousands of people who regularly visit open houses and hiring sessions. The airlines are hiring, but please do take the time to learn which air carrier is right for you.

Photo Credit: Otaviano Chignolli; Leme, Sao Paulo, Brazil

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