Yesterday, in 1930, marked the day Ellen Church made history when she became the world’s first airline stewardess to work a United Airlines flight from San Francisco to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Her first career was as a registered nurse but Church was so thrilled by the idea of air travel that she took flight lessons. The girl had moxie, and once she earned her wings she set her sights high by requesting a job as a pilot with Boeing Air Transport. While that request didn’t fly, she still wanted to, so she swiftly parlayed that rejection into a savvy idea. She offered up the suggestion to put nurses on flights to aid passengers’ fear of flying and it took off.
Those of us who’ve been flying the friendly skies for a while can probably recall the days when airline travel was glamorous, but it didn’t start out that way for Church and her colleagues. Back then stewardesses were more than just nurses in the sky. They also had to help pilots push planes into the hangar, load luggage on to the plane, fuel the aircraft and screw down seats. Then they had to work the flight. Physically, these women had to be attractive and less than 25 years old, weigh less than 115 pounds and stand no more than 5 feet and 4 inches tall.
Over the years registered nurses transitioned to an era of sexy stewardesses, and later to the equal opportunity title of flight attendants. The cost of airline travel over the last few decades has made it more affordable for folks to fly, it’s has also changed the quality of passengers. As the size of planes has increased and more people travel, the role of the flight attendant has changed. The glamour of air travel is gone, tickets are loaded with surcharges, and travelers can be unruly. Flight attendants have more than their hostessing hands full these days—they’re underpaid and stressed out, their benefits have decreased, and heightened security adds another layer of responsibility to the job.
Like flying, we often take flight attendants for granted. Ellen Church changed the lives of women when she turned her passion for flight into a career. It seems only right to honor her this week, and the men and women who follow in her footsteps to help get us safely from point of departure to our destination.
Whether it’s for business or pleasure, the next time you fly, take a minute to look up and acknowledge the attendants who work your flight. Be kind. Smile. Thank them for their service. The job may seem like no big thing, but anyone who works in the customer service industry knows that’s not the case.
A little gratitude goes a long way.