Is it offensive to cabin crew?
Back in the 1950s, the airlines wanted to glamorize flying and what better way than to promote their cabin crew or as they were known then as ‘air hostess’ or ‘air stewardess.’ Of course, then it was very much a job for young attractive females and airlines expected extremely high standards of grooming and presentation. The lifestyle was seen as one of luxury traveling to various outposts around the world. The downside was that the air hostess had to leave their careers once they married or had children. They could lose their job if they put on weight and had to retire around the age of 30. It was only considered a job for models and beauty queens and was for the glamorous and sophisticated.
1960s and sexuality
In 1965, out of 14,000 flight attendants in the US, only around 50 were African-American, showing a strong bias for white women. In the 60s the image of the air hostess was changing, and they had to be fresh and sexy. This was a period where the uniform consisted of short mini skirts and hot pants and reflected the fashion of the time. It was not unusual to see advertisements for the airlines that were blatantly sexual with phrases such as ‘Coffee, tea or me?’ or ‘I’m Cheryl. Fly me.’ Air hostesses were marketed as young, single and available and often promiscuous.
1970s and discrimination
In the 1970s, waves of change were evident with women’s rights, civil rights and cases of discrimination being taken to court. It became illegal for the airlines to discriminate against staff on the basis of gender, race, age or marital status and male crew started to enter the profession. The term air hostess was phased out in the United States and was replaced with flight attendant to reflect a non-gender-specific role.
1980s – 1990s
Air travel was becoming more popular and more families were starting to travel due to more airlines setting up and lower fares and the wealthy businessman could no longer be exclusively marketed to. In the 1980s and 1990s, more males were becoming flight attendants than ever before allowing for more equality although at the time it was estimated only an average of 20% were male. In the late 1990s rules for a flight attendants weight were finally phased out although in the UK, female flight attendants still had to retire early by the age of 55. During this time flight attendants became ‘cabin crew’ in the UK and some parts of Europe respecting that the role had changed, and recognizing that the role was not entirely service-based. In 1990, the then US President Bush announced there would be a Flight Attendant Safety Professionals Day on July 19th, to appreciate the work of flight attendants and their contribution to the industry.
Flight attendant diversity has come a long way since the 1950s but there is still a long way to go.
There are still many restrictions in many countries regarding age and gender for flight attendants, especially in the Middle East, Africa and Asia where the traditional young attractive woman’s role is still favored. It is only recently that female cabin crew have been allowed to wear trousers exclusively at some airlines as most prioritize skirts as the main uniform. Virgin Atlantic has started to allow crew with visible tattoos (a long-term no-no from the airlines) as long as they are not on the neck, face or head or are abusive in any way. Some airlines also allow for all crew to be allowed to wear make up and nail varnish as our perception of personal image changes.
In general, the titles of flight attendant and cabin crew are used respectively across the world, although the safety side of the role is still very misjudged by the public. Cabin crew and flight attendants are safety professionals and being called an air hostess, stewardess, or trolley dolly just undermines our work and takes us back to the 60s and 70s flippant attitude to the job and where sexual harassment was common. That’s why some crew in our industry take offense to it – the airline industry has progressed (albeit slowly) but unfortunately in some ways, things have just stayed the same.
Ryanair rapped over sexy crew ads in 2012
Budget airline Ryanair has been rapped by a watchdog for a “sexist” advertising campaign which “objectified” women.
The promotion, which showed a scantily-clad model in lingerie, sparked a string of complaints with one flight attendant claiming it portrayed cabin crew as glamour models.
The adverts, which ran with the strapline “Red Hot Fares & Crew”, have now been banned after thousands of people backed calls for the promotion to be axed.
A string of 17 complainants also lodged grievances with the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) which concluded the campaign was likely to cause “widespread offence”.
It said one image, entitled “Ornella February”, which showed a model pulling down the top of her pants with a thumb, was particularly “sexually suggestive”.
Ryanair, no stranger to controversy, said the promotion featured shots taken from its 2012 cabin crew charity calendar. It claimed the pictures were not sexist because members of staff had volunteered to produce the images, the watchdog said.
But the ASA disagreed and ruled the adverts could not appear again. It said: “We also considered that most readers would interpret these images, in conjunction with the text ‘Red hot fares & crew’ and the names of the women, as linking female cabin crew with sexually suggestive behaviour.
“Although we acknowledged that the women in the ads had consented to appear in the calendar, we considered that the ads were likely to cause widespread offence when displayed in a national newspaper.”
The promotion caused a furore when it was launched last year and more than 5,000 people lent their support to an online campaign, led by a flight attendant called Ghada.
At the time she said: “I’m a member of cabin crew. I love my job and take it seriously, so I was disgusted to see this Ryanair ad which basically portrays cabin crew as glamour models. My work colleagues, many of whom are male, work hard with me to ensure the safety of our passengers.”