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Flight attendants or cabin crew (historically known as stewards, air hosts/hostesses, or stewardesses) are members of an aircrew employed by airlines to primarily to ensure the safety but also the comfort of passengers aboard commercial flights as well as on select business jet aircraft.
- 1 History
- 2 Overview
- 2.1 Safety responsibilities
- 2.2 Passenger care responsibilities
- 2.3 Cabin Service Director
- 2.4 Purser
- 3 Qualifications
- 3.1 Training
- 3.2 Language
- 3.3 Height and weight
- 4 Uniforms and presentation
- 5 In advertising
- 6 Roles in emergencies
The role of a flight attendant ultimately derives from that of similar positions on passenger ships or passenger trains, but it has more direct involvement with passengers because of the confined quarters and often shorter travel times on aircraft. Additionally, the job of a flight attendant revolves around safety to a much greater extent than those of similar staff on other forms of transportation. Flight attendants on board a flight collectively form a cabin crew, as distinguished from pilots and engineers in the cockpit.
The first flight attendant, a steward, was reportedly a man on the German Zeppelin LZ10 Schwaben in 1911.
Origins of the word “steward” in transportation are reflected in the term “steward” as used in maritime transport terminology. The term purser and chief steward are often used interchangeably describing personnel with similar duties among seafaring occupations. This lingual derivation results from the international British maritime tradition dating back to the 14th century and the civilian United States Merchant Marine which US aviation is somewhat modeled. Due to international conventions and agreements, in which all ships’ personnel who sail internationally are similarly documented by their respective countries, the U.S. Merchant Marine assigns such duties to the chief steward in the overall rank and command structure of which pursers are not positionally represented or rostered.
Imperial Airways of the United Kingdom had “cabin boys” or “stewards”; in the 1920s. In the USA, Stout Airways was the first to employ stewards in 1926, working on Ford Trimotor planes between Detroit and Grand Rapids, Michigan. Western Airlines (1928) and Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) (1929) were the first US carriers to employ stewards to serve food. Ten-passenger Fokker aircraft used in the Caribbean had stewards in the era of gambling trips to Havana, Cuba from Key West, Florida. Lead flight attendants would in many instances also perform the role of purser, steward, or chief steward in modern aviation terminology.
The first female flight attendant was a 25-year-old registered nurse named Ellen Church. Hired by United Airlines in 1930, she also first envisioned nurses on aircraft. Other airlines followed suit, hiring nurses to serve as “stewardesses” on most of their flights. The requirement to be a registered nurse was relaxed at the start of World War II, as many nurses enlisted into the armed forces.
The primary and overriding responsibility of flight attendants is passenger safety. They are often tasked with the secondary function of seeing to the care and comfort of the passengers, so far as this does not interfere with their safety responsibilities. They are often perceived by the flying public as waiting staff or servants because there is not a full understanding of the career, the majority of their regular and rare duties are safety related and are the priority above customer service.
The number of flight attendants follows from international safety regulations. For planes with up to 19 passenger seats, no flight attendant is needed. For larger planes one flight attendant per 50 passenger seats is needed.
2.1 Safety responsibilities:
The majority of a flight attendant’s duties are safety related. Prior to each flight, flight attendants attend a safety briefing with the pilots and purser. During this briefing they go over safety and emergency checklists, the locations and amounts of emergency equipment and other features specific to that aircraft type. Boarding particulars are verified, such as special needs passengers, small children travelling as unaccompanied minors or VIP’s. Weather conditions are discussed including anticipated turbulence. Prior to each flight a safety check is conducted to ensure all equipment such as life vests, flashlights and firefighting equipment are on board, in the right quantity, and in proper condition. Any unserviceable or missing items must be reported and rectified prior to takeoff. They must monitor the cabin for any unusual smells or situations and maintain certain precautions such as keeping doors disarmed or open during fuelling on the ground. They assist with the loading of carry-on baggage, checking for weight, size and dangerous goods. They then must do a safety demonstration or monitor passengers as they watch a safety video demonstrating the safety features of the aircraft. They then must “secure the cabin” ensuring tray tables are stowed, seats are in their upright positions, armrests down and carry ons stowed correctly and seatbelts fastened prior to takeoff.
Flight attendants must conduct cabin checks every 20-30 minutes, especially during night flights to check on the passengers, and listen for any unusual noises or situations. Checks must also be done on the lavatory to ensure the smoke detector hasn’t been deactivated, there are no issues with the equipment, nobody having trouble in there or smoking, and to restock supplies as needed. Regular cockpit checks must be done to ensure the pilot’s health and safety. They must respond immediately to call lights dealing with special requests and smaller emergencies including a wide variety of in-flight emergencies that do happen from time to time. During turbulence, crosschecks must be conducted and during severe turbulence all service equipment must also be stowed. Prior to landing all loose items, trays and garbage must be collected and secured along with service and galley equipment. All hot liquids must be disposed of. A final crosscheck must then be completed prior to landing. They must remain aware as the majority of mechanical emergencies occur during takeoff and landing. Upon landing, flight attendants must remain stationed at exits and monitor the airplane and cabin as passengers disembark the plane. They also assist any special needs passengers and small children off the airplane and escort children, while following the proper paperwork and ID process to escort them to the designated person picking them up.
Flight attendants are highly trained for a wide variety of emergencies and how to respond. More frequent situations may include a bleeding nose, illness, small injuries, intoxicated passengers, aggressive and anxiety stricken passengers. Emergency training includes rejected takeoffs, emergency landings, cardiac and in-flight medical situations, smoke in the cabin, fires, depressurisation, on-board births and deaths, dangerous goods and spills in the cabin as well as land and water landings including the preparation of passengers and the cabin, the emergency evacuation with evacuation slides or rafts and then the followup survival skills which include environments as open water, jungle, water, tropical and Arctic climates, along with a variety of emergency equipment.
Many regions mandate the presence of flight attendants on commercial aircraft, based on the passenger capacity of the aircraft and other factors. This mandate generally relates only to their function as safety technicians.
2.2 Passenger care responsibilities:
The main and always primary duty of a flight attendant is for safety but they do also provide a care giving and customer service role on board commercial flights. Customer service duties include the preparation and serving or selling of on-board food and beverage. Flight attendants also offer comfort items including blankets, pillows, hot towel service, handing out headsets, magazines, newspapers, amenity kits, games and on certain airlines hand out pyjamas and set up and make the lie flat beds. They also distribute customs forms on international flights and assist passengers with their proper completion prior to landing.
2.3 Cabin Service Director
The Cabin Service Director (CSD), Cabin Service Manager (CSM). The title associating with this crew member differs from airline to airline. These crew are mainly found on larger aircraft types and are in charge of the running of the cabin. They report when the cabin is secure for takeoff and landing, deliver on-board announcements, and any broken or missing emergency equipment items to the pilots after the preflight check. They generally operate the doors during routine flights as well as hold the manifest and account for all money and required paperwork and reports for each flight. 2-4 Senior Crew Members may also be on board the larger aircraft types. Cabin Service Directors are flight attendants that have been promoted through the ranks- Flight attendant → Senior crew member → Purser → Cabin Service Director. To reach this position the crew member must have had a mandatory amount of service years within the airline or airlines prior to changing airline. Further training is mandatory, and Cabin Service Directors typically earn a higher salary than flight attendants because of the added responsibility.
2.4 Purser / Chief Cabin:
The purser will, on board larger aircraft with multiple flight attendants, assist the CSD and have a similar role and responsibilities. 2-4 Senior Crew Members may also be on board the larger aircraft types. Pursers are flight attendants or a related job, typically with an airline for several years prior to application for, and further training to become a purser, and normally earn a higher salary than flight attendants because of the added responsibility.
Flight attendants are normally trained in the hub or headquarters city of an airline over a period that may run from six weeks to six months, depending on the country and airline. The main focus of training is safety. One flight attendant is required for every 50 passenger seats on board in the United States, but many airlines have chosen to increase that number. One of the most elaborate training facilities was Breech Academy which Trans World Airlines (TWA) opened in 1969 in Overland Park, Kansas. Other airlines were to also send their attendants to the school. However, during the fare wars the school’s viability declined and it closed around 1988.
Safety training includes, but is not limited to: emergency passenger evacuation management, use of evacuation slides/life rafts, in-flight firefighting, survival in the jungle, sea, desert, ice, first aid, CPR, defibrillation, ditching/emergency landing procedures, decompression emergencies, Crew Resource Management and security.
In the United Statesthe Federal Aviation Administration requires flight attendants on aircraft with 20 or more seats to hold a Certificate of Demonstrated Proficiency. This is not considered to be the equivalent of an airman certificate (license), although it is issued on the same card stock. It shows that a level of required training has been met. It is not limited to the airline at which the attendant is employed (although some initial documents showed where the holder was working), and is the attendant’s personal property. It does have two ratings, called Group I and II. Either or both of these may be earned depending upon the type of aircraft (propeller or turbofan) on which the holder has trained.
Multilingual flight attendants are often in demand to accommodate international travelers. The languages most in demand, other than English, are Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Hindi, Arabic, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Filipino, Indonesian and Italian. In theUnited States, airlines with international routes pay an additional stipend for language skills on top of flight pay, and some airlines hire specifically for certain language when launching international destinations.
3.3 Height and weight:
Most airlines have height requirements for safety reasons, making sure that all flight attendants can reach overhead safety equipment. Typically, the acceptable height for this is 160 to 185 cm (5 ft 3 in to 6 ft 1 in) tall. Some airlines, such as EVA Air, have height requirements for purely aesthetic purposes. Regional carriers using small aircraft with low ceilings can have height restrictions.
Flight attendants are also subject to weight requirements as well. Weight must usually be in proportion to height; persons outside the normal range may not be qualified to act as flight attendants.
4- Uniforms and presentation:
Malaysia Airlines regional cabin staff
The first stewardess uniforms were designed to be durable, practical, and inspire confidence in passengers. The first stewardesses for United Airlines wore green berets, green capes and nurse’s shoes. Other airlines, such as Eastern Air Lines, actually dressed stewardesses in nurses’ uniforms.
Perhaps reflecting the military aviation background of many commercial aviation pioneers, many early uniforms had a strongly military appearance; hats, jackets, and skirts showed simple straight lines and military details like epaulettes and brass buttons. Many uniforms had a summer and winter version, differentiated by colours and fabrics appropriate to the season: navy blue for winter, for example, khaki for summer. But as the role of women in the air grew, and airline companies began to realise the publicity value of their stewardesses, more feminine lines and colours began to appear in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Some airlines began to commission designs from high-end department stores and still others called in noted designers or even milliners to create distinctive and attractive apparel.
Flight attendants are generally expected to show a high level of personal grooming. Female attendants are expected to use appropriate cosmetics, and all attendants must have very high levels of personal hygiene.
Flight attendants must not have any tattoos visible when a uniform is worn. These requirements are designed to give the airlines a positive representation.
5- In Advertising:
In the 1960s and 1970s, many airlines began advertising the attractiveness and friendliness of their stewardesses. National Airlines began a “Fly Me”; campaign using attractive stewardesses with taglines such as “I’m Lorraine. Fly me to Orlando.” (A low budget 1973 film about three flight attendants, Fly Me, starring Lenore Kasdorf, was based on the ad campaign.) Braniff International Airways, presented a campaign known as the “Air Strip” with similarly attractive young stewardesses changing uniforms mid-flight. A policy of at least one airline required that only unmarried women could be flight attendants. Flight attendant Roz Hanby became a minor celebrity when she became the face of British Airways in their “Fly the Flag” advertising campaign over a 7 year period in the 1980s. Singapore Airlines is currently one of the few airlines still choosing to use the image of their stewardesses, known as Singapore Girls, in their advertising material. However, this is starting to be phased out, in favour of advertising which emphasises the modernity of their fleet.
6- Roles in Emergencies:
Actions of flight attendants in emergencies have long been cred in saving lives; in the United States, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and other aviation authorities view flight attendants as essential for safety, and are thus required on Part 121 aircraft operations. Studies, some done in light of British Air tours Flight 28M, have concluded that assertive cabin crew are essential for the rapid evacuation of airplanes.
Notable examples of cabin crew actions include:
September 11, 2001
The role of flight attendants received heightened prominence after the September 11 attacks when flight attendants (such as Sandra W. Bradshaw and CeeCee Lyles of United Airlines Flight 93, Robert Fangman of United Airlines Flight 175, Renee May of American Airlines Flight 77 and Betty Ong and Madeline Amy Sweeney of American Airlines Flight 11) actively attempted to protect passengers from assault, and also provided vital information to air traffic controllers on the hijackings.
In the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks, many flight attendants at major airlines were laid off because of decreased passenger loads.
All US based airlines sent their flight attendants back to training. This revolutionised training and focused more on physical protection in the events of emergencies. Flight attendants are now trained to be offensive during attacks, rather than obeying commands.