AD 1000 -- AD 2000

The First Eight Stewardesses -- Plane is a Boeing 80A
1930: Coffee, Tea, or Me!
Airline Stewardesses
Who's the most glamorous and helpful female stereotype of the modern world?

     Humankind leaves the ground, and yes, that's a big deal. That changed everything. That gets us into airports and the invention of Nowhere, which leads to layovers and the suspension of time, which leads to the Body Shop and USA Today and airport sports bars. But what about the invention of icons, of glamour: the genesis of helpfulness and perky little travel bags?

     I'm talking about airline stewardesses. of course.

     For a while, they existed. For a while, meals on planes were served on white china with cloth napkins. For a while, people dressed up to get on a plane. In our dreams, stewardesses were leggy and blonde, sometimes red-headed, in mini-skirt smocks and scarves. They deplaned after their satisfied passengers into sunshine and optimistic breezes, 10 or 12 steps down to a hot tarmac of possibilities. And if we can go ahead and fantasize, they shared hotel rooms by beaches, where they always had a free evening and a couple of swinging fellows who were on the same flight.

     I exaggerate. I objectify. I do what all men did over this terrifying epoch of groundedness: I Barbie-ize them, turn them into playthings. If I get to be too much here, a mask will drop from an overhead compartment. Exits are fore and aft, on either side.

     A story: When I was 8, I flew alone from Albuquerque to Dallas to Oklahoma City. A TWA stewardess with long blonde Farrah Fawcett-Majors hair fed me six doughnuts and pinned wings to my Garanimal shirt and I understood about stewardesses. When I deplaned down the rollaway stairs, my father gave me a Timex wristwatch, and I might have then been the most jet-set boy in the world, a secret agent man. The stewardess had winked at me twice!

     A history: Ellen Church, a farm-girl from Cresco, Iowa, dreamed of being a pilot, but became a nurse instead. One day in the spring of 1930, she walked into the San Francisco offices of Boeing Air Transport (later known as United Air Lines), and was promptly turned down for a co-pilot's job. She quickly suggested Plan B: a corps of flying nurse-assistants who would see to the comfort and safety of trans-continental passengers. Boeing tentatively agreed to an original eight-woman team, and off they went, outfitted in green wool uniforms. They had to be 5 feet 4 inches, no taller, and 115 pounds, no heavier. No one will say it, but prettiness was a factor. Most important, stamina: They punched tickets and loaded the luggage. They served boxed meals (cold fried chicken or egg salad sandwiches) and poured hot coffee. They carried wrenches at all times, to keep the seats secured to the floors. Fairly soon, businessmen flew Boeing exclusively. Ellen Church died in 1965, when there were thousands of stewardesses. The airfield in Cresco is named after her.

     An era: There's nothing about stereotypes that reality can't eventually demystify, the same way all those thousands of stewardesses deflected all those bachelor leers. Later they were updated and called flight attendants, with unions and rules and no guff whatsoever. In 1995 a man on a flight from Miami to New York became infamous for being the guy who got angry and drunk (or drunk and then angry) and defacated on the drink cart. A millenial editorial statement. It was the stewardess who put an end to that nonsense. Flight attendants everywhere under a new federal guideline, now have the power to kick us off the plane (when it lands), to reject our over-sized carry-ons. They are stern -- a new kind of turn on.

     They are soft, too. They still have the ability to comfort us, to save us, to give us extra peanuts. They get us all the way around the world. And stewardesses, like angels, get us across the skies.

     I know you're also thinking, yes, but what about male stewardesses? Well, they're just the cutest, too. Seat backs up now, tray tables in the locked position.

*NOTE: Further comments on Stewardesses:

Director of Personnel: Trans-Canada Airlines

     It was my job to recruit the first stewardesses for Trans-Canada Airlines. The company had very specific ideas about who would be right for the job. The requirements were: 1) To be between 21 and 25 years of age. 2) Height: 5' to 5'5. 3) Weight: between 100 and 125 pounds. Why ? The Lockheed Electras, our first airliners, were not very spacious. Furthermore, 4) The candidate had be a certified nurse. 5) Single. 6) not wear glasses. 7) And most important, must have a pleasant personality as well an excellent health. Here are stories from a couple of the people I hired:

Pat Ecclesion:

     My name is Pat Ecclesion. Lucille Garner and I, were both members of the first TCA Flight Attendants' Team. In 1938, when the news spread, all the nurses talked of the new jobs as air hostess at Trans-Canada. I had no intention of leaving my trade. But, at this time, $125 a month was a lot of money! $50 more than my nurse's wages even after five years of experience. Finally, I sent in my application because the girls had dared me to do so. I was the most surprised of all when I learned that I was accepted. Even though they say that stewardesses were like fancy waitresses, the service we offered the passengers was something else. For example: on the Vancouver-Seattle line, not only did we distribute cigarettes and chewing gum, but also good warm coffee. It wasn't easy to serve in the turbulence zone. You see, our airplanes didn't have the power to fly over the clouds and the storms; we were often shaken about. In '39, on the Vancouver-Lethbridge line we even handed out electric shavers because on that line, the flight took five hours. And today..., guess! One hour and fifty-five minutes. At times, it was no joke! Passengers were sometimes sick, nervous or unpleasant. One day, I fainted because I lacked oxygen: I had to remove my mask to convince a refractory passenger to wear his. Yes, we had to wear a mask at a certain altitude.

Vicky Campbell:

     My name is Vicky Campbell. I married one of our regular passengers on the Vancouver-Lethbridge line. He was a senior employee for Coca-Cola. It seems that in the 30's, it was the best way for a woman to find a good prospect. Let me explain: when the flight had forced stop-overs, I had the responsibility to entertain and to help the passengers through out the delay and to bring them back in time for the take-off when Mother Nature would finally let us go. Anyway, organizing card games and parties at piano-bars for the passengers got Philip and I know each other quite well. Six months after I left Trans-Canada to become his wife. It seems that I wasn't the only one. Most of the girls worked for only four months before finding their prince charming.

**NOTE: It was against company policy for almost all airlines for stewardesses to be married. They didn't leave by choice when they got married...they were unable to keep their jobs!