Saturday, December 15, 2007

Bring on the Sexy Stews? Ya Baby? - Huh?

Some of you may have seen an article a few weeks ago about Ryan Air Flight Attendants putting out a calendar to raise money for charity. The flight attendants are all scantily clad in aircraft related pictures.

Here’s Ms. October, Joanna from Dublin ensuring that the 737 is nicely polished.

(As an aside, how long do you think it would take to clean a 737 with just a soapy sponge?)

Now, as much as I like having a clean plane, these pictures have sparked a bit of controversy about the role of flight attendants, and more generally, women in aviation.

Traditionally, jobs in aviation were gendered. The men were the pilots and the women were the flight attendants and that’s just how things were, cause that's they way they've always been, sonny! Initially, flight attendants were nurses put on aircraft to ease the public’s fear of flying. It’s unfortunate to note that Ellen Church RN, actually approached Boeing Air Transport to be a pilot, but they wouldn’t let her and instead she became the World’s First Flight Attendant. If nurses fly, flying must be safe, Right?

Whether this was a ploy by airlines or an honest belief that having nurses to care for passengers in the hostile world of flying can be debated.

The role of flight attendant continued to evolve, but not necessarily for the better. In the 1960s and 1970s, in the U.S. and most of the world, the airline industry was regulated. This meant that airlines were told which routes they could fly and what price they could charge. Therefore, on the busy route where there was ‘competition’, airlines had to charge the same price as each other and had to find different ways to distinguish themselves from their competitors. Suddenly, flight attendant uniforms became a lot more revealing. “Come fly with us, our flight attendants are sexier!”

Today, the uniforms have generally grown to reflect a more conservative professional image. In fact, here are the Ryan Air Calendar flight attendants in their work uniform.

Except possibly for Hooters Air. They’ve since ceased operating however, apparently their revenues were sagging.

Around the same time as deregulation, there began a slow change in the segregation of men and women in the business. Women were becoming pilots and men were becoming flight attendants. Airlines have realised the important role that flight attendants play in airline safety. Although they are responsible for front line customer service, their presence and professionalism has saved numerous lives in aircraft accidents, such as Air France flight 358 in Toronto where the crew got the passengers out of the plane in just a few brief minutes.

This recognition has not been without a struggle. Passengers can be extremely rude to crew members and often offer little respect. They are still sometimes simply looked upon as wait staff in the sky. So, is this calendar a step in the wrong direction? Will this discourage young girls from wanting to have a career in aviation? Will this slow the already too slow trend of more and more women becoming pilots? Or, is it just a silly calendar for charity?

I have mixed feelings about it. I’d like to think that I’m relatively progressive and open minded and some fun pictures for charity will not diminish the public’s perception of flight attendants and women in general. I’d like to think that there can be an appreciation of femininity without ignoring professionalism. Perhaps that’s wishful thinking?

Personally however, while I don’t think the Ryan Air Flight Attendants are unattractive, I find the following pictures far more appealing. It’s happening a little slower than I’d like, but I’m glad to see that more and more women are becoming pilots. More on that in a future post dealing with much more important issues than uniform styles.

1 comment:

Christine Negroni said...

I just love these photos of Lufthansa pilots.