From Stewardess to Flight Attendant: 80 Years of Sophistication and Sexism

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According to Kathleen Berry’s Femininity in Flight: A History of Flight Attendants, more and more airlines added age clauses to contracts for flight attendants as the profession grew into a symbol of sophistication and glamour. Women were typically grounded between ages 32 and 35, while airlines that employed male flight attendants required they also be no older than 32-35—at the time of hire, that is. Berry specifically cites Northwest and TWA as examples. In 1956, flight attendants were grounded at age 32; and in 1957, the age was raised slightly, to 35. (Male flight attendants were allowed to fly until they reached their sixties.)

Other newsworthy events of the decade: TWA dropped its no-marriage rule in 1957, but other airlines largely continue to require that female flight attendants be single ladies. Seasonal uniforms rise in popularity. In the late 1950s, Aloha’s flight attendants debuted the concept of in-flight entertainment…with singing, hula dancing, and ukulele playing. Out of 300 women, 22-year-old Braniff hostess Muffett Webb wins the first Miss Skyway contest, a beauty pageant for flight attendants, in 1956.