Have you ever dreamed of having a job that allowed you to take to the skies? For decades, a stereotype has existed that pilots are manly, predominantly white, and flight attendants or stewardesses are beautiful, seductive women.
In recent years, however, these patriarchal gender roles and elitist perceptions have been turned on their head, allowing individuals of diverse backgrounds and personalities to pursue both career paths.
Below, we will examine how the role of the cabin crew has been redefined during the twenty-first century. Specifically, we will see how the cockpit opened its doors to diverse pilots and how flight attendants’ qualifications and attire have shifted along with their responsibilities.
If all this talk of high-flying careers has inspired you, it may be time to create a flight attendant resume. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the flight attendant job outlook is extremely positive – opportunities are expected to increase 21 percent by 2031, a rate much higher than average!
Diversity in the Cockpit
It has been said that art imitates life. If that is true, this list of famous movie pilots proves that for decades, the pilot’s seat was dominated by white males. Stats from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics back this up – “At least 95% of the roughly 158,000 pilots employed in the United States are men.”
The nonprofit organization Sisters of the Skies further reports that “there are only 200 Black women pilots in the U.S., accounting for less than 1 percent of the profession.”
Racial and gender diversity has progressed slowly, but in 2022, ABC News reported that airlines are actively seeking more diverse pilots. The reason? Pandemic-era labor shortages are still affecting the aviation industry.
Programs like Delta’s Propel Pilot Career Path Program are helping lower-income and under-represented aviation students to handle the costs of flight training and fast-tracking them to the pilot’s seat.
“Stewardess” No More
On a recent Southwest Airlines flight, I was pleasantly surprised to find that at least half of the flight attendants were male or from minority groups.
This represents a shift that has been a long time in the making. For decades, flight attendants—formerly called stewardesses, a gender-noninclusive term—were portrayed as young, white women. The 1961 Flight Attendant Barbie is one example of this.
At times, flight attendants adhered to sexist regulations on age, marriage bans, pregnancy, and dress codes that baffle and amaze modern readers.
Sultry, objectified portrayals of flight attendants in film, television, and advertising influenced some passengers to act out in untoward ways, expecting to be able to take certain social liberties with these hardworking women.
The decades-long slow crawl to inclusivity among flight attendants was also accelerated by the pandemic. Passengers opposed to mask mandates and “contentious policies” meant to protect them from COVID-19 reacted violently at times to flight attendant instructions – and data shows that this bad behavior trend has not abated.
Sadly, some episodes have resulted in physical confrontations and/or the need to restrain an unruly passenger in order to protect others. Having a diverse attendant crew increases the likelihood that one or more of the flight attendants has the physical strength to subdue an assailant mid-flight. It may also serve as a deterrent to a would-be troublemaker.
This gender shift has led to other changes. Flight attendant uniforms are now gender-neutral on many airlines. Female flight attendants are no longer required to wear high-heeled shoes. Virgin Atlantic, for example, still offers a skirt and blazer option as well as a pants suit option, but employees may select the uniform they prefer. Others have done the same.
United and other airlines now include the employee’s preferred pronouns on their name tags or on optional pronoun badge pins. Grooming guidelines have also been adjusted, permitting anyone to wear tattoos, certain hairstyles, fingernail polish, or “natural” makeup styles.
Airlines have also made adjustments for religious attire. For example, in the past, women who wore hijabs had to “apply for a flight attendant job with a strictly Islamic airline.” Today, airlines allow or even provide options for hijabs that are built into the airline’s uniform choices.
Airlines are actively seeking new recruits. Now may be the ideal time to begin a career as a flight attendant or pilot – especially if you are from a background that has been traditionally underrepresented in the industry.
For about a century, pilots in the United States have predominantly been white males and flight attendants white females. Now, however, airlines are helping individuals from diverse social, economic, ethnic, and gender backgrounds to earn their wings through fast-track training initiatives.
The cabin crew culture has changed to match this shift. Mini skirts and high heels are a thing of the past – today, flight attendant uniforms and grooming standards are much more inclusive, making the skies more welcoming and even safer for passengers.