AskDefine | Define stewardess

Dictionary Definition

stewardess n : a woman steward on an airplane [syn: air hostess, hostess]

User Contributed Dictionary



stewardess, plural stewardesses
  1. A female steward
  2. A female flight attendant


female flight attendant

Extensive Definition

In aviation, flight attendants — also known as cabin crew, stewards, air hosts/hostesses, or stewardesses, — are members of a cabin crew employed by airlines to ensure the safety and comfort of the passengers aboard commercial flights as well as on select business jet aircraft.


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 U.S 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 pursor, 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 so 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, insofar 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.

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 & 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 lifevests, 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 fueling 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 do a "Crosscheck" 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. On long haul flights water is offered every 20-30 minutes to maintain proper hydration, important for extended periods in the dry atmosphere of the cabin at high altitudes. They must respond immediately to call lights dealing with special requests and smaller emergencies including a wide variety of inflight emergencies that do happen from time to time and special requests. 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 deplane. Assisting any special needs passengers and small children off the airplane, escorting the children and 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 inflight medical situations, smoke in the cabin, fires, depressurization, onboard 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 evacuation with 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.

Passenger Care Responsibilities

The main and always primary duty of a Flight Attendant is for safety but they do also provide a caregiving and customer service role on board commercial flights. Customer service duties include the preparation and serving or selling of onboard 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.


The Purser, the lead Flight Attendant are on board larger aircraft with multiple Flight Attendants on board. They oversee the safety and service duties of the Flight Attendants inflight. They report when the cabin is secure for takeoff and landing, 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. An Assistant Purser may also be on board the largest aircraft types. Pursers are Flight Attendants or a related job with an airline for several years typically prior to application for & further training to become a Purser, and typically earn a higher salary than Flight Attendants with 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, U.S. 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 fire fighting, survival in the jungle, sea, desert, ice, first aid, CPR, defibrillation, ditching/emergency landing procedures, decompression emergencies, crew resource management and security.


Multilingual flight attendants are often in demand to accommodate international travelers. The languages most in demand, other than English, are Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese,Hindi, French, German, Spanish, Portuguese, Filipino and Italian.

Height and weight

Some airlines, such as EVA Air, have height requirements for purely aesthetic purposes. Horizon Air and other regional carriers have height restrictions because their aircraft have low ceilings. A typical acceptable range is from 5'2" (1.57 m) to 6'0" (1.83 m).
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.


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 realize 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.

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.


Flight attendant unions were formed, beginning at United Airlines in the 1940s, to negotiate improvements in pay, benefits and working conditions. Those unions would later challenge what they perceived as sexist stereotypes and unfair work practices such as age limits, size limits, limitations on marriage, and prohibition of pregnancy. Many of these limitations have been lifted by judicial mandates. The largest flight attendants union is the Association of Flight Attendants, representing over 50,000 flight attendants at 22 airlines within the US.
In the UK, cabin crew can be represented by either Cabin Crew '89, or the much larger and more powerful Transport and General Workers' Union.
In Australia, flight attendants are represented by the Flight Attendants' Association of Australia (FAAA). There are two divisions: one for international crews (Long Haul) and one for domestic crews (Short Haul).


Airline managers commonly subjected flight attendants to various forms of discrimination from the early days of the profession until the 1990s. Flight attendants at United States-based airlines, and others as well, were forced to resign or were fired if they got married, if they were overweight, wore eyeglasses, if they turned 30 years of age (or 32 at some airlines). These discriminatory policies came under attack in the U.S. after passage of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Flight attendant unions like the Association of Flight Attendants used Title VII, in the courts and at the bargaining table, to bring an end to such practices and recognize the professionalism of the flight attendant career. The no-marriage rule was eliminated throughout the U.S. airline industry by the 1980s. The last such broad categorical discrimination, the weight restrictions were eliminated in the 1990s through litigation and negotiations. By the end of the 1970s, the term stewardess had generally been replaced by the gender-neutral, and more wordy, alternative flight attendant. More recently the term cabin crew or cabin staff has begun to replace 'flight attendants,' in some parts of the world because of the term's recognition of their role as members of the crew. This, does not, however, suitably replace the older terms, being a collective noun rather than a singular one.

September 11, 2001

The role of flight attendants received heightened prominence after the September 11, 2001 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 terror attacks of September 11, 2001, many flight attendants at major airlines were laid off on account of decreased passenger loads. Notable examples of cabin crew actions include:
  • Scandinavian Airlines Flight 751, when cabin crew recognized an emergency landing was imminent and commanded the passengers to "bend down...hold your knees" to adopt the brace position.
  • Atlantic Southeast Airlines Flight 529, whose sole flight attendant, Robin Fech, provided emergency briefings, brace and evacuation commands to the passengers when the Embraer EMB 120 Brasilia aircraft sustained serious damage to one of its engines and crash landed. The NTSB accident report commended "the exemplary manner in which the flight attendant briefed the passengers and handled the emergency".
  • BOAC Flight 712, where a flight attendant died saving passengers from an onboard fire and was posthumously awarded the George Cross.
  • British Airways Flight 5390, in which a flight attendant was able to prevent a pilot from being lost through a cockpit window that had failed.
  • Southern Airways Flight 242, on which the cabin crew provided safety briefings to their passengers, and on their own initiative, warned passengers of the impending crash by commanding passengers to adopt the brace position. At least one flight attendant is known to have assisted in rescuing trapped passengers.
  • Air Florida Flight 90, in which the lone surviving flight attendant passed the only lifevest she could find to another passenger. She is recognized in the NTSB report for this "unselfish act."
  • TWA flight attendant Uli Derickson who protected passengers during the TWA Flight 847 hijacking by assisting with negotiation efforts.
  • TWA Flight 843, when a TWA Lockheed L-1011 aircraft crashed after an aborted takeoff in 1992. The aircraft was destroyed by fire. Nine flight attendants, along with five off-duty flight attendants, evacuated all 292 persons on board without loss of life. The NTSB in their after accident reported noted, "The performance of the flight attendants during the emergency was exceptional and probably contributed to the success of the emergency evacuation."
  • On British Airways Flight 2069, cabin crew stopped the plane from being crashed by a mentally ill passenger.
  • Crew on American Airlines Flight 63 prevented shoe bomber Richard Colvin Reid from blowing up the plane.
  • Flight attendants on Qantas Flight 1737 prevented their plane from being hijacked by a passenger with mental health issues. Two of them were taken to hospital with stab wounds.
  • Aloha Airlines Flight 243 suffered a decompression which tore an 18-foot section of fuselage away from the plane. Despite her injuries, flight attendant Michelle Honda crawled up and down the aisle reassuring passengers.
  • Senior Purser Neerja Bhanot saved the lives of passengers and crew when Pan Am Flight 73 was hijacked. She was killed while protecting children from the terrorists. After her death she received the Special Courage Award from the United States Department of Justice.
  • Flight Attendants on Air Canada Flight 797 (Sergio Benetti, Judi Davidson, Laura Kayama) used procedures which were not specifically taught in training such as instructing passengers to open over wing window exits to allow passengers to evacuate quicker, moving passengers to the front of the aircraft to move them away from the fire and smoke, and passing out towels for passengers to cover their nose and mouths with while the cabin was filling with smoke.

Notable flight attendants

Flight attendants in pop-culture portrayals

stewardess in Danish: Stewardesse
stewardess in German: Flugbegleiter
stewardess in Spanish: Azafata
stewardess in French: Hôtesse de l'air
stewardess in Hebrew: דייל אוויר
stewardess in Hungarian: Utaskísérő
stewardess in Indonesian: Pramugari
stewardess in Italian: Assistente di volo
stewardess in Japanese: 客室乗務員
stewardess in Polish: Stewardesa
stewardess in Portuguese: Comissário de bordo
stewardess in Russian: Стюард
stewardess in Vietnamese: Tiếp viên hàng không
stewardess in Yiddish: עירליין מאנשאפט
stewardess in Chinese: 空中乘务员

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

Ganymede, Hebe, aerial photographer, aircrew, aircrewman, airline hostess, airline stewardess, attendant, avigator, bakehead, batman, bellboy, bellhop, bellman, belly gunner, black gang, boilerman, bombardier, bootblack, boots, bungs, cabin boy, caddie, chips, chore boy, commissary steward, complement, copyboy, crew, crew chief, cupbearer, deckhand, deckie, errand boy, errand girl, fireman, flight attendant, flight crew, footboy, gofer, gun loader, gunner, hand, hospital steward, hostess, landing signalman, machine gunner, mail orderly, meteorologist, navigator, office boy, office girl, oiler, orderly, page, purser, radio operator, roustabout, snip, snips, sparks, squire, steward, stoker, tender, torpedoman, trainbearer, usher, watch, yeoman
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