Today’s flight attendant has evolved from and idea by Ellen Church, a trained nurse, who in 1930 persuaded Boeing Air Transport (later to become United Airlines) to hire eight nurses to act as the first stewardesses.
Some airlines had already started using “cabin boys”, who loaded luggage and assisted passengers. Church argued that women in general, and uniformed nurses in particular, would not only present a more comforting presence but would also be able to deal with any ailment which a passenger suffered in flight.
The trial was a success and stewardesses quickly became a fixture in aircraft cabins. The passengers appreciated having someone on duty to provide drinks, sandwiches, a whiff of smelling salts in the case of a faint and chewing gum to alleviate ear ache. They also checked in the passengers, kept watch for fuel leaks and loaded the luggage.
The specifications for the job were very strict; they had to be trained nurses, be under 5 feet 4 inches in height and weigh less than 118 pounds, be aged between 20 and 26 years and be single. A training manual of the times dictated that “A rigid military salute will be rendered to the captain and co-pilot as they go aboard the plane and deplane before the passengers. Check with the pilots regarding their personal baggage and place it on board promptly.”