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Random Thoughts

Cabin crew

Hudson Cooper
Posted 5/12/23

Recently a group of friends were stranded overnight when their scheduled flight was canceled. It had nothing to do with severe weather. Apparently, the problem was a glitch in the scheduling of an …

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Random Thoughts

Cabin crew


Recently a group of friends were stranded overnight when their scheduled flight was canceled. It had nothing to do with severe weather. Apparently, the problem was a glitch in the scheduling of an adequate number of the cabin crew. While the pilots and engineers operate mostly unseen in the cockpit, the cabin crew, now commonly known as flight attendants, service the passengers.

The profession of flight attendants has roots stemming from porters who tended to the needs of train passengers. Those porters, almost exclusively male, handled luggage, served food and tended to the safety of the train’s passengers.

When air travel “took off” in the 1920’s, airlines realized that they needed people to deal with the passengers. These first attendants, who were known as couriers, were mostly the sons of wealthy businessmen who had financed the airlines. However, when the stock market crashed, those couriers were the first to go as a cost-cutting measure. In their place, airlines relied on another type of employee that had to be on the plane anyway. They began having the copilots serve food and drink to the passengers. Since copilots were well versed in how planes fly, they also served as a calming influence to all the first-time passengers. 

In the early 1930’s, copilots stayed in the cockpit as male helpers, known as stewards, were hired. They handled luggage, served refreshments and dispensed cigars and cigarettes.

A woman named Ellen Church is credited with leading the charge to have women being part of the cabin crew. Although she was a licensed, experienced pilot, airline companies refused to consider hiring female pilots. Since she also was a licensed nurse, she pivoted and approached these companies to hire female nurses to serve as flight attendants. She argued that women could do anything men could do for the passengers. She also smartly mentioned the fear of flying many people had for the first time.

She sold them on the idea of hiring female nurses when she said, according to the New York Times, “Don’t you think that it would be good psychology to have women up in the air? How is a man going to say he is afraid to fly when a woman is working on the plane?”

The first company who agreed to hire female nurses was Boeing Air Transport which became United Airlines. So almost 93 years ago, on May 15,1930, Ellen Church and seven other women began their careers as the first flight attendants.

Heinrich Kubis has the distinction of being the first ever flight attendant in the world. He was a professional waiter having served in luxury hotels in Paris and London. In March of 1912, he began his career attending to needs of German passengers on the dirigible Schweben that flew out of Berlin. Three months later he survived when the Schweben crashed in Dusseldorf.

Years later Kubis served as the head waiter and manager of the cooks and entire waitstaff on the most famous deluxe dirigible. He also collected cigarette lighters from the boarding passengers saying, “We Germans don’t fool around with hydrogen.” Unfortunately, the dirigible company did. On May 6, 1937, his place of employment, the Hindenburg crashed and burned while attempting to dock in Lakehurst, New Jersey. Luckily for Kubis he was working near the exit to the gondola and escaped the flames after first helping some passengers.

Heinrich Kubis, by helping save some of the 35 survivors, displayed his brave act of humanity. Maybe that was what radio journalist, Herb Morrison, was alluding to when he saw the horrible disaster and uttered the well-known phrase, “Oh the humanity.”

Flight attendants do not have an easy job. Having to deal with the multiple personalities and requests of the passengers must be stressful. That is why I always express my humanity by thanking them for their efforts.

Hudson Cooper is a resident of Sullivan County, a writer, comedian and actor.


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