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The Jet Sex

Airline Stewardesses

Victoria Vantoch

First air hostesses early 1930's were registered nurses and were desperate to fly - many of them had pilot's licences but had no chance of flying passenger planes. Plus they were cheaper than men, and were less likely to unionize.

Boeing hired first ones to work the San Francisco to Chicago route - had to be no more than 5'4" tall (because of planes' low ceilings), weigh less than 118 lbs, and be unmarried. Flight took at least 20 hours and had 13 stops. One stewardess flew from SF to Cheyenne, then another took the leg to Chicago. Aircraft unpressurised so unable to fly over storms - so air sickness common.

Unique appeal of job - 1950 few young unmarried women lived away from parents' house, especially if from small town. Hostessing gave chance to see the world. So in 1951 United Airlines got over 20,000 applications for 347 jobs.

United had 'men-only' flights in 50's where men could "enjoy cigars, poker, steak and 'party jokes'." The only women aboard were stewardesses to light the mens' cigars and bring them a comfortable pair of knitted slippers. A female exec was refused a ticket, and sued, but the airline loved the publicity and did its best to keep the fight going.

Airlines openly advertised stewardesses job as being a finishing school for their future roles as wives and mothers. They were cultivating the feminine skills such as anticipating men's needs and serving them with a smile.

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