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Crewed Talk

Pageant in the Sky? Quit Judging Crews by Their Beauty Already

Pageant in the Sky? Quit Judging Crews by Their Beauty Already
Amanda Pleva

It’s been over 50 years since the “Coffee, Tea or Me?” days of flying, when businessmen were openly invited to ogle the lithe, young, unattached stewardesses bedecked in hot pants and go-go boots. The airlines marketed their crews as hot young things who came as part of the experience. Stewardesses, sick of weigh-ins, harassment and objectification, eventually fought back against their airlines and eventually put a halt to the sexist portrayal of their chosen career.

But how far have things really come? Not very, if the internet is any indicator.

Travel site Trippy.com recently published a list of airlines with the most attractive crew, and not only did it manage to be offensive by sole virtue of existing, but it was also incredibly creepy; the site actually tracked down the LinkedIn accounts of a number of flight attendants from each airline (and given that these images were from LinkedIn and not voluntarily submitted, this was probably done without consent) and created composite images which were then used to rank the collective beauty at each airline. The posting has since been removed, but nonetheless left many alarmed.

Did you know there is a World’s Most Beautiful Stewardess competition? It’s held by a Hong Kong organization called the “World Air Stewardess Association (WASA)”, whose stated purpose according to their website is to support “the overall development and interest protection of professional stewardesses, composed of the females, professional groups, relative people, and groups by willingness who are engaged in, have been engaged in, or are expecting to engage in aviation services in the world.” (A noble cause, I’m sure.) However, you’d be hard-pressed to locate many other priorities for “the females” other than beauty and fashion.

Liu Miaomiao of Shenzhen Airlines currently holds the enviable title of “Most Beautiful Stewardess”. She is inarguably beautiful, but that’s not all! Of course, WASA would not be so shallow as to judge a book by her cover. The Shanghaiist also tells this riveting story of her prowess with passengers:

“In the hectic world of Chinese air travel, Liu has become a calm voice of reason. One time, a flight from Beijing was delayed, causing passengers to lose their temper, but Liu was apparently able to calm them down using her smile.”

A cartoon bird then landed on her shoulder, singing the sweetest melody anyone had ever heard, and all began crying gumdrop tears for having given her any trouble.

I really don’t mean to diminish the career abilities of Ms. Liu, as I am sure she really is a fantastic flight attendant. But these skills are essential to the position – a good tone set by cabin crew and rapport with customers can quite often have them declaring an hours-delayed flight the best one they’ve ever had. And this is practiced worldwide, every day, and successful regardless of physical attributes. While there is something to be said for maintaining a professional demeanor and appearance, that goes for both genders and has nothing to do with age, complexion, etc. It’s a proven fact that the professional and well-groomed appearance of a flight crew helps to develop faith in passengers that they’re in good hands in an emergency, and this is why I do see a good reason for adhering to the strict appearance standards for airline crews. I would also be lying if I didn’t enjoy the glamorous side of it as well, but again, this has more to do with the uniforms and professionalism, not sex appeal.

All of this is really is a foolhardy way of trying to take things back to a supposed golden age that really didn’t exist. Sure, the jet age stewardess in a micro-dress and pale pink lipstick leaning lustfully over the orange fabric seat of a rapt businessman looks absolutely pleased to be there in the advertising, but the reality of it was not always as sexy as it seemed. According to former flight attendant Paula Kane, author of Sex Objects In The Skies: A Personal Account of the Stewardess Rebellion, and others who worked in that era, that was not the case:

“What is that pretty young stewardess thinking as she walks gracefully down the aisle to give you your third drink? Is she anxious to ‘Make You Feel Good All Over’, as much of the airlines’ advertising says?” Instead, the reality was more as how you’d imagine, according to Kane. “…if she is a stewardess who has been flying for some time, the chances are very good she is only hoping that you won’t make a pass at her or get drunk and make a scene.”

This works in the reverse as well – when I hear complaints about an airline having poor service, it is often the looks of the crew that are added in to season the story a bit. She (you’ll almost never hear these comments made of a man) is always old, or fat, or ugly. Last year, Delta flight attendants received negative feedback personally, and a lot of the comments centered on age and weight.

So we need to get out of this mindset of the sexy, young coquette-in-the-sky. It’s just not a reality, and when we are judged solely on our looks rather than our service or intelligence, it short-changes us. How quickly and effectively evacuate an aircraft, or respond to an in-flight medical emergency, or even just make a passenger feel welcome does not require symmetrical features or a flat stomach.

And, let’s be honest – those that go rating airlines by their staff’s physical appearances would probably not want us judging theirs.

[Photo: Shutterstock]

View Comments (18)

18 Comments

  1. bigbuy

    February 1, 2017 at 2:30 am

    This article could apply to ANY profession, especially a job that has customer face time. It is not exclusive to airline employees.

  2. glazfolk

    February 1, 2017 at 4:15 am

    This sexism is not only wrong … it’s also ridiculous. I fly frequently with QANTAS and although I am generally happy and impressed with the cabin service, I find the older so-called “less attractive” flight attendants (male and female) just that bit more natural and relaxed in the way they go about their job. I have no complaints about the younger flight attendants, but feel more relaxed when interacting with the older ones. It’s called experience.

  3. danbrew

    February 1, 2017 at 4:46 am

    You can do the job or you can’t. I don’t care what you look like. Having said that, I’ve seen many flight attendants – both male and female – where I wondered if they would be able evacuate the aircraft in a timely manner.

  4. norf9

    February 1, 2017 at 4:58 am

    I find it more than a bit ironic that your image for this article is a model in a flight attendant outfit. Perhaps you should practice what you preach?

  5. shortkidd

    February 1, 2017 at 5:38 am

    As a frequent traveler I am not sure I even look at the flight attendants in terms of looks anymore.

    The one thing I miss in all airlines based in the US is the idea of what good customer service is. I would say customer service today is all about getting people on the plane, slinging drinks and food at the first class customer then going back into the galley closing the curtain and talking amongst themselves.

  6. aerohead34

    February 1, 2017 at 5:57 am

    I have been traveling for work off and on for the last 30 years within the United States. 30 years ago, traveling by air was enjoyable. Yes the stewardesses back then were beautiful both inwardly and outward, but more importantly, they were nice and treated all passengers with respect whether you were seated in first class or coach. You were served full meals. They always smiled. Complementary everything was included. It was an uplifting experience. Now I absolutely dread air travel and will avoid if at all possible. First class is usually served by two or more stewardesses and the 300 plus rest of us are lucky to have two stewards or stewardesses. Everything costs. A meal now consists of a micro sandwich, chips and a cookie for $10. Everyone on board looks and acts like they despise their respective roles on the airplane. You are expected to know what you want before they role the cart to you and usually the item you want is already out. “Sorry the last turkey sandwich is gone. Care for chicken salad? ”
    To me beauty is more than physical appearance. Beauty exudes from the inside. I personally miss the way travel used to be. Maybe traveling overseas is a different experience where all men are sexist. I would be so bold as to speak for almost everyone who travels regularly in the United States. Absolutely no one regularly traveling here expects to see frisky beauty queen stewardesses. They havent for almost 30 years.

  7. Global321

    February 1, 2017 at 6:07 am

    “… when we are judged solely on our looks rather than our service or intelligence, it short-changes us. ”

    10,000+ posts on service on flights on FT… don’t recall a single one that judged service solely on looks. I think this is a fictitious stereotype of flyers. When we flyers are judged solely on a stereotype and not by our actual posts, it short-changes us.

    “And, let’s be honest – those that go rating airlines by their staff’s physical appearances would probably not want us judging theirs.”

    hmm… The author says don’t judge people by their looks… and look what she does on the last line. Pot meet kettle.

  8. nrr

    February 1, 2017 at 6:19 am

    I normally fly AA. Even though they’ve upgraded many of their flights, I’m still flying in older planes with mediocre food–I have no control over these; so seeing “pleasing looking” FAs is all that is left for a drab flight. If FAs were efficient (like serving PDB in FC), I’d be less critical…but in many instances they are NOT!
    Side comment, a few years ago at JFK T8, I was flying on AA, at the next gate over was a Quatar flight, the captain and crew all arrived at the same time: the FAs were probably 30 years younger than a typical AA FA (but they had nice HATS–improving their image to me in a big way)…

  9. southbeachbum

    February 1, 2017 at 6:42 am

    I fly a lot. I have only complained about flight attendants twice. And to be honest, I don’t remember if they were male or female. Once, flying first from Chicago to Dallas in first class, the first class attendant refused to provide service without help from the other attendants. As a result, drink orders in first were not even taken until every passenger in coach had been served. The other time was when a flight attendant said I could not sit in my designated seat (aisle) because I had an on board pet under the seat (which of course I paid for). It created a scene until finally the gate agent showed the flight attendant in writing that I could sit in the aisle seat. As you might guess, I was treated rudely for the rest of the flight.

    Having said that, I find most flight attendants to be great at their second job (serving passengers) because happily have never had to see them doing their first job (saving lives in a flight emergency). It is amazing what “Hi”, a smile and patience can do for the relationship between passengers and crew.

  10. shadow10-8

    February 1, 2017 at 6:48 am

    Weight and age should absolutely be considered in crew evaluations! I regularly see crew that can barely fit down the aisles, are obviously in poor physical condition and would likely be a hindrance during an emergency. As a former cop, it’s the same reaction I have when I see obese officers in uniform that would likely have a stroke if they had to react to a physical confrontation. Union overreach has put the public at risk in both instances.

  11. zabadac

    February 1, 2017 at 6:55 am

    hi, fully agree. for fun: check “vietjet airline” on google, go to pictures and be surprised…

  12. tkn

    February 1, 2017 at 7:31 am

    While in general I’ll agree. Overweight crew members consistently will bump into you when traversing the aisle if you are in cattle class. So I think that is a fair complaint unless they widen the aisles.

  13. dispensamatic

    February 1, 2017 at 8:30 am

    I think you are going way out on a wing here…Beauty and personality is a good thing to have in a flight attendant, why so anti beauty?

  14. bbriscoe34

    February 1, 2017 at 11:17 am

    My complaint – especially regarding Delta – is not about looks but about age. It seems the older the FA, the grouchier they come across.

  15. FlyingMoose

    February 1, 2017 at 11:51 am

    I’m quite happy with such scores, I’m also happy to pay a premium for airlines keeping their cabin crews all female, friendly young and attractive. Some of us would love to have the air travel from 50 years ago back. For those who don’t care or value other things during their travels, there are plenty alternatives.

    Specifically keeping the old grumpy personalities in check or simply off the planes is greatly preferred. Your paying customers are not your grand-children and deserve respect and service. Your bad day shouldn’t be my motivation to spend my money elsewhere.

  16. daninstl

    February 1, 2017 at 8:10 pm

    Everyone is a victim is what I get from these sort of posts. Sure it may be wrong for beauty contests for air waitress types but cultures vary. In the USA I’m more likely to run into male middle aged gay FA’s and older union pushing female FA’s than I am models. Beauty is in the eye of the person doing the judging I guess. Personally I just want a person that is pleasant and can do the job. I don’t need them shoving the “I’m only here for safety” card in my face if I happen to ask for a cup of water.

  17. gatorman98

    February 4, 2017 at 8:03 pm

    I’m perfectly fine judging by their beauty. Thanks!

  18. JRjustJR

    February 7, 2017 at 7:32 am

    There are a surprising (and disgusting) number of airlines that still follow these outdated practices. On those carriers the FAs must be single, attractive, unmarried, have age & weight limits… Etc… Do some research, It is sickening how common these “Stone Age” labor and sexist practices still are. The status of an FA should be based on how well he/she can do the job, which is primarily safety. Not drink service!

    https://www.paxview.wordpress.com/2015/03/29/stone-age-travel

    I disagree with these practices, so I boycott these airlines. Hope you will too.

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