Flight attendants

How a 747 design change proposal spurred the ’60-foot rule’

United Airlines’ final charter flight to say goodbye to the airline’s fleet of 747 airccraft, was quite a party and you can see my story and photos on the event on the Runway Girl Network.

But during all the hoopla, a representative of the flight attendant’s union mentioned to me that debate over a change in the 747 design back in the mid-1980s spurred an important safety rule – the FAA’s 60-foot rule – that applies to just about all airplanes today.

The short version of the story is that in 1984 Boeing proposed taking out a set of exit doors on the 747 jumbo jet to make more room for seats. Flight attendants and pilots – and their unions – raised concerns over the ability to get everyone off the plane in an emergency without those doors and pushed back.

The Federal Aviation Administration ruled on the side of safety.

Read my full story on how this came about in my Runway Girl Network story here.

Photo courtesy Boeing Company

At SFO Museum: Fashion in Flight

Braniff International Airways hostess uniform by Emilio Pucci  1966 Boots by Beth Levine SFO Museum -

Braniff International Airways hostess uniform by Emilio Pucci 1966
Boots by Beth Levine
SFO Museum –

Eighty-five years of airline fashion are now on view at San Francisco International Airport, courtesy of the SFO Museum.

Fashion In Flight: A History of Airline Uniform Design includes over 70 complete ensembles and accessories from the likes of Dior, Balenciaga, Yves Saint Laurent, Oleg Cassini, Vivienne Westwood and others and offers insight into the design history and evolution of the airline uniform, its iconic status in popular culture, and its dynamic relationship to the world of fashion.

Here are more samples from the exhibition, which is on view through January 2017 in the International Terminal Main Hall & in the Aviation Museum and Library.

Trans World Airlines hostess uniform by Oleg Cassini  1955 Briny Marlin Coat & Suit Company Hat by Mae Hanauer SFO Museum

Trans World Airlines hostess uniform by Oleg Cassini 1955
Briny Marlin Coat & Suit Company
Hat by Mae Hanauer
SFO Museum

Virgin Atlantic Airways flight attendant uniform by Vivienne Westwood  2014 Courtesy of Virgin Atlantic Airways /SFO Museum

Virgin Atlantic Airways flight attendant uniform by Vivienne Westwood 2014
Courtesy of Virgin Atlantic Airways /SFO Museum

Want to be a flight attendant?

United flight attendant trainee practicing serving a premium class meal

Although flying itself may not be as glamorous and carefree and unusual an experience as the vintage advertisements tell us, being a flight attendant still offers some cool travel perks and a paycheck.

So, during a visit to Houston to observe a day of flight attendant training for United Airlines, I was not totally surprised to learn that it is still not uncommon for someone to apply for the job and get accepted into the training program having never flown in a plane.

Vonn Crosby, now an experienced United flight attendant and a Service Training Team Leader for Inflight Training, was one of those people – and it turned out just fine for her.

Vonn Crosby_a Service Training Team Leader- for United Airlines

And whether they’ve flown before or not, it will probably turn out just fine for the students I joined for a day of international service training that included learning how to prep and serve a premium class meal.

P1010711

See my full story about some of the skills you’ll need to become a flight attendant in my piece over at the Runway Girl network.

Fashionable & frivolous flight attendant attire

Here’s part of a fun slide show I put together for CNBC Road Warrior and NBC News Travel on some fashionable and, at times, frivolous uniforms worn by airline flight attendants over the years.

1_Intro_Air Hostess

Courtesy International Women’s Air & Space Museum

Since 1930, when efficient, caped nurses became the first stewardesses, it’s been a tradition for flight attendants to look great while making sure airline customers are comfortable and safe.

The role of the flight attendant hasn’t really changed, but cabin crew outfits certainly have. Here’s a look at some of the chic, fashionable and intriguing uniforms that have been spotted in the skies.

Boeing Nurses

Courtesy: The Boeing Company

In 1930, Ellen Church became the first airline stewardess after convincing Boeing Air Transport (now United Airlines) that the presence of onboard nurses would go a long way in helping early passengers overcome their fear of flying.

Seven other registered nurses soon joined Church’s team, gathering to pose for this photo wearing uniforms made of dark green wool, with matching green and gray wool capes.

3_ Braniff1966

A Braniff 1966 Pucci uniform. From the collection of Cliff Muskiet www.uniformfreak.com

“Back in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s all stewardess uniforms looked alike,” said Cliff Muskiet, curator of Uniform Freak, an online museum of flight attendant uniforms. The only colors used were navy blue, dark green and brown for winter uniforms and light blue, light green and beige for summer uniforms, said Muskiet.

It gave stewardesses “a very conservative look,” he said. During the mid-to-late 1960s, however, airlines began turning to fashion designers and ad agencies to cultivate a hipper, sexier image for flight attendants. In 1966, Braniff International Airways crew members would be hard to miss wearing this eye-catching, geometric print dress with matching tights by Italian designer Emilio Pucci.

Braniff Air Strip

Courtesy: The Braniff Collection

A titillating print and TV advertising campaign for Braniff in 1965 was called the “Air Strip” and featured a Pucci-designed uniform with several layers that could be removed during a flight.

“The TV commercial depicted a stewardess performing an airborne striptease,” said Victoria Vantoch, author of “The Jet Sex—Airlines Stewardesses and the Making of an American Icon.”

“Braniff turned the stewardess into a patently sexual icon and other airlines soon followed,” she said.

Bubble Helmet

Image: Braniff Bubble Helmet Braniff Collection, The History of Aviation Collection, Eugene McDermott Library, University of Texas at Dallas.

In the mid-1960s Pucci also created an unusual clear plastic bubble helmet as part of the uniform line designed for Dallas-based Braniff. The helmets weren’t intended to be worn into space, but rather to protect a flight attendant’s hairdo if she needed to walk across a windy tarmac.

I’ll be back with part two of this slide show in a future post, but in the meantime, here’s a link to the full slide show on CNBC Road Warrior.