flight attendants

TSA offering self-defense training to flight crews.

As airline passenger volume ticks up, many passengers are packing something the Transportation Security Administration and airlines would rather they’d leave home: a combative attitude.

“Passengers do not arrive at an airport or board a plane with the intent of becoming unruly or violent; however, what is an exciting return to travel for some may be a more difficult experience for others, which can lead to unexpected, and unacceptable, behaviors,” said Darby LaJoye, TSA Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Administrator.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is reporting an alarming spike in incidents of unruly passengers.

Here is part of a table from the FAA showing all the cases investigated that cited violations of one or more FAA regulations or federal laws.

There are 3,082 incidents so far in 2021, compared to fewer than 200 cases in any of the past five years.

You’ve no doubt seen and read about all the crazy incidents on planes with passengers refusing to comply with federal regulations to wear face masks. But not as well-publicized are the incidents that have been taking place in airports.

TSA shared this in a statement:

Two separate incidents this month have triggered referrals to law enforcement for passengers in Louisville, KY and Denver, CO. In Louisville, a passenger allegedly assaulted two TSOs while attempting to breach the exit lane and is facing state criminal charges for criminal trespass, fleeing and evading police, misdemeanor assault, and resisting arrest. The Denver incident involved a passenger allegedly biting two TSOs and remains under investigation. Both passengers also face a potential civil penalty of up to $13,910 for each violation of TSA security requirements.” 

Here’s something that may help:

In early July the TSA is restarting its Crew Member Self-Defense (CMSD) training. Under the voluntary program, which was paused due to COVID-19 restrictions, Federal Air Marshals train flight crew members in defensive measure techniques for responding against an attacker in a commercial passenger or cargo aircraft.

During the training, flight crew members learn to identify and deter potential threats, and if needed, apply the self-defense techniques against attackers.  The four-hour training is offered to flight crew members free of charge and is held at 24 locations around the United States.

“Through this training program, TSA’s Federal Air Marshals are able to impart their specialized expertise in defending against and de-escalating an attack while in an aircraft environment,” said LaJoye, “

Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, would like the course to be compulsory.

Assaulting or threatening a member of the flight crew is a federal crime and perpetrators may face civil penalties, criminal fines, or imprisonment. In May 2021 alone, the FAA proposed civil penalties ranging from $9,000 to $15,000 against five airline passengers for allegedly interfering with and, in two cases, assaulting flight attendants who instructed them to obey cabin crew instructions and various federal regulations. 

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

Fashionable & frivolous flight attendant attire – part 2

Here are more fun photos from a slide show on flight attendant uniforms I put together for CNBC Road Warrior. Part 1 is here.

Hughes Airwest, Designed by Mario Armond Zamparelli, 1972-77

Hughes Airwest uniform courtesy Ted Huetter, Museum of Flight Seattle

According to Seattle’s Museum of Flight, in the early 1970s American artist and designer Mario Armond Zamparelli was asked by business magnate and aviator Howard Hughes to create new flight attendant uniforms for Hughes Airwest. A memorable Airwest outfit was a Sundance Yellow princess-line knit dress, which had a matching zippered jacket. When going outdoors, flight attendants could add a hooded cape or a princess-line coat.


In the 1960s and ’70s, hotpants were common, as seen in this Continental uniform. Courtesy Cliff Muskiet www.uniformfreak.com

“Hot pants and short dresses with hot pants underneath were a common look in the 1960s and ’70s, and Continental, PSA and Southwest Airlines all had uniforms featuring that style,” said Cliff Muskiet of uniformfreakcom. “In those years, the stewardess was used to attract male passengers and hot pants were part of the plan,” he said.

8_courtesy Cathay Pacific

Courtesy Cathay Pacific

Compared with the hot pants-themed uniforms some airlines required their flight attendants to wear during the ’60s and ’70s, these Cathay Pacific uniforms, launched in July 2011, appear to be quite tame. But the union representing the airline’s flight attendants recently complained the outfits were “too sexy.”

In a statement, Cathay Pacific said it has made some modifications to the uniform to address concerns about the length of the blouse and the tightness of the skirt, and crew members “are welcome to exchange their uniform any time if they feel the fit is not right.”

Although many of the older airlines are long gone, some of the classic airlines are looking to return to the skies, such as PEOPLExpress.

In May 2014, a group trying to bring back Eastern Air Lines, the iconic Miami-based carrier that operated from the 1920s until 1991, held a contest to choose a designer for the uniforms crew members might wear when the airline returns to the skies. The winner was Miami-based designer Lisu Vega, whose collection includes a variety of chic, navy and teal outfits with matching hats and luggage.

9_Lisu Vega_Eastern Air Lines possible uniform

Eastern Air Lines uniform Simon Soong / Courtesy Lisu Vega



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.

Fashion for flight attendants yet to fly

eastern uniform snippet

Detail of an Eastern Air Lines flight attendant uniform from the 1970s. Courtesy uniformfreak.com


The group trying to bring back Eastern Air Lines, the iconic Miami-based carrier that operated from the 1920s until 1991, has been filing paperwork, shopping for airplanes and dreaming about what crew members will wear in the aisles.

In January, the Eastern Air Lines Group filed its initial application with the U.S. Department of Transportation and starting putting together operating manuals for submission to the Federation Aviation Administration.

The company, which acquired the old Eastern name and logo in 2009, is now in discussions with major aircraft leasing companies for a fleet of new aircraft.

“We expect to conclude arrangements in the next few weeks,” said Eastern’s president and CEO Edward Wegel.

The airline plans to complete all regulatory requirements by the end of 2014, but the timeline for actually take-off, first as a charter operator and, later, with scheduled service, is up to the FAA and DOT.

While it waits for approvals, Eastern has asked Miami Fashion Week organizers to invite top fashion designers from South Florida to create uniforms for the airline’s modern-day flight attendants.

“The flight attendants will be recruited from the region and the company wants to capture, as much as possible, the look and feel of the Miami/Caribbean/Latin American landscape in the styling of the new uniforms,” read the official contest rules.

Designers have been asked to submit sketches and mood boards for four outfits, plus a design for uniforms that might be worn in 2050. Winning designs will be announced during Miami Fashion Week, which runs May 15-18.

“Previous Eastern Air Lines uniforms used a classic houndstooth print, which I love,” said designer Nikki Poulos , one of the invited contestants.

She created a new houndstooth print as part of her entry.

Houndstooth and Tropical print for Eastern Air Lines by Nikki Poulos

Houndstooth and Tropical print for Eastern Air Lines by Nikki Poulos. Courtesy of the designer and Miami Fashion Week



“Look closely at the print and you will see the Eastern Air Lines logo as the main graphic element,” said Poulos. She also created a tropical print using the airline’s signature colors of navy, turquoise and white – with an added splash of lime green – to capture the South Florida environment.

Unfortunately, given the turbulent nature of the U.S. airline industry, it may be quite a while before the winning Eastern Air Lines uniform gets to fly.

According to an unofficial compilation of airline bankruptcies put together by airline trade group Airlines for America, there have been 196 U.S. airline bankruptcies since 1979, with 49 of those bankruptcies taking place since January 1, 2001.

“You now have four very large airlines – American, Delta, United and Southwest – dominating the industry,” said Joshua Schank, president and CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation, “And the history of failure for start-ups in this industry has caused investors to be wary.”

This past March, for example, Florida Express Jet abruptly canceled planned service it had announced between several Sunshine State cities.

PEOPLExpress, which like Eastern, is trying to create a new airline with an old name, “doesn’t seem to be making a great deal of progress,” said George Hamlin, president of Hamlin Transportation Consulting, “But there are a few notable exceptions, including JetBlue and Virgin America, which took many years to achieve a profit,” he said.

Eastern still has name recognition and nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ of flying on its side.

“It was one of the largest airlines in the world and retains good brand equity as it was the largest airline to fly to Latin America and the Caribbean and also operated the famous Eastern Shuttle between New York, Boston and Washington,” notes Eastern’s Wegel.

But that may not be enough.

“The chance of any airline startup working out is now well under 50 percent,” said Schank, “The chances of reviving an old brand are even worse.”

(A different version of my story about Eastern Air Lines first appeared on NBC News Travel.)