Is flying still glamorous and exciting?

The changing face of flying

Jasmine Parker, a full-time flight attendant for a major airline is explaining the vanishing glamorous and exciting face of flying.

This story reflects on flight attendant life and the opinions of U.K. Flight Attendant Jasmine Parker. It was written before the coronavirus pandemic hit the airline industry.

When flying was truly glamorous and exciting. Continental Airlines TV commercial 1974.

Changes in the airline industry are not contributing to keeping flying glamorous and exciting

Being a flight attendant for 12 years, I’ve seen many changes in the airline industry and in people’s attitude towards flying.  Once a pastime for the privileged few, air-travel is now an everyday mode of transport, accessible to most.  Yet flight attendants still evoke notions of glamor and the high-life – and rightly so. 

We are still globe-trotting, lounging around hotel pools, getting comp entry to clubs, enjoying helicopter rides for the mere cost of a tip and regularly visiting ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ safaris.

But while the fundamental perks of crew life still exist, many elements of our job have changed as airlines adapt to competitive, costly markets – and as with all big business, streamlining and efficiency are key. 

Audrey Meadows and Bob Six 747 reception ceremony. Flying glamor and excitement
Audrey Meadows and Bob Six, the dedication of the Continental Airlines B747 “Robert F. Six”. Audrey Meadows married Continental Airlines CEO Bob Six and became an active part of many Continental decisions. Actress Audrey Meadows played Alice in The Honeymooners series with Jackie Gleason.

Reduced staffing and increased productivity

My airline focused on optimizing crew workload, for example, our Boeing 747s once operated with 18 crew, nowadays it’s 14; our monthly rosters usually had 4 trips, now 6 is common; and 5-night mini-breaks to Mumbai became standard 1-nighters. 

Continental Airlines Air Hostess Graduating Class of 1944
Continental Airlines Air Hostess Graduating Class of 1944.

Airline passenger attitudes

Simultaneously, on-board services increased three-fold and passenger expectations continually grow – people make sullen declarations ‘never to fly with us again’ (fine!) because we don’t offer low-fat-decaf-soy-hazelnut-lattes. 

And with so many low-cost carriers, when someone pays that little extra for complementary services, they feel entitled to consume the entire contents of every bar-cart or go on hunger-strike if we run out of chicken dinners. 

flight attendant graduating class 1960s
Flight attendant graduating class 1960s.

The not-so-glamorous or exciting changing trends of flying

As flight attendants are being squeezed under industry pressures, passengers, on the other hand, have never been freer to roam the planet and such limitless air-travel is changing how we regard flying. 

Long gone are the days of finely-tailored traveling outfits; instead folk wears pajamas and onesies (or for certain peculiar travelers, a full workout kit including sweatbands). 

It’s not just passengers who are casual – some airline crew have fleece and slacks as uniform, and let’s be honest, who wouldn’t want such comfy work attire, no matter how unglamorous? 

For many people, flying has become the element of traveling they want to fast-forward, getting from A to B with as much sleep in-between. 

And with many flights being regular business/commuting trips, flying inevitably becomes unexciting. 

Olivia Valdivona flight attendant
Olivia Valdivona was one of the first Mexican American flight attendants to get hired with Continental Airlines.

Frequent flyer attitudes

Regular travelers make work easier because they know the ropes.

They don’t congregate in the aisles while crew clear-in or request coffee 4 minutes before touch-down, and one glass of water before their 9-hour-kip suffices for the entire flight.    

Conversely, familiar flyers can also be pesky.  When securing, I’m often told ‘such-and-such airline doesn’t make you remove blankets’ – perhaps not, but just FYI, the reason we do is to prevent them inadvertently immobilizing your feet, rendering you helplessly stuck on the floor with a throng of people stampeding over you in an evacuation. 

Attitude towards flight attendants

This mentality of challenging crew and procedures is ever-increasing. Flight attendants are seen less as highly-regarded professionals and more menial service workers.

This is despite us being highly trained individuals who can administer CPR, extinguish fires, restrain people double our size and evacuate 450 passengers safely (providing they removed blankets).

Passengers who still keep flying glamorous and exciting

However, there are still some passengers who feel a degree of awe around flying.  Flights to big holiday destinations, like Orlando, usually get impromptu applause on landing, which I find charmingly naïve.  

But actually, it is remarkable that two people, sitting up front of a 300-tonne machine, can project it into the sky, across the Atlantic, and land on the other side. This is a feat undoubtedly applause-worthy and exciting. 

And though the flight attendant role is more demanding nowadays, surely any day-job that starts in one country and ends sipping cocktails in another is considerably more glamorous than the average working day.

flight attendant from when flying was glamorous and exciting
Passengers and flight attendants alike had equal admiration for one another in the 1960s and the 1970s. The dream of many aspiring flight attendants was to become an actress or actor, or a flight attendant. Viki Kilstrom went from landing a small part in a movie to becoming a Continental flight attendant.

What’s your opinion on “The Golden Era” of flying? Your comments are welcomed here!

All images: Our deepest gratitude to former Continental flight attendant Gentleman “Kiwi” for making these pictures available.

Updated on August 4, 2020.

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