For female flight attendants over 40 years old who cringe at the thought of being called a stewardess, they may or may not take comfort in the fact that it could be worse.
Last month, American Express Global Business Travel launched a microsite showcasing pivotal moments in the history of travel technology and tourism that shaped the first two decades of the last 100 years of business travel via land, sea and air.
The portal initially profiled 15 innovations in global transport beginning in 1915 with the opening of the Panama Canal, through to 1929 when William Randolph Hearst sponsored the first around-the-world flight aboard a DELAG Graf Zepplin.
On Monday, the website posted the first installment for the 1930s. As the story goes, a plucky young female pilot and registered nurse named Ellen Church applied to fly for Boeing Air Transport in San Francisco, but office manager Steve Stimpson rejected her. He wasn’t about to suggest to his superiors that they hand over a new low-wing, all metal Boeing Model 200 Monomail to a girl.
Female pilots were not entirely uncommon at the time. Harriett Quimby was the first American woman to earn a pilot’s license in 1911, and Amelia Earhart was the first female pilot to cross the Atlantic in 1928. However, it wasn’t until 1934 that American Helen Richey was hired by Central Airlines as the first female commercial pilot.
So, unrelenting in her quest to travel, Church suggested to Stimpson that Boeing hire her to scout out other nurses to fly aboard Boeing’s long-haul flights to take care of the paying passengers’ needs inflight.
Boeing’s top brass warmed to the idea. In 1930, Church and seven other nurses working as Boeing employees boarded one of the airline’s Pacific flights for the first time, and the “Sky Girl” was born.
“The innovation was a resounding success, and other airlines would follow Boeing’s example over the next few years,” reads the microsite. “Church helped to start a new era in air travel — one that continues today with more than 100,000 flight attendants flying the skies.”
Male flight attendants, of course, have joined the party too.
Anyone who’s flown coach since the 1970s knows the glamour once bestowed upon attendants is the stuff of airline lore, but every road warrior will agree that the world is an infinitely better place at 35,000 feet with Heather Poole and her colleagues in it.
Other interesting business travel developments worth reading in the American Express GBT site include: The first U.S. trucking route traversed on Goodyear tires in 1917; the birth of the traveling vacuum sales industry in Vienna in 1918; the launch of Qantas in 1920; John Hertz’s founding of Hertz Rental Cars in 1923; and the birth of the motorist hotel — or “motel” — in 1925 in San Luis Obispo, California.