39 retro photos that reveal what it was like to be a flight attendant throughout the years

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Here’s a look at what it was like to be a flight attendant through the ages.
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SDASM Archives/Flickr

Contrary to popular belief, working as a flight attendant isn’t all that glamorous.

But was that always the case? There’s this popular narrative out there that’s got many gazing at the travel industry of old through rosy lenses. Back in the day, passengers enjoyed fancy food, spacious seats, and an army of beautiful flight attendants attending to them. Today, the most luxurious experience you’ll have at an airport is shuffling through the TSA checkpoint at a decent speed and avoiding getting crammed next to an overly-talkative seat neighbor.

However, as CNN reported, our “nostalgia usually doesn’t include the high prices, limited routes and cigarette smoke clinging to the air.”

As usual, sentimental remembrance tends to leave out some important details. This includes the dark side of the flight attendant’s supposedly glitzy gig.

As Travel and Leisure magazine previously reported, in the 1950s and 1960s, “the requirements [for becoming a flight attendant] were draconian: Barbie-doll height and weight standards, girdles and heels worn at all times, and mandatory retirement by the decrepit age of… 32.” The article goes on to note that litigation eventually abolished these rigid, superficial prerequisites for airline stewardesses (and stewards).

Despite that creepiness, working as a flight attendant did give plenty of people the opportunity to see the world and secure employment. In fact, before the “Mad Men” era, Travel and Leisure notes that 1930s “sky girls” would even occasionally help refuel planes.

Let’s take a look at some photos of flight attendants – or air hostesses, stewards, or stewardesses, as they were sometimes called – at work through the ages. To find these images, Business Insider scoured Wikimedia Commons’s collection, along with Flickr albums of the San Diego Air & Space Museum Archives, the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections, the State Library of Queensland, Preus Museum, and Nationaal Archief. The photos date back to the 1930s (although not every image has an exact date).


Swissair flight attendant Nelly Diener became the first air stewardess in Europe in 1934. She died later that year in the 1934 Swissair Tuttlingen accident, which killed 12 people.

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Wikimedia Commons

Source: UP Magazine


United Airlines stewardesses line up in front of an early Boeing 247.

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Wikimedia Commons

A flight attendant checks in with passengers as two men play checkers during a 1933 flight on a Boeing 247.

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University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections/Flickr

Air hostess Dorothy Webster boards a plane in 1938 in Queensland, Australia.

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State Library of Queensland/Flickr

A steward addresses passengers from the cockpit in the 1940s.

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Wikimedia Commons

Flight attendant Britt Hansson smiles in front of a “Orvar Viking” aircraft in the late 1940s or early 1950s.

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Wikimedia Commons

Flight steward Max White, assisted by passenger Jennifer Grey, washes dishes on board a January 1949 from Suvas to Sydney.

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Wikimedia Commons

On an autumn day in 1950, an airline stewardess arrives in Point Barrow, Alaska, the north most point of US territory.

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Preus museum/Flickr

An airplane stewardess hugs a puppy in Alaska in the 1950s.

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Preus museum/Flickr

Navy WAVE (United States Naval Women’s Reserve) Betty M. Chaffee serves as a stewardess on a Navy Transport Squadron flight crew in 1951. She brings coffee to the pilots of the transcontinental flight, Lieutenant Junior Grade L.K. Shay (left) and Lieutenant Junior Grade J.R. Keegan (right).

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National Museum of the U.S. Navy/Flickr

Flight attendants take a break at Schipol Airport in Amsterdam in 1962.

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Nationaal Archief/Flickr

Passengers use a typewriter and read on a 1965 Northwest Airlines flight, as a flight attendant works in the background

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University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections/Flickr

Austrian Airlines flight attendants pose in front of a Douglas DC-9s at Vienna International Airport.

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Wikimedia Commons

A flight attendant and two pilots pose outside of an aircraft. The image comes from an album belonging to Charles rector, a pilot who worked in Hollywood and flew for Mick Jagger.

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SDASM Archives/Flickr

A Royal Dutch Airlines purser welcomes a passenger and points out her seat.

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Wikimedia Commons

Dutch flight attendants disembark in Istanbul in 1959.

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Wikimedia Commons

Air Micronesia stewardesses pose with a pilot.

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Wikimedia Commons

A flight attendant poses in front of a turbine.

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SDASM Archives/Flickr

Pacific Southwest Airlines (PSA) stewardesses pose on the tarmac.

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SDASM Archives/Flickr

A stewardess pours coffee during a 1971 flight to Rome.

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Nationaal Archief/Flickr

Flight attendants touch down in Las Vegas.

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SDASM Archives/Flickr

Capitol Airlines flight attendants take a break.

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SDASM Archives/Flickr

PSA flight attendants disembark from an airplane.

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SDASM Archives/Flickr

A PSA flight attendant greets a first class customer.

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SDASM Archives/Flickr

Flight attendants model the uniforms worn by South African airline National Airways Corporation hostesses between 1959 and 1975.

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Wikimedia Commons

Flight attendants prep a Lockheed L-1011 for takeoff during the 1970s.

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SDASM Archives/Flickr

A PSA Airlines stewardess pours a drink for a passenger.

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SDASM Archives/Flickr

Two stewardesses attend to first class passengers in the lounge of a PSA flight.

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SDASM Archives/Flickr

A flight attendant poses on a turbine.

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SDASM Archives/Flickr

An American Airlines flight attendant poses with a first class passenger in 1978.

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Wikimedia Commons

A group of Ethiopian Airlines flight attendants in the 1970s.

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Wikimedia Commons

Eastern airlines flight attendants check in on the first class cabin in 1980.

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Wikimedia Commons

Two flight attendants and a pilot pose in front of a fountain in the 1980s.

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SDASM Archives/Flickr

Dutch airline Martinair stewardesses model new uniforms in 1982.

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Nationaal Archief/Flickr

A Thai Airways International airline flight attendant presents a selection of wine during a flight from Singapore to Bangkok in 1996.


Virgin Atlantic Airways flight attendants pack Princess Diana’s dresses for a charity auction in 1997.


On August 26, 1999, two flight attendants carry signs out of a meeting room after rejecting a tentative five-year contract with Northwest Airlines.


A PBair flight attendant distributes snacks during a 2004 flight.

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Wikimedia Commons

A Norwegian flight attendant checks in on customers in 2015.

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Wikimedia Commons