Keywords: female flight attendants, inequalities, aviation industry, emotional labour, gender pay gap
Flight attendantâ€™s job is emotionally highly demanding and the performance of the flight attendants is a crucial factor in the businessâ€™ success. Flight attendants are part of the emotional labour and they are expected to use surface acting in daily basis. This acting means that the flight attendants are expected to put on a face to place their outward emotional appearance in line with that is acceptable in the work situation (Hochchild, 1983). The reactions this method gains varies between genders, as performing in a caring and positive way is perceived as natural behaviour from females, whereas males are rewarded from performing this way. Additionally, female flight attendants have been reporting sexual harassment for decades (Lagrave, 2017). However, responding to sexual harassment on board can be challenging, as the surface acting limits the flight attendantsâ€™ possibilities to show their real feelings towards the behaviour. Experiencing such behaviour without being able to respond to it can cause anger and humiliation, which can cause stress and even burnout (Hochchild, 1983).
Gender inequalities have been broadly discussed in the recent years due to various campaigns and new legislations. Majority of the gender inequality literature on the aviation industry discusses the horizontal segregation of the industry, as 94.7% of the pilots worldwide are male, whereas majority of the flight attendants worldwide are female (Morris, 2018). While the number of male flight attendants is steadily growing, the high number of female flight attendants is a clear continuum from the late 1900s when the role of a flight attendant was strongly female dominated. As the flight attendantâ€™s role in the 1950s and 60s was perceived as to please and serve the passengers, with the emphasis being on their looks, the treatment of these females was truly unequal. Female flight attendants needed to measure between 5â€2 and 5â€9, be single, weight under 140 pounds and retire by the age of 32, as they were not seen as attractive after the mentioned age (Lagrave, 2017).
The unequal treatment of female flight attendants has improved since the rise of feminism in 1970s. However, various case studies of unequal treatment of female flight attendants have been filed in the recent years. In 2015, the International Transport Workers Federation exposed Qatar Airways rules in the contracts for the female flight attendants. These rules included aspects such as that the female flight attendants can only be hired if they are single, they must remain single for the next five years and that falling pregnant could lead into firing. Moreover, the uniforms of the flight attendants are adding to the unequal treatment of the female flight attendants. Where male flight attendants wear a trouser suit, their female colleagues are expected to wear unpractical dresses and skirts. However, this is not the case in every airline, as various airlines today let their female flight attendants to wear trousers. Lastly, the union representing the flight attendants in Air Canada, filed a human rights complaint against the airline in 2018, as the managers have allegedly encouraged their female flight attendants to show more cleavage and wear more makeup.
Besides the inequality case studies mentioned above, the gender pay gap raised questions on the inequalities in the aviation industry. as The Equality Act 2010 Regulations 2017 made it mandatory for companies in the UK with more than 250 employees to publish their gender pay gap statistics by the 4th of April 2018. British Airways reported a 10 percent gender pay gap, whereas Ryanair reported a high 72 percent gap (Morris, 2018). However, the high gaps in Ryanair and other airlines were explained with the lack of female pilots and females in the management roles, as the annual income for these roles differ from flight attendant roles, which again, is female dominated.
To close the gender pay gap and increase the number of female flight attendants, the role of pilot and flight instructor should be promoted as more gender neutral careers. This would encourage more females to apply for these positions. Additionally, airlines should provide their staff with trainings regarding preventing and responding to the sexual harassments and assaults. This would lower the boundary for the victims to come forward with their experiences, while also possibly decreasing the number of the harassments and assaults. However, the society needs to change for further major changes to be made. Before the society starts to see sexual harassment and assaults as truly unacceptable, major changes cannot be expected. Bringing these issues to publics knowledge, breaks the stigma and shame around the topic, which shows how important the social media campaigns just as #MeToo truly are. With the changes in the perception of the society, there is a possibility, that one-day flight attendants will be respected enough to be treated equally regardless their gender.
Hochchild, A.R. (1983) The Managed Heart. Berkley: University of California Press.
Lagrave, K. (2017) From Stewardess to Flight Attendant: 80 years of sophistication and sexism. Conde Nast Traveller, 8 March. Available at https://www.cntraveler.com/story/a-timeline-from-stewardess-to-flight-attendant [accessed 30 April 2018].
Morris, H. (2018) Why do airlines have such large gender pay gaps? And whose is the biggest? The Telegraph, 5 April. Available at https://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/news/airline-gender-pay-gaps-female-pilots/ [accessed 1 May 2018].