We’ve Come a Long Way

We've Come a Long Way

The first Flight Attendants, called Sky Girls, began blazing the trail for our profession in the 1930s, not long after airlines began shuttling passengers across the country.

In the early days of our profession, these stewardesses fit a very narrow description: young and single women who were registered nurses and met strict age, height, weight and appearance requirements. The average length of a stewardess’s career was just over one year.

As Ada Brown, the founder of AFA noted, “We had no rights, let’s put it that way. We were at the mercy of the company.” By 1945, stewardesses at United Airlines hadn’t had a pay increase in 15 years, and they had no rules or regulations about flight time. If a stewardess didn’t show up to replace you on multi-stops across the country, the company would just say, “You have to continue flying.”

That’s when Brown began the first drive to organize Flight Attendants for representation.  She understood that the only way to have a respected voice with her company was to have a legally binding contract. Within months, she had signed up 75 percent of her fellow employees at United Airlines to join the Airline Stewardesses Association, which became the Association of Flight Attendants, AFA, in 1972. Originally an affiliate of the Air Line Pilots Association, AFA was given a charter as an independent affiliate of the AFL-CIO in 1984.

Today, affiliated with the Communications Workers of America and with a seat on the AFL-CIO Executive Council, AFA is regarded as the “go-to” organization for information about Flight Attendants, and is helping to raise the standards for our profession throughout the industry.