Flight attendants are responsible for passenger safety and comfort during the duration of their air travel. They attend to traveler needs, and may need to administer medical care. They don't require more than a high school education for the role, but can complete additional training or certification if needed.
Back in the day, "stewardesses" would start working at 18 or 20 before going off to college or getting married. In fact, marriage could disqualify some women from landing the job, according to former stewardess Diane Hansen.
In 1968, however, federal courts struck down rules that forbid flight attendants from being married. In 1970, airlines withdrew restrictions against flight attendants being pregnant.
Now, the average flight attendant is 46 years old. While 80% of flight attendants were younger than 35 in 1980, half of all cabin crew were 45 years or older as of 2007.
50 years ago, flight attendants faced overt sexism on the job. After airlines experienced a sharp drop in profits in the early 1970s, jets competed for business passengers by having stewardesses wear tight clothes, and they used provocative ads to highlight the practice.
Stewardesses had to submit to hairdo inspections and make sure their legs were shaved. They would have to wear high heels and a dress just to pick up paychecks. Women could even be fired for weighing 2 pounds over the airline limit.
Beginning in the late 1960s, flight attendants became leaders in the rising feminist movement. In 1972, two women launched the Stewardesses for Women’s Rights, which fought sexism through legal action.
The early '70s also marked a new era for male flight attendants, when the Supreme Court ruled airlines could not discriminate against men.
In the 1980s, airlines stopped using the term "stewardess" in favor of the gender-neutral "flight attendant."
Racial diversity in the industry began mid century. Ruth Carol Taylor became first black flight attendant in 1958, after filing a complaint against Trans World Airline (TWA) for racial discrimination. Regional carrier Mohawk Airlines eventually hired her.
Yet the journey wasn't easy for minority flight attendants. Casey Grant, one of the first black stewardesses hired by Delta Airlines in 1971, said passengers refused to acknowledge her and she couldn't always get hotel rooms between flights.
Today, American flight attendants are still overwhelmingly white. Just 14.2% of flight attendants are black, while only 6% are Asian.
The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, also changed how flight attendants do their jobs. Some now learn karate during training, and how to check for suspicious passenger activity.
Many flight attendants faced PTSD and reported high stress following the 9/11 attacks, according to a study from the National Institutes of Health.
Flight attendants make less money now than they used to. Median hourly wages dropped by 26% between 1980 and 2007, while median hourly wages of all US workers rose by 13% during this time period.
Flight attendants today earn an average of $48,874, about $3,000 less than the average American salary, according to Data USA.
Flight attendants also aren't paid for delays on flights or commuting to the airport; their pay time starts as soon as the airplane door shuts. People have said they work overtime to afford their bills, or sometimes qualify for food stamps.
Despite the challenges flight attendants face, the job is expected to grow as airlines continue to replace smaller aircraft with new larger planes that can accommodate a greater number of passengers.