The strange history of flight attendants



Jack's Flight Club ✈️ Travel News & Inspiration

Hey there, JFC-ers,

One very weird bit of news this week that's worth delving into - buckle up, it's about to get wild.

Singapore Airlines has just announced it's changing a policy that I imagine most of us had no idea existed.

As of 2022, it will no longer place its female flight attendants on unpaid leave if they become pregnant and then end their contracts after they give birth.

Wait, what?

Yes, that's right. The updated policy now states that pregnant flight attendants may apply to work temporarily in ground-crew positions in the final weeks before beginning their maternity leave, and they can automatically return to in-flight work as normal afterwards (previously, they'd have to reapply for their old jobs with no guarantee of re-employment).

Singapore Airlines’ now-former policy may seem like a bizarre relic - but it doesn’t exist in a vacuum, and this particular sort of discrimination used to be pretty much universal.

It all goes back to the 'Golden Era of Flying'

Back in the 1960s, before stricter employee protection laws came into place, the image and uniform of the in-flight stewardess was radically and rapidly changing.

The very first flight attendants had been male - but during the 1930s, trained nurses began to fill those roles, taking charge of passenger safety at a time when flying was still dangerous.

But by the '60s, stewardesses were being openly advertised by their employers as glamorous and available sex symbols ('I'm Cheryl. Fly me.' was one popular ad campaign) to attract an audience of largely male and affluent fliers.

Pregnancy, of course, got in the way of that fantasy - if you became pregnant as a flight attendant, it was standard practice to find yourself immediately shuffled off into unpaid leave followed by unemployment. (You’d generally face ‘mandatory retirement’ by the time you hit 32-35, no matter what.)

It was a time when, in 1968, United Airlines job adverts stated, "Females only, age: 21-27, weight no more than 135 lbs, no glasses, must be attractive, must have no blemishes. Must be unmarried. No children. (Widow will be considered.)"

Well, that's not great.

Even when employment law was reformed in the USA and UK, and the insta-firing policies for pregnant flight attendants were challenged in court, airlines were quick to insist that they'd only ever been thinking of the wellbeing and safety of mother and child by, er...sacking the mother.

Employee protests, lawsuits and disputes continued to fight the issue for years.

Things have improved for the most part since then, of course, but to some extent the industry has never truly got out from under the shadow of those sexist expectations, and airlines continue to drag their feet.

Just earlier this year, Iberia faced an internal revolt for telling its female flight attendants they could wear sneakers in-flight, but had to wear high heels when walking through the airport or greeting passengers. "I'm not a stewardess Barbie," the employee petition pointed out.

Meanwhile, 68% of flight attendants report that they’ve been sexually harassed while they're trying to work.

More change to come, please - it's long overdue.

Many thanks and happy flying,



Your Next Trip

In our regular feature, we offer tips, advice and travel inspiration in response to your questions. Let's get started!

Summer in Bulgaria

We’d probably point you towards blissful Bulgaria for a trip that can cover all of your bases here, reader!

You’ll be looking at an average spend of $715 for a week’s accommodation, food, travel and activities for one couple. Temperature-wise, we’re talking about average highs of 28 degrees celsius, and those evening lows dropping to 19 degrees.

Bulgaria has a good amount of mountainous coverage - which means it’s showing off some of Europe’s most stunning waterfalls across its three national parks. In the north, you’ll find gorgeous glacial lakes and craggy hiking routes past ruined medieval fortresses and monasteries.

While we’d make it a priority to visit the Seven Rila Lakes or the rocks of Belogradchik (pictured above) in the mountains for some unforgettable walking trails, there are also lovely hiking options up Vitosha Mountain, less than an hour’s bus ride from Sofia.

In the south, you’ve got charming coastal towns like the UNESCO-recognised Nessebar - or if you want to really get away from it all, head to the completely undeveloped and peaceful Pasha Dere beach for some Black Sea RnR.

But what about the food?

When it comes to world-class food, you might not necessarily be thinking of Bulgaria as an option.

You won’t find any Michelin stars here, and Thrillist’s comprehensive rankings of European cuisine only puts it at a respectable 14th out of 48 - far above any of its immediate Balkan neighbours, but below the obvious choices of Italy, Spain and France. (It looks like the reviewers were put off by the traditional shkembe, or tripe soup - it’s a great hangover cure, guys, don’t write it off.)

But bear with us: even beyond Sofia itself - which has some excellent Bulgarian-fusion restaurants and a much-praised dining-in-the-dark experience, Tenebris, which we’re keen to check out - you should have a base level of good culinary options wherever you go in the countryside.

Bulgaria has a number of local farm-to-kitchen enterprises outside of the big cities for the adventurous foodie to explore, from snail, trout and mussel farms to outstanding wineries - and if all else fails, you’ve always got simple, tasty fresh meat and fish coming straight from the ever-popular tavern grills.

The BBC has a great piece on the hidden world of Bulgarian cuisine, with some helpful tips for exciting foodie choices in rural areas, including the mysterious ‘green cheese’ that comes from the village of Cherni Vit, close to Skoka Waterfall.

Raiders of the Lost Cheese

This one’s worth a bit of extra detail, just because it’s an awesome story. Cherni Vit's unique climate conditions meant that its sheep’s cheese used to naturally develop a green mould crust after being stored in wooden boxes.

In the 1970s, the move towards plastic storage containers meant that the mould disappeared - and as the cheese producers mistakenly believed that the green colour was a sign of spoilage, they weren’t too upset about that.

And then in 2007, the grub-loving experts at the Italian Slow Food Association in Bra heard about the mysterious green cheese. They wrote to Cherni Vit’s mayor, Tsvetan Dimitrov - who also happened to be a biologist - asking him whether it still existed.

Dimitrov eventually tracked down a matchbox-sized sample of the cheese in an elderly couple’s cellar, and was able to recreate it - it premiered to great acclaim at Bra’s international cheese festival.

The green cheese isn’t produced commercially, but as of 2019, Dimitrov was still welcoming visitors to his house for tastings (and one travel blogger reports that he was also posting cheese samples out to foodies who wrote to him and asked nicely).

Very Lovely Valencia

Awesome news, reader! You're going to have an incredible time.

Temperatures are looking OK across Valencia right now - hovering in the mid-20s for a relaxing day on Castellón De La Plana's gorgeous beaches (although with the occasional shower) but they're likely to begin dropping throughout the second half of the month.

So take this recommendation with a pinch of salt depending on your tolerance for a chilly dip, but we'd be tempted to take a boat out to the stunning, craggy Columbretes islands and marine reserve off the city's coast - the crystal-clear waters will be about 22 degrees - for a bit of snorkelling or scuba diving and sea-life spotting.

If that sounds slightly too shivery for you both, we'd recommend taking one of your days out to see a few of Valencia's prettiest towns. Peñíscola is easily reachable by an 80-minute bus ride from Castellón De La Plana (and in October, the tourist crowds around the old town and castle shouldn't be quite as intense)

Inland, it's about a 30-minute car ride to Vilafamés (pictured above), a gorgeous historic village ranked amongst Spain's most beautiful - with plenty of romantic wineries and restaurants to visit. Hope you both enjoy!

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Our Pick Of The Clicks

All the important (or silly, or strange) travel news from across the web this week.

To mark World Sight Day, one Arizona resident - Kaiya Armstrong, who’s legally blind - has made history by successfully flying a plane across the USA.

The famous moai statues of Easter Island have been left ‘irreparably’ damaged by a forest fire.

Perhaps inspired by Spain the other week, Portugal has just announced its shiny new digital-nomad visa for global travellers.

The world’s 50 Best Bars have been announced - and for the first time, the top spot has been taken by a cocktail bar that isn’t in New York or London. (Congrats to Paradiso in Barcelona!)

After 20 years off-limits, the sacred Brazilian mountain of Pico da Neblina is once again opening to visitors.


And Finally...

In Italy (not a nation that usually lacks delicious options for dinner), food scientists are desperately trying to figure out how to launch an over-populated species of jellyfish as an exciting new dish.

Interest-sting stuff.