Sunday, 30 October 2011

Coffee, tea, hot pants or a maxi skirt?

Anyone who's spoken to me for more than three minutes knows I Have A Little Bit Of A Thing For Flight Attendant Uniforms. (NB: it is not anything sexual).

There have been tens of thousands of words written about the allure of the stewardess uniform. For me it lies in the flight attendant's position right at the centre of the air travel experience. When you're wearing that uniform, you are IT, baby! You are the symbol of your airline, your country even, you're the magnet for the attention of your passengers and the envy of every schlub working a 9 to 5 at a desk. Yes, the check-in agents and the girls who walk unaccompanied minors to the plane wear the same uniform, but you're the one with the wings.

I spend an awful lot of time thinking about uniforms. One of my secret aspirations is to be selected to be part of the committee that chooses my company's next uniform. I don't have a background of any sort in fashion but that doesn't stop me constantly designing The Ultimate Uniform in my mind.

The Ultimate Uniform probably wouldn't happen in today's airline-business climate. The focus on the bottom line makes past uniform-committee flights of fancy like the space-bubble helmet at Braniff or National's faux-tiger winter coat way more than unlikely. One of the US majors hasn't had new uniforms in almost two decades.

And the people who wear that uniform have changed, also. Back in the day, you could tell your stewardesses they were going to wear something that could only be worn by a 19-year-old with a perfect body because they all were young with perfect bodies. I'm sure recruiters today practice a little body fascism but if they do, it's pretty subtle. Fact is you see men and women of all shapes and sizes working the aisles today, and uniform designs have to take that into account.

Still, I like to imagine myself as the CEO of the world's largest, richest, most prestigious airline, submitting the brief for my company's new uniform. These would be my minimum requirements:

- a megastar designer label, either my country's best-known designer or somebody French. Dior would be a safe bet.
- incorporate the airline's livery colours and logo into the uniform in some fashion. And the uniforms and the airplane interiors should coordinate as well.
- Similar, but distinctive, uniforms for on-board and ground personnel.
- A wide range of pieces for each crew member to choose from.
- Winter and summer uniforms, plus, while we're at it, different pieces for short-haul and long-haul flights, for those flight attendants my airline trains specifically for first class, as well as special pieces identifying my Pursers and Assistant Pursers.
- Hats and gloves. For both men and women.
- No old-lady print dresses. Especially not with pleated skirts. Blech.

Fight attendants, if you got to design your own uniform, what features would it have? You'd probably like your uniform a lot better than mine, since I would impose ironclad regulations on what you could wear and what you couldn't, complete with uniform supervisors at check-in at each base and a network of company spies who'd rat out anyone trying to sneak in the winter scarf with the summer jacket, or non-regulation earrings.

It's probably best I'm not destined for the executive floor.

This is is your Senior Cabin Service Officer speaking

Good evening everyone, and welcome aboard The Stewardist. It's my pleasure to be serving you today and in the future.

I was a peculiar child. Ocean liners were an early obsession, followed by zeppelins, but I pretty much forgot about everything else when I flew from Edmonton, Alberta to London Gatwick about a Wardair Canada Boeing 747. I had never flown before, AND I was traveling as an Unaccompanied Minor, so the excitement for a shy, solitary kid from the prairies was pretty intense. I sent six weeks in England and about six months talking about the two flights I'd taken. Susi, the First Stewardess on my return flight, let me hand out breakfast trays on the upper deck and from that moment on I was pretty much smitten with everything to do with airliners, airlines and inflight service. I never seriously wanted to be a pilot, just a flight attendant.

That was 34 years ago. Today, I am at last airline-employed and quite possibly on the verge of joining my airline's Inflight division. This blog will be about my adventures as a flight attendant (if in fact I get to have any) but I'll also try to share with you my fascination with anything to do with the back end of the airplane, especially in the sexy and sophisticated era when you could fly to Hawaii on 747 with a lounge in Economy class, a new stewardess uniform might come with 58 pieces from which stewardesses could choose, and there was lots of walnut-patterned laminate everywhere.