• U.S.

Transport: Airwomen

3 minute read

When a plane crashes, the line which operates it can count on losing about $300,000 ($100,000 for the plane, $200,000 for damage claims and loss of patronage). Other air lines simultaneously sustain losses, as public confidence momentarily wanes. Between Dec. 15 and Feb. 15 there were five crashes in the far West. This epidemic pyramided public reaction to a far higher point than usual.* For a while, traffic on United AirLines’ run up the Pacific Coast was off 50% and patronage dropped all over the U. S. Last week, traffic was back to normal everywhere except on the Pacific, where United ruefully admitted that the public was still jittery. Last week, too, United was definitely launched on a new way to build up public confidence in flying.

In 1930, Traffic Manager Steve Stimpson of Boeing Air Transport reasoned that nothing would so impress air safety on the public as nonchalant girls flying constantly, that men would feel ashamed to be scared in their presence. In May of that year, Boeing Air (now part of United) hired eight hostesses. Today there are 270 hostesses in the U. S., flying daily on United, American, TWA and Western Air Express. Most air folk credit these girls with much of the normal U. S. public confidence in flying.

But this confidence is still largely masculine. Two-thirds of plane travelers are men. To stimulate U. S. women to fly, the now-extinct Ludington Lines made Amelia Earhart a vice president, set her to writing articles for women’s magazines. United took two hostesses off planes, gave them desks in ticket offices to talk to their own sex. Last July, Eastern Air Lines went further, established a Women’s Traffic Division, hired 35-year-old Marie Sullivan, tall, dark onetime General Motors branch manager to head it. TWA has a pretty onetime hostess named Ruth Rhodes doing similar work and last week United set up pretty, blonde, 32-year-old Helen Stansbury, widely-traveled onetime social worker, to run a Women’s Traffic Division.

Air Executive Sullivan was last week lecturing to women’s clubs in New Orleans and Houston, Air Executive Stansbury to women’s clubs in Manhattan and Cleveland.

To the irritation of other plane personnel, both spend much time on such feminine travel specialties as arranging to serve babies their correct food formulae on long nights, instituting menus on planes, inspecting lavatories. Miss Stansbury thinks nothing of hopping 1,000 miles for a 20-minute lecture on the fun, speed and safety of flying. Said she last week: “I think our jobs are only the opening wedge in a major new profession for women which will grow steadily in importance as the time nears when everybody will fly as a matter of course.”

*For another result of the crashes, see p. 13.

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