The rich lifestyle of the Indian air hostesses, It's never been an easy journey.
Yet, in the '70s and '80s, Indian air hostesses were often envied as beautiful, glamorous women who dressed like film stars, jet-sets all over the world, and enjoyed luxury vacations that few people could afford.
When they began, they were taught to concentrate on delivery, not safety and protection. They had to know about wines and cheeses and how to take care of the convenience of passengers. Today's flight attendants must be continuously vigilant so that not though they speak to a customer, their eyes can run all over the place.
Previously, In Indian society, traveling, serving passengers, and dealing with men were not seen as a suitable occupation for young women.
"Many of the Hindu girls who came to air hostess interviews in the '60s and early '70s either had to clash with their parents or lie to them”. But a lot of people really admired their jobs, because they didn't need a lot of professional credentials and they were paid really well.
When women like Neerja Bhanot — who came from the qualified Punjabi family in Mumbai — joined the arena, young girls across India were dreaming of life as an air hostess.
"They have all been impressed by the glamour of flying — the beauty and charm of very well-groomed hostesses, their esteem and the promise of traveling around the world, who have been employed and trained by industry experts in grooming, hospitality, fine dining, and wine admiration”
The praise that air hostesses got for their hygiene and appearance, though, came with a strong dose of gender inequality. Male flight attendants were scarcely ever thought about, but the air hostesses were the subjects of curiosity, and their appearances were the source of much conversation.
Women could be taken off duty in the cabin due weight, glasses, or if they had acne. This did not apply to male attendants. The men had no marriage limits, but when they entered, the air hostesses were not permitted to marry. And the divorces were a concern.
In the mid-2000s, only male flight attendants were permitted to take jobs that require control and monitoring in the aircraft. The men were called pursers, and the women were hostesses.
Air hostesses entered at the age 18 while men entered at the age of 21. This also meant that men would supervise women of their own generation, even when women were more skilled.
It was, in fact, the brightest breed of air hostesses in glamorous uniforms and with an estimable glow of elegance, who retained the appeal of flights in the days gone by.The elegance of women and the privilege of flying a national airline were compatible.
The trend of the Air Indian hostesses stood modernized for two decades until, at the beginning of the 1960s, saris was introduced as part of the rebranding of Air India in international newspapers and magazines. Again, the airlines went against the wind to add silk saris to the air hostesses on the eve of miniskirts and bell-bottoms. Although Air India's ad portrayed a sari-clad air hostess of the woo Indian community in the United States, actress Jayanthi and Jayalalithaa (late Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu) were the first to wear miniskirts in India.
From the 1950s to the 1980s, 'Air India ladies' (as the young air hostesses are now addressed to) were so elite, beautiful, and clever that any rich bachelor in India decided to marry them. They gained attention not only for their liveliness, confidence, glamorous holidays, and international shopping but also for their company with industrialists or film stars in those days when middle-class Indian women were afraid to leave their homes.
They attributed their brilliance and beauty to their hair, dressing style, service behavior, accent, charisma, etc. Being the Air hostess of an airline was a matter of honour, popularity, and jealousy in the golden age of air travel.
Although battling gender inequality in a profession that inevitably sexualizes women, the flight attendants of the time had to struggle with the hazards of traveling. In the 1970s and 1980s, aircraft explosions and hijackings peaked, especially due to political unrest in the Middle East and Cuba. Closer to home, Sikh militants of the Khalistan movement have made at least four attempts during those two decades to strike or hijack planes.
In 1985, a year before Bhanot was killed by Palestinian hijackers, a Sikh terrorist group attacked Air India's Emperor Kanishka on a flight from Canada to London. The plane crashed at 31,000 feet over the Atlantic Ocean, killing all 329 passengers on board.
However, maintaining control during emergency conditions is something that nearly all flight attendants generate during their preparation and years of experience. It's always hard for cabin crew members to stay cool when coping with supercilious passengers — something that hasn't changed a lot in all these years.
Indian passengers are especially mean and nasty — many of them treat flight attendants as domestic servants.
Despite the flipside, though, former flight attendants say they enjoyed their work more than anything else because the profession has so much fun to bring. Flight levels were smaller in the 1980s, but after a long international flight, crew members climbed to a week's holiday in various parts of the country, with five-star hotels and free travel opportunities.
Of course, for flight attendants, marriage was often always "in the air." Monteiro fell in love with his wife, an air hostess, and a junior colleague, while at work in the 1980s, and the pair now had two grown daughters. More notably, Parmeshwar Godrej and Maureen Wadia — wives of the industry tycoons Adi Godrej and Nusli Wadia, respectively — were once hostesses of Air India, who were said to have encountered their spouses while hosting them on flights.
"Yeah, there are several instances of air hostesses marrying first-class travelers," Monteiro said. Such a twist, though, was not even a two-way route. "Which first-class passenger woman will pay attention to male pursers? Things are continuously evolving in life.
Back then, people were far from what they are today. The same can be said of our Indian air hostesses. In the early 60s and 70s, air hostesses were not only looked to as the face of the airlines but were often seen as ambassadors of the world. Today, however, with the commercialization of airlines, they are seen as mere flight attendants.
Earlier, the air hostesses were sporting stunning crisp Kanjeevaram sarees as uniforms. It was a time with fewer airlines and a lot more comfortable.
Many people were very jealous of air hostesses because they lead a glamorous lifestyle, particularly at a time when they were still looking down to travel as a single Indian woman.
They will fly to different countries and enjoy life on their own terms. At that time, becoming an air hostess was all about sparkle, a high-end lifestyle, and portraying the country abroad.
Unlike now, traveling wasn't something anyone could afford. There were limited choices, and it was usually for the wealthy. It was more than merely servicing in-flight travelers. They even had to know 'wine and cheese' in a foreign tongue.
As said by the air hostess herself, "It was hard to cope with putting a smile on your face and coping with exhausted riders, keeping up with a strict skincare regime to hold acne in check and coping with improper sleep cycles."
Money and certificates may get you the job of Air Hostess. But you need to constantly work hard to keep it. You are either carved out for this job or not.
I highly recommend that you fully understand this profession beyond the glamour, and then consider it.
Just always remember that you are being paid to work and not to travel. Yes, you get discounted tickets and layovers in amazing cities, exotic countries and far-away continents; but use them wisely.