In the early days of Air France, in-flight service was the exception, not the rule.
First cabin crew
There were only five British bartenders – in red jackets, wing collars, and bow ties – on the Paris-London route. Cabin crew were not deemed to be essential on these flights, which were generally short. Above all, on narrow and low-powered planes, each pound counted. The first "stewards" hired by Air France – the term appeared in 1938 – were disembarked before take-off if the aircraft was too heavily loaded.
"French" service basics
This "featherweight" staff – less than 60 kg by regulation – had been trained in luxury hotels and on transatlantic passenger ships. They established the basics of French in-flight service. Their task consisted both in providing service that was worthy of the finest establishments, and overseeing passenger safety. By distributing sandwiches and refreshments, and providing commentary on the landscape that was seen out the windows, bartenders also provided entertainment for passengers, who may have been deterred by 1930s flight conditions. At low altitudes, turbulence was frequent; planes were poorly heated: and improvised landings in the middle of fields were not unusual.
1946: The first air hostesses
Before the war, the role of flight attendants had not yet been formalised. Air France only had about 30 stewards, in uniform adapted from that of the railway sleeping cars.
There was a change in scenery after the war, which had seen significant technical progress in aviation. More powerful engines made long-haul flights possible. The highly prized Paris-New York route could last nearly 24 hours. In-flight service needed to become professional, especially since the surge in traffic increased competition between airlines. Air France increased its staff by hiring its first air hostesses in 1946.
Each in their own role
Hostesses and stewards had uniforms to set them apart from passengers. Their roles complemented one another. Hostesses had the role of "lady of the house" and stewards were tasked with preparing meals in the galley and maintaining cleanliness in the cabin. Air France's heightened reputation of excellence was in large part due to its cabin crews, whose numbers continued to grow: 30 people in 1945, 728 in 1959, and 1,800 in 1971. The capacity of planes grew as well: 64 passengers in a Douglas DC4 in 1946; nearly 500 in a Boeing B747 in 1970.
The Air France image
With jumbo jets, the profession became standardised. Hostesses and stewards started to take on essentially similar roles in larger teams: up to 16 people on a Boeing B-747. Chief pursers appeared to supervise the pursers on high-capacity aircrafts, Boeing 747 and Airbus A300. The renowned "Air France Quality" did not suffer from this, founded on elegance that was highlighted by uniforms created by renowned fashion designers. There are now nearly 13,000 cabin crew members, all of whom act as ambassadors of Air France.
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