Battle in the skies: Sex discrimination in the United States airline industry, 1930 to 1978

Cathleen M. Dooley Loucks, University of Nevada, Las Vegas


The flight attendant occupation in the United States, developed in the 1930s, created new opportunities for women workers, but defined flight attendants as docile, temporary, and easily exploitable workers. Airlines soon discovered that flight attendants provided a marketable image, based on physical appearance. This thesis traces the development of policies, such as marriage bans, age ceilings, weight regulations, and prohibitions against pregnancy, designed to create and maintain this image. In the 1960s and 1970s, flight attendants challenged the legitimacy of these policies using the sex provision of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Gaining support from their unions, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, and eventually the legal system, flight attendants successfully eliminated all of these policies, with the exception of weight regulations. The battle waged by the flight attendants reveals the prevalence of sex discrimination in the market place and the process of challenging it.