The History Of Flight Attendants – Who Was The First Cabin Crew?

In This Article

The aviation industry has seen numerous transformations since its inception, with one of the most significant being the evolution of the cabin crew role. This article delves into the fascinating journey of cabin crew, from the first flight attendant to the modern-day professionals who ensure our safety and comfort in the skies. We’ll explore how societal changes and industry advancements have shaped this profession over the years. So, who was the first cabin crew member? Let’s embark on this historical journey to find out.

The Dawn of Cabin Crew

The idea of having a cabin crew, often referred to as flight attendants, originated during the initial stages of aviation history. Answering the question of “who was the first cabin crew member?” – it was reportedly Heinrich Kubis in 1912, who worked on German airships. A professional waiter, Kubis had worked in luxury hotels around the world before moving on to work on the infamous Hindenburg airship. He was responsible for overseeing the servers and chefs, and he was working when the disaster occurred, helping passengers to safety.

The Evolution of the Role

In the 1920s, the role of flight attendants became more diverse. Imperial Airways in the UK started to recruit cabin boys who could load luggage and reassure the passengers. Meanwhile, in 1929, Pan Am in the USA was the first carrier to have onboard ‘stewards’ who served food.

The 1930s saw a significant shift in the profession with the introduction of female flight attendants. Boeing Air Transport and registered nurse Ellen Church devised a scheme where nurses were hired for 3 months at a time to travel onboard and look after the passengers, quelling their fear of flying. Church became the world’s first female flight attendant.

Ellen Church, the first female flight attendant
Wikimedia Commons

The Changing Times

The role of flight attendants underwent significant changes during the Second World War. Many of the nurses were enlisted into the armed forces as part of the ongoing war efforts. As a result, the requirement for flight attendants to have nursing backgrounds was changed.

The ’50s and ’60s saw the profession being regarded as an elite one, but with very strict conditions. Only young unmarried females were accepted, and appearance was very important. The uniforms were form-fitting, and featured accessories including hats, high-heeled shoes, and white gloves, contributing to a certain glamorous reputation.

United Air Lines stewardesses 1939
SFO Museum

The Modern Cabin Crew

The modern name for the profession of “cabin crew”‘ reflects that the first priority is safety. The role has evolved significantly, with flight attendants now specially trained in safety and security. They guide and assist passengers for safety and comfort, conduct safety checks before flights, and adhere to all aviation rules and regulations.

Finnair Cabin Crew and Pilot at Helsinki Airport

The profession continues to evolve, with recent years seeing some airlines allow visible tattoos and make-up for male and female employees. However, the role remains a challenging one, with disruptive passenger incidents on the rise and the coronavirus pandemic creating more challenges in recent years.


The history of cabin crew is a testament to the evolution of the aviation industry. From the first flight attendant, Heinrich Kubis, to the modern-day cabin crew, the profession has come a long way. It has adapted and grown with the times, reflecting the changes in society and the aviation industry.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Who invented cabin crew?

The concept of cabin crew can’t be attributed to a single inventor. It evolved naturally with the development of passenger air travel. However, the first known flight attendant was Heinrich Kubis, who worked on German airships in 1912.

Who was the first female cabin crew?

The first female flight attendant was Ellen Church. She was a registered nurse and started working for Boeing Air Transport in the 1930s. The idea was that passengers would feel safer in the hands of a nurse.

Were the first flight attendants male?

Yes, the first flight attendants were indeed male. The profession was initially dominated by men, with the first known flight attendant being Heinrich Kubis in 1912. It wasn’t until the 1930s that the first female flight attendants were introduced.

When did flight attendants start?

The role of flight attendants began in the early 20th century with the advent of passenger air travel. The first known flight attendant, Heinrich Kubis, started working on German airships in 1912.

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