When it comes to the people working with passengers on an aircraft, the terminology has evolved over the years. From the original stewards and stewardesses, things morphed into flight attendants and then cabin crew.

What is interesting is that all the terms are currently used, it just depends which part of the world you’re in. Let’s have a look at the definitions of the terms and see which is most accurate.

Stewards and Stewardesses

A steward is defined as “a person employed to look after passengers on a ship, aircraft or train”. Ships stewards had been around for years before they appeared in the sky. For that matter, ships stewardesses had as well.

Stewardess, by the way, is defined as “a woman employed to look after the passengers on a ship or aircraft”. Trains don’t have stewardesses, it seems. One famous pre-flight stewardess is Violet Jessop who managed to survive the sinking of both Titanic and her sister ship Britannic.

Flight Attendants and Cabin Crew

A Flight Attendant is “a steward or stewardess on an aircraft” and Cabin Crew is defined as “the members of an aircraft crew who attend to passengers”. These are virtually identical.

Now we have the dictionary definitions down pat. However, ask any person working in the sky serving passengers what their role actually is and they probably won’t mention serving people food and drinks.

EASA and FAA Definitions

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency defines a cabin crew member as “an appropriately qualified crew member, other than a flight crew or technical crew member, who is assigned by an operator to perform duties related to the safety of passengers and flight during operations.” This is why cabin crew will tell you their main role is the safety of the passengers during flight.

However, safety is not explicitly mentioned in the US. The Federal Aviation Agency defines a flight attendant as “an individual who works in the cabin of an aircraft that has 20 or more seats and is used by a part 121 or part 135 air carrier to provide air transportation”. While not mentioned, safety is, of course, the main part of the role.

Colloquial Names For Cabin Crew

There are quite a large number of slang names for flight attendants, with trolley dolly being perhaps the most common and least offensive. Others include hostie, galley slave, bunchucker, coffee jockey, brekkie techie, galley rat, space waitress, bubblegum scraper and latrine queen.

Some are region specific, such as the crack troops, biscuit chucker and wagon dragon in Australia, Saftschubser in Germany (it means juice pusher), and trolleytubbies and sandwich mechanics (in the 1970s) in the UK. Inter airline rivalry is also present, with British Airways crew apparently referring to their Virgin Atlantic counterparts as strawberry tarts, earning them the moniker rottweilers in return.

No doubt many of these are names given by pilots to their counterparts working with the passengers. There are quite a few more that are much more offensive so we will stop there. I wouldn’t recommend actually using any of the above, especially inflight, as your next drink might just be spiked with something special in return!

Overall Thoughts

The people serving the passengers on board often get a raw deal, being seen by some as essentially servants. In actual fact they are highly trained professionals, who will save you in the event of an emergency.

There are countless tales of stewards, stewardesses, flight attendants and cabin crew saving lives when things go pear shaped, so never take them for granted. Some have even given their lives in the line of duty, such as Jane Harrison of BOAC and Neerja Bhanot of Pan Am to name but two.

What do you call the crew? In your country is it common to use steward and stewardess, or flight attendant or cabin crew? Thank you for reading and if you have any comments or questions, please leave them below.

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Featured image by Austrian Airlines.
Demonstration picture by SuperJet International.
VC10 crew member by G. Hall via A Little VC10derness.
Overhead bin picture via Daily Mail.