Alastair Dalton: Time to end sexism in the skies

ABOUT time women were given their wings, writes Alastair Dalton

Leonardo DiCaprio poses in the classic image of the so-called golden age of air travel. Picture: PA

It is the classic image of the so-called golden age of air travel – a couple of handsome male pilots surrounded by a group of equally stunning and immaculately attired air hostesses, as they used to be called.

Such ensembles from past eras featured in the Leonardo diCaprio film Catch Me If You Can and the American television series Pan Am – but also in a 2009 Virgin Atlantic advertisement which showed its air crew turning heads as they strode through an airport terminal.

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But despite progress towards equality within the male-dominated transport sector, the aviation industry still shows signs of an outdated, casual sexism.

Gone are the days when adverts depicted purely female cabin crew serving purely male passengers, but the impression conveyed of women playing a lesser role yet persists in some publicity material.

Pictures taken at Glasgow Airport on Wednesday to mark the launch of a new Ryanair route to Crete saw a male airport director holding a Greek flag with two female cabin crew wearing laurel wreaths on their heads.

But significantly, and not for the first time, while the man was named, the women were just described as “members of Ryanair’s cabin crew”.

That jarred with the first speech the same day by new UK transport minister Andrew Jones, which sought to increase the number of women working in the sector.

Speaking at an awards ceremony said: “We don’t get enough women seeking a career in transport, and those who do have said progression can be a challenge. That’s bad for women and it’s bad business. Transport does have some catching up to do. [Women employed] are just a tiny proportion of the men working in the industry.”

Then, last month, American Airlines flew the current Miss United States – Elizabeth Safrit – to Edinburgh to take part in a launch party for its new route to New York.

In its invitation, the airline named its senior executive taking part, along with Edinburgh Airport’s chief executive, then said the ceremony would include “photo opportunities of the current Miss United States, who will be joining the celebrations”.

If the UK government is keen for more women in senior roles in aviation, these are hardly appealing images.

Ironically, two of Scotland’s three major airports are run by women – Amanda McMillan at Glasgow and Carol Benzie at Aberdeen. In addition, Carolyn McCall is chief executive of Scotland’s biggest airline, EasyJet.

With air travel continuing to expand, and with more women flying as well as working in the industry, airlines and airports must pay closer attention to the message they are conveying.