Emotional Labor & Airlines

The ‘Golden Age of Flying’ Was Sexist as Hell” — Adam Ruins Everything, 2018, 2:17https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kLAB_xQlXqc

Air travel of the 1970s is often idealized through the perspective of middle/upper-class (straight) male clientele. The carefully crafted image of Pan Am and other luxury carriers had much to do with their flight attendants. As the public face of the industry, flight attendants were often required to conform to strict, sexist codes which dictated their body size, appearance, personal relations, and demeanor both on and off work. This short video briefly discusses emotional labor, a concept coined by sociologist Arlie Hochschild in her influential book The Managed Heart: Commercialization of Human Feeling (1979). Just as Karl Marx proposes that humans have become alienated from their labor in industrial capitalism, Hochschild argues we are becoming alienated from emotions in a service economy. The nature of face-to-face interactions with customers requires us to manage our true emotions as to not cause offense. This can mean saying insincere kindnesses, appearing to enjoy meaningless small talk, withholding our honest opinions, and learning to ignore sexual harassment/assault. For airline attendants in the golden age of jet travel, the professional image of the industry required they not make a big deal of the touching and harassment from male travelers. Keep in mind that while the industry turned a blind eye to this abuse, the airlines routinely utilized images of sexuialized stewardesses in advertisements. These abhorrent policies (and more) contributed to a work environment where one was forced to smile while suffering; where one needed to suppress their own emotions in order to support the emotional wants of passengers.

Where else does emotional labor take place? Are we becoming alienated from our true feelings? Why does our culture value “being real” but at the same times requires that we conceal unpopular thoughts? Who does emotional labor benefit— the worker, the customer, the boss, or the status quo?

From the video’s description: Adam unfolds the profoundly sexist and disrespectful treatment flight attendants endured during the Golden Age of flying.