SAS Air Hostesses go to college
Few professions sound as glamorous as that of an international flight attendant. They wake up in one country, work with interesting people up in the air all day, and then have dinner in another country. Or at least that used to be the image back when the job title was “air hostess.”
When SAS in 1970 centralized its stewardess training into one place the SAS Air Hostess College at the Park Hotel in Sandefjord, only women needed to apply. And not just any woman, of course.
To meet the requirements, the hopeful future SAS air hostess had to stand at least 160 centimeters tall, but no more than 175 centimeters because “she wouldn’t fit in the pantry.”
The original age requirement was 21, but it was lowered to 20 after the college’s first year of operations – the upper limit stayed at 27 – just as the language requirements were loosened from English, German, and French to English, German, and an optional third language.
Also, the young women had to be unmarried – they were allowed to get married while employed – and they had to have perfect vision. Glasses and contact lenses weren’t allowed, for safety reasons.
Thousands applied, and around 300 were invited to interviews. Those who were selected went through a rigorous training program in classes of about 40 women each. The training was originally designed as a three-month program, but it was later streamlined into seven weeks.
For the first four weeks at the Air Hostess College, the women studied a variety of topics, in what Sweden’s Expressen described as “a program that on paper looks like it’s meant for astronauts.”
The days were long. Wake-up call was at 7am, and classes could run as late as 8pm.
For SAS, the decision to centralize the training made financial sense, but it also guaranteed a common standard and helped cultivate the feeling of Scandinavian togetherness.
“The crew really sticks together,” one SAS hostess told Expressen in April 1970. “Some of us spend more time with our SAS colleagues than our spouses.”
While it was considered a glamorous job, even glamor has its downside. In the same Expressen story, another stewardess tells about life on the road and how easy it is to lose touch with other, non-flying, friends.
“It can be hard,” she said. “There’s drinks, drinks, and drinks. You arrive in New York, take a shower, and rush out with a whiskey in your hand. Then you’re off to a small cocktail party, then a night on the town. The next day you do some shopping and then fly home that night.”
Others told stories of checking into hotels in other countries and getting flowers sent to their rooms, followed by phone calls inviting the stewardess out to dinner, as the doorman had given her room number to interested men in the lobby when she checked in. None of that was in the training program at the SAS College, of course.
The new training turned out to be successful, and even competitors who had criticized the program early on had to take it back once the first stewardesses graduated.
After four weeks in Sandefjord, the students returned to their home hubs in Oslo, Copenhagen, and Stockholm, where they completed their training. Then they began their work on SAS’s routes in Scandinavia and Europe, with a three-month probationary period.
“It’s been hard, but at the same time we’ve had so much fun,” one of the first graduates of the Air Hostess College was quoted as saying in Svenska Dagbladet.
They were ready for anything.
Published: July 8, 2016