Height, weight and age requirements for flight attendants (and why Christina Ricci could never be a Pan Am stewardess)

“In this male-dominated world, in that famously openly chauvinistic culture, these women were really taking the reins and running their lives in a way most women didn’t,” Christina Ricci said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter about her upcoming television show, Pan Am, a night time soap opera revolving around the lives of flight attendants and pilots in the 1960’s. Think Mad Men at 30,000 feet.

Christina Ricci has been cast to play Maggie, a head stewardess. What’s funny about this is Ricci wouldn’t have been hired to be a stewardess back in the day. At five foot one, Christina is too short. Pan Am required its stewardesses to be at least five foot two and weigh no more than 130 pounds. They also couldn’t be married or have children. On top of that the mandatory retirement age for flight attendants was 32. So even if Ricci had managed to squeak by Pan Am’s minimum height requirement, she wouldn’t have flown for long. The actress, born in February, is already 31 years old. With Pan Am scheduled to air in September, Christina only has five months to travel the world before being forced to hang up the uniform and retire. That’s not enough time to establish oneself as a head stewardess for a major airline. At my airline it takes six months just to get off probation! But back in the 60’s stewardesses averaged eighteen months on the job. A year and a half. By those standards, Christina Ricci would already be three-quarters through with her career. Sad, but true.

Thankfully a lot has changed since 1960…


Photo courtesy of ABC



  1. Heather is correct. It wasn’t until June of 1968 that the US FINALLY ruled that the age and marriage discrimination was illegal and no longer allowed. Pan Am was not the only one either. Dozens of others airlines also. It’s a shame that I do believe it took men trying to enter the field to get the policies changed!

  2. The new series Pan Am will not be watched by me, due to the non-existance of African American Stewardesses. I really think that it’s a shame that in this day and time, we are not promoting diversity on our television shows. Pan Am is just one example of this culture always popularizing whites as the only people to work and travel in such industries. Let’s start seeing more people of color dipicting what we should be, a country for all!

    • To be fair, there weren’t any African American hostesses back in the 60’s. If diversity had been promoted on the show, it would not have been true to life. Unfortunately, that’s how it was back then, which is why we should be thankful about how things are now! I’m not just talking about the color of one’s skin, but the fact that we can now be married and grow old and keep our job. Lord knows I wouldn’t have lasted this long if I’d been flying way back when. Which reminds me, my neighbor down the street was a flight attendant back in the day, and she’s African American. I should interview her about what it was like to fly for her. Thanks for reminding me.

  3. It wasn’t men entering the field that got the policies changed, it was the WOMEN themselves who challenged the laws in the court. One of those women was a UAL stewardess named Iris Peterson. She began her career in the 1940s and retired in 2007 at the age of 85.

  4. Yes, I flew from Jan 1967 until April 1971, I have a friend in town here who flew in 1961. Certainly no retirement date because I flew with some pretty senior people. I know BOAC had that, I heard that they would hire you up to age 26 but whenever you were hired you were allowed to fly only ten years. At that point BOAC were v. helpful finding new positions for the flight attendants, in the company and outside. I heard Marks and Spencers management for one liked to hire ex BOAC people.
    The Pan Am show also tells that we were not allowed to be married. Not true. United’s flight attendants( and maybe others) had that rule at the time I began flying.
    Even quitting in 1971 I remember flying with an African American flight attendant. I believe she quit to go back to graduate school.

  5. Heather, I am nearing the end of your book,”Cruising Attitudes . . .” and I consider it one of the best books on the realities of flight attendant life tho’ my 42 year experiences (23 years with Pan Am–1963-86 and 19 with United 1986-’05) have some differences since I only flew international trips. In 1963 we at Pan Am did NOT have to quit at the age of 32. Pan Am did not hire married women at the time but, if you later got married, you could continue to work as a stewardess. Various airlines had different rules. Ours at Pan Am was that pregnancy demanded one quit, retire, whatever, but not age or even marriage. So while some airlines fought the 32 year rule, ours fought the pregnancy rule. (I admit that I am not sure of the rules prior to 1963 when I quit teaching to become a stewardess.) Check out the “Margaret Feather case” at PAA which changed even that motherhood restriction on careers. For the record, I began my Pan Am career in 1963 and wore the uniform shown in the recent soap opera TV series on Pan Am. I have yet to meet a Pan Am stewardess (as we were called in those days) who liked that show. In my opinion, the flight attendant life style depicted was only the representation of what many people, including even our own airline employees who worked in ground positions, believed that our lives were like. As your book illustrates, the job was physically and psychologically demanding though it had its perks. Most of us feel that our real stories of exotic destinations, interesting people and unusual experiences would have made a much better series. But then, we are not media people.

  6. I wanted to be a flight attendant when I was of age and found out I didn’t weigh enough! Was just tall enough though..but wasn’t planning on what then I considered fat. You know how we young women are. 😉

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