The crew made it happen
If there was one problem SAS didn’t have, it was attracting people to work for the company. More than 1,200 people already worked at the Bromma airport in Stockholm. Aviation had taken big strides during the war, and lots of capable pilots were available.
While SAS did have its aviation school, all applicants were former military pilots who had often thousand of flying hours under their belts. It took three years of education to become a captain, which also cost the company a lot of money. According to an interview with the flight school director Sven Åhblom in Svenska Dagbladet in November 1946, the cost was SKr400,000 which would amount to about SKr7 million today.
And yet, by 1948, SAS had 75 complete pilot crews.
If it was fairly easy to find professional pilots, it was even easier for SAS to attract candidates to become stewardesses. When the word got around that more than 700 had applied for the 22 spots in the first stewardess training, the number of interested applicants was even higher for the next two courses.
If you think that any old girl – and they were all young women – would do, you’re sadly mistaken. The requirements were not easy. The applicant was supposed to speak at least three languages, have a college degree and preferably even a nurse’s education.
During the two-month education they learned about flight terminology in English, how the aircraft worked, the equipment onboard, medicine, etiquette and serving passengers. They also got beauty tips. It was considered a glamorous job, even though SAS did its best to highlight how tough the work really was.
“To be an air stewardess is hard work and not to be recommended to someone who just wants to see the world,” said chief stewardess Anna Lönnqvist, who had a degree from Uppsala University. “To underline that, it should be remembered that we’re only allowed to do two flights to America each month and that the free time must be used for rest. It’s our New York route that seems to be the most attractive, even though it’s a 25-hour journey filled with hard work.”
That hardly turned anyone away, even though the work was certainly not easy.
“We wish nothing more than that the romantic image of being an air stewardess would go away,” said Bo Lindorm at ABA, the Swedish airline that later merged into SAS. “They’re not more special than other hardworking girls. If there is a difference it’d be that our stewardesses face extremely high demands. A pin-up girl could never become a stewardess.”
The work was so hard that they had to adjust the number of hours they could work, from the original 100 monthly air hours down to 70.
Inside the company, not all destinations were equal. New York was at the top, followed by London, then Paris, then Hamburg. And once the “Grasshopper Route” to Bangkok opened, it became very popular also among the cabin crew. Who would, or could, say no to a two-week trip to the Far East?
But New York was New York, desirable not only because of the city’s attractions but also because of the duties that were handed to the stewardesses. They would make sure that the passengers’ currency and visa affairs were in order. If not, the passenger would end up on Ellis Island and have an audience with the immigration officials.
Published: September 15, 2021