From Publishers Weekly
Using interviews with more than 60 flight attendents, Whitelegg puts together a highly readable study of the perils and perks of working the friendly skies. Structured around the typical flight sequence-departure, safety checks, in-flight entertainment, cruising altitude, etc.-Whitelegg highlights the dangers involved (from accidents to terrorism) as well as minor nuisances (disrespectful passengers, coworkers) and those persistent gremlins, fatigue and disorientation. Whitelegg's interviews reveal anecdotes funny and dramatic, as well as thought-provoking points of contention like the disconnect between attendants' actual roles as safety officers and airline honchos' insistence they adopt the role of a friendly host. Even more interesting is Whitelegg's look at the sexist "Coffee, Tea or Me?" stewardess stereotype in light of the immense freedom flight attending now provides working mothers and other women: "There is no other female-dominated profession in which women spend so much time away from home." Whitelegg occasionally overreaches with unnecessary fabric-of-the-universe commentary ("Our lives are shaped by space at the same time that we, in turn, shape space"); his study of a singular profession flies ably on its own.
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In his new history of flight attendants, Whitelegg, of the Emory Center for Myth and Ritual in American Life, seeks to provide a balanced inquiry into the lives of these long-overlooked professionals. Through copious oral histories gathered in personal interviews, readers learn of difficulties at home caused by airline work schedules and of attendants' endless struggle for respect. Whitelegg may overly sympathize with his subjects, leading to exaggerated comparisons between the safety duties of the cabin and flight crews, and his crediting the flight attendants' union with instigating fundamental changes made to the FAA seems a far reach. There is no need to inflate the significance of his subject. The flight attendants speak well for themselves, sharing a wealth of interesting, entertaining, and dramatic anecdotes. Their personal stories and the window Whitelegg opens onto women's lives in aviation, combined with analysis of specific acts of courage in accidents and crises, including 9/11, and a straight-ahead history of the profession are rich enough to satisfy the most curious reader. Mondor, Colleen
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