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Working the Skies: The Fast-Paced, Disorienting World of the Flight Attendant annotated edition Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0814794081
ISBN-10: 0814794084
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Editorial Reviews

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.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Booklist

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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 291 pages
  • Publisher: NYU Press; annotated edition edition (June 1, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0814794084
  • ISBN-13: 978-0814794081
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,444,324 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Whitelegg has written an accessible account of the fight attendant profession for those in the airline industry, travelers, and academics. As a flight attendant for nearly 22 years now, I know how airlines manage workers through fear and intimidation. The fact that Drew Whitelegg does not work in the industry and was still able to solicit candid responses from interviewees alone is a great feat. My labor contract states that a flight attendant can be terminated for talking disparagingly about the airline! It is understandable that some respondents had to size him up to determine his true intensions and for whom he actually works.

Most accurate in his portrayal of flight attendants is the cost-benefit decisions made daily, which often hold "lifestyle" over wages and benefits. I continue in this profession because I love my lifestyle--my job is my identity. This, however, doesn't mean that I accept continuing discriminatory practices, labor and management conflicts, abuse from passengers, and harm caused by extreme cuts to labor, but flight attendants are left with little choice when labor unions, in many ways, have a history of complicity in the commodification of labor.

Many books about or even by flight attendants are anecdotal at best, and a sociological perspective long overdue. I suspect that those who choose not to read this book do so because they wish to keep flight attendants firmly as a retro icon of servitude, rather than acknowledge us as safety professionals. No one should feel disposable in their job, yet soon after 9/11 a pilot told me just that: "Put your body between a hijacker and the flight deck door--you are disposable."

I hope those who read this book look differently at your cabin crew the next time you fly.
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Format: Paperback
In Working the Skies, Drew Whitelegg takes the interviews and study of a multitude of flight attendants and creates a readable, enjoyable tale of the perils and possibilities flight attendants face. The book is part psychology, part history and part cultural study with plenty of personal tales from retired and active flight attendants. The majority of flight attendants are women, which places the job in a unique historical and social context.

Commercial flight became popular and accessible during the 1950s and 1960s. Originally, flight attendants were registered nurses to allay any health and safety concerns by fliers. It also became a respectable way for women to "escape" the house and have jobs.

As flight became safer in the 1960s, with pressurized cabins and other improvements, airlines began using the attraction and sex appeal of their flight attendants. The exotic destinations and glamour of air travel was celebrated. The author makes the case that there is currently nostalgia for this glamorous ideal of the flight attendant's world that is at odds with the demands and hazards of the job.

"Space-out" was an often-repeated phrase/concept used by the author. Flight attendants in the capacity of their job are able to create a separate world from their home world. This gives them a particular freedom of autonomy and self-expression not as available to other women, working or not. The excitement and freedom that the job allows flight attendants in the "space-out" is countered by the guilt that many flight attendants with children and those in a relationship. It's a complex issue combining cultural and social norms of what a woman should be for her children and partner with the affects of the job on the psyche along with the enjoyment of being able to "get away.
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Format: Paperback
This book intrigued me because of my lifelong fascination with careers, career choice and career change. I am also a fan of Arlie Hochschild, the sociologist who drew our attention to emotional labor. And I used to travel extensively and talk to the flight attendants. (More than once I've been asked, "Are you sure you didn't fly? I can't believe you know this!")

So I was predisposed to like this book and mostly I did. I like the author's sociological approach, placing the attendants' work in a broader context of managing space and time. The book reads like a novel. If I were still teaching I can imagine assigning the book for a "sociology of work" or "work life balance" class.

However, after awhile I felt the author needs to introduce a healthy dose of economic reality. The book emphasizes the negativity of the job: low pay, long hours, health-threatening (and sometimes life-threatening working conditions) and more. But let's get real: ever since the jobs opened up to women, the airlines have gotten so many applicants they can afford to be demanding, selective and even unreasonable. When demand exceeds supply it's a buyer's market, i.e., the airlines are buyers and flight attendants (like all workers) sell their labor.

For some reason, most of us have no trouble understanding this idea in the real estate market but we resist applying the idea to the labor market. To be sure, as a society we want to protect workers against unsafe conditions. But whether we're talking about entry level editorial assistants, movie production assistants, adjunct professors of liberal arts or flight attendants, we need to recognize that people get paid more when their skills are scarce and/or in high demand.
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