In the last few years I have addressed many defenseless audiences throughout America. My lecturing chiefly concerns flying experiences of my own, for people seem most to desire personal anecdotes. Usually, however, I impose at least one brief "sermon" about commercial aviation — everyday air travel — and almost always I ask three questions to be answered by raised hands.
"How many in this audience have been in an airplane within the last three years?" I have been asking that question for a long time now, and it is remarkable how the proportion of affirmative response has increased.
"If I were able to give you a free ride on an established air line to some place you'd like to go and return, how many would accept?" That usually brings ninety per cent or more of upraised hands.
The third question is the one that interests me most: "How many would not?"
Usually fewer than ten per cent of the audience would not fly, even as guests. These are for the most part older people. And usually, alas, they include more women than men. In fact, the most resistant persons to air travel I have found are those who have everything to make them liberal — i.e., older women's social clubs.
Of course my informal research is restricted to "cases" who turn out to hear a flyer talk — cases who, it is fair to suppose, are above the average in their interest in aviation. Still, the proportion holds true generally, for air lines find that women actually do offer the greatest "sales resistance" to commercial flying in America. Having been an executive of two passenger-carrying air lines, I have rubbed shoulders pretty intimately with that problem.
At present twenty to thirty per cent of the aviation traveling public are women. That means that in the current year two hundred thousand women in America will use air transportation. Normally more men than women travel on trains, busses, and steamships. But I believe the male preponderance aloft is larger in proportion.
Persuading more women to fly as passengers is not, however, the basic problem of the air lines, pleasant as would be an increase in feminine ticket buying. The trouble is that women too often not only will not travel by air themselves but try to keep their menfolk from doing so.
Such an attitude is not unnatural. Because of inheritance and training and the barriers maintained around women for so long, it is inevitable that we, as a sex, should be invested with some special timidities. Lack of knowledge or unfamiliarity often breeds fear. However, the emancipation of modern women is rapidly changing such characteristics. A girl's upbringing today differs from that of her grandmother as much in independence of attitude as in scholastic subject matter. Her viewpoint and her willingness — nay, her eagerness — to try new things rival that of her brothers.
To the modern child, girl or boy, there is no great wonder in aviation. It is as routine to them as the automobile is to their parents, whose parents in turn saw the automobile replace horse-drawn vehicles, many no doubt rebelling at the innovation and the inherent "dangers" of gasoline propulsion.
I often point out an oxcart is far safer than an automobile. Yet oxcarts do not flourish on the ribboned highways. It is statistically true that for speeds in excess of forty-five miles an hour one is safer on the air lines than on the highway. Last year air lines in America flew a total of 313,905,508 passenger miles and carried 746,946 passengers. There were only fifty-eight accidents and fifteen passenger fatalities, which means that one has to fly 20,927,034 miles before one's turn comes for a fatality. In other words, if one flew 1,000 miles a day every day in the year, it would be fifty-eight years before one might expect fatal injury.
Miss Earhart leaving the plane and bidding its stewardess good-by at Burbank, California, after one of her periodic transcontinental "commuting" trips by commercial air line.
Exact statistics covering the proportion of men and women air travelers weren't kept until recently, but from the information available it seems fair to estimate that the proportion of women travelers on the air lines in the last five years has increased from about five per cent to twenty or thirty per cent. Certainly in the last two years, according to two major transcontinental lines, there has been an increase of at least five per cent.
Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt is without doubt one of the most consistent women air travelers. She finds the time-saving element all-important in her busy life. I had the pleasure of flying with Mrs. Roosevelt three years ago — I think on her first night flight. We came directly from dinner, wearing light evening clothes, and the fact that we hopped into the big plane "as was" caused some amused comment. To both of us the circumstance simply emphasized the casualness of air travel.
Today there is no more need of special clothing for air passengers or indeed air pilots) on the air lines than there is for one who travels in a comfortable limousine or Pullman. However, because so many miles are covered in so short a time, it is well to think of clothes in terms of the end as well as the beginning of a journey. Literally a few hours may take one from winter to summer.
Naturally the women who use the air lines most are women in business. A notable piler-up of air miles is Mrs. Estelle Gilbert of a Los Angeles department store. I know that a few months ago she had completed forty-five trips across the United States with TWA. Incidentally, she reckoned that in the time saved she had effected an economy for her employer of more than eight thousand dollars.
Business women do not do all the flying. Women traveling for pleasure are among regular air-line customers; and the number of children carried with or without mothers is remarkable. One factor in this development is the presence on the transcontinental lines of stewardesses, all of whom are registered nurses.
To illustrate the modern attitude, Mr. Putnam reports a conversation which took place on his last trip to California. As the plane taxied to a stop at a Midwest city, the stewardess said to the mother of an infant in arms:
"Now you get off here and relax a few moments. I'll service the baby."
My husband could not resist chiming in.
"Servicing the baby sounds as if you meant to grind valves and change oil," he said.
"Well, the company overhauls the motors periodically," the stewardess replied; "why not the passengers?"
As a matter of fact, babies seem to thrive aloft. And there are many traveled youngsters who have had far more hours in the air than on trains. Certainly if I were sending young children or old people, to whom any kind of travel is uprooting, I should use the air lines to curtail the journey's length and ease the strain.
Aside from passengers, a number of women are directly connected with the business of flying, in the air as well as on the ground. United Air Lines, who pioneered in placing stewardesses on their planes, now have two hundred and fifty attractive young women in their personnel. When United first inaugurated its long-distance night service, the company employed seven stewardesses. From an average of three per cent women travelers, the passenger lists soon showed ten per cent — a figure which since then has doubled.
Moreover, this new profession has opened another employment niche for women to fill, and a particularly alluring one.
Increasingly the air lines are striving to make the women of America conscious of the attractiveness of modern commercial flying. One of the most original gestures to that end is TWA's gift of a gardenia corsage to every woman as she leaves the plane. Is it any wonder the percentage of women passengers is increasing?
Publication Date: February 13, 1937